Identifying tips and practices for a more sustainable future



Next Generation Infrastructure for Cities: Building Better, not More

MADISON, WI – The physical infrastructure of cities and neighborhoods, but also the systems that make our economy possible – energy, transportation, food and water systems, and waste management – are critical to public health, economic recovery, and climate resilience. Across the political spectrum, we hear calls for more infrastructure. We do not need “more” infrastructure – more power plants, larger sewer systems or wider highways. We need to maintain, upgrade and replace our aging, outmoded, infrastructure with healthier, more equitable, more efficient and more effective infrastructure. We need a built environment that reduces runoff, buildings that use less energy and mobility solutions that minimize the negative impacts of transportation. We also need to distribute infrastructure costs more fairly.

The good news is that cities are already working on next generation infrastructure in a myriad of ways.

Philadelphia, which is faced with tremendous infrastructure needs and federal requirements, has taken an aggressive approach to managing storm water. It requires properties to capture the first inch of a storm’s precipitation on-site, and charges fees based on the amount of a property that is impervious. For the first time, the city has started to collect storm water fees from parking lots and other structures that are not connected to the drinking water system. But the City will forgive those fees if a property owner installs wetlands, rain barrels, green roofs, pervious pavement, or other green infrastructure solutions. This approach to stormwater prevents pollution, generates revenue, creates jobs, and greens the city – a much better ROI than building a big, concrete pipe.

Rather than continuing to pay rising utility bills, Reno, Nevada, invested $20 million in a combined energy efficiency, solar, and wind generation project for city buildings. The City will save $1.3 million a year on energy costs. The project retained or created 279 jobs, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and improved the working environment for city staff.

San Francisco replaced the Central Freeway with Octavia Boulevard in 2002. The new boulevard included park space, streetscaping, and pedestrian amenities. The liquor stores and auto repair shops that dotted the Hayes Valley neighborhood, where the freeway was located, have given way to new restaurants and neighborhood retail. This is perhaps the best example of “less is more” – less pavement and less traffic but more wealth, more businesses and a more livable neighborhood.

These are just a few examples of how cities are getting smarter about infrastructure to save money, improve neighborhoods, protect the environment, provide jobs to members of their community that need them, and mitigate climate change.

News Article

For additional information:
Satya Rhodes-Conway, Managing Director, Mayors Innovation Project,
James Irwin, Associate Director, Mayors Innovation Project,

For resources and tools related to sustainability, visit the Center for Sustainability (C4S) and C4S Toolkit.