Equity Embedded — Equity in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill

The infrastructure bill is often described as the largest spend on a certain topic in history. There’s no doubt that infrastructure spending in the United States has lagged behind other nations for decades, but because of this, the communities that have most needed investment have continued to see divestment or been forced to deal with the environmental justice crises derived from legacy infrastructure. Beyond environmental justice, and the cascading health and community development impacts, these same communities have often borne the brunt of extended travel times and unsafe streets.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill — America’s greatest spend on water, roads, and broadband — is also poised to be its greatest spend (to date) on equity. While it may not solve every equity issue in the country, it is taking a massive step toward addressing the inequitable distribution of infrastructure investment that has negatively impacted the lives of and in communities across the country. The primary areas of focus for large spending around equity are on racially marginalized communities (including Native American communities), but there are measures that lay out specific goals and outcomes intended to benefit many vulnerable individuals and communities beyond the targeted audiences (think youth and elderly, people with asthma, people with physical disabilities, etc).

A few key outcome areas or themes are repeated across spending measures and will likely guide impact measures around funding prioritization. They include public health impacts, transit time, accessibility, and safety.

Key areas of focus for this bill include the following:

  • Transit spending, electric bus investments (including school buses), and reduce congestion near ports and airports, which will contribute to better air quality. It is often poor, racially marginalized communities that disproportionately bear the burden of poor air quality (and its impacts on asthma rates and other respiratory diseases);

Equity spending is not an add-on feature of this bill. Instead, it is deeply embedded throughout. This specific focus on equity attempts to ensure that this next generation of infrastructure investments reverses the inequities that past investments have propagated (many of which were not recognized or acknowledged until decades later). As cities and companies begin to work together to identify the best projects to advance for funding, they should place a focus on the equity metrics that these projects may impact and prioritize (and highlight) all opportunities to reduce socioeconomic and racial disparities.

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Cityfi advises cities, corporations, foundations and start-ups to help catalyze change in a global, complex urban landscape. Twitter: @teamcityfi