One of the first things we think of when we think of infrastructure is roads. But infrastructure includes things like electricity lines, water pipes, and grocery stores too. Infrastructure is like a web that connects communities physically and virtually. This is almost poetic, considering that infrastructure equity can improve health, financial, and educational outcomes for marginalized individuals and communities as well.
For our purposes, infrastructure is synonymous with access. Communications infrastructure can create better access to better education and economic opportunities. Travel infrastructure can lower the cost of transportation for goods and employees. Better water infrastructure can improve health outcomes for anyone in the serviced area.
Better access to the resources we need to survive (infrastructure equity) can cut down on costs while improving our outcomes toward success.
Except when it comes time for the local, state, and federal governments to invest in infrastructure, the funds often go to the areas where it’s needed least. And that results in an increase in inequity and worse outcomes across the board.
Improving Travel Infrastructure Is Like Improving The Nation’s Circulatory System
Whether you look at it from a city-level or a nationwide level, improving transportation infrastructure improves equity across the board. If governments invest in roads that have been grossly neglected, economic equity increases. Improved roads means businesses are more likely to invest in the area, bringing in more local jobs. From an entrepreneurial standpoint, it would be easier to bring resources into a community, encouraging small business growth.
If governments choose to invest in the public transportation system, education outcomes improve since higher education students would have a more reliable way to get to and from class if they don’t have a vehicle. Additionally, people are more likely to go to the doctor if it’s easier for them to get to and from a doctor’s office.
What We’re More Likely to See
Instead of investing in the transportation infrastructure of our neediest communities, we’ve seen this money go into roads that don’t need it nearly as much. Tiring popping potholes remain unfilled while crews work on minor dips in the road in more affluent areas.
It’s important to note that much of the funding for transportation infrastructure is controlled by local and state governments. Funding may come from the federal government, but it’s up to the city, county, and state governments to disperse those funds as they see fit.
Better Utility Infrastructure Means Better Health and Economic Outcomes
Communities with at least standard utility infrastructure, namely telecommunications, electricity, and water, are healthier and economically better off.
Telecommunications infrastructure helps connect people to additional economic opportunities. So much of business is done online, and the remote work trend won’t reverse completely just because of the vaccine. Poor telecommunications and electric infrastructure cuts off entire communities from these online opportunities.
Looking at water infrastructure, I can’t help but think of the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Flint is, sadly, a great example of one manifestation of the water problem we have in the United States. Flint’s population is 57% Black people, 37% white people, and 6% other ethnicities. 42% of the city’s population lives below the poverty line.
In other areas of the United States, we can see lack of water access play out in other marginalized communities. In the rural South, it’s Black people. In the Southwest, it’s Latinx people. Indigenous Americans nationwide suffer from a lack of access to potable water too. According to the Census, 1.6 million Americans don’t have access to “complete plumbing facilities”, but the data doesn’t go deeper than that.
And the number doesn’t include communities like Flint, Michigan.
How We Can Create an Equitable Infrastructure System
The problem is nuanced and based on region, and even city. However, one thing is glaringly clear for communities that have suffered from inequitable infrastructure while their more affluent neighbors continue to have smooth roads and drinkable water: local and state governments are failing them.
It’s interesting how many federal lawmakers are elected based on a “improve infrastructure” platform. Don’t get me wrong. The federal government has its role to play in keeping international highways up to par.
But the city, county, and state governments approve the local infrastructure projects and allocate the funds. Those funds can come from the federal government, but they also come from the taxes the communities pay.
If the elected officials representing these marginalized communities understand the infrastructure problems and refuse to make changes, it may be time for a leadership change.