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Pete Buttigieg is no longer the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. But with the release of a new infrastructure plan on Friday, he says he’s still thinking like one. The Democratic presidential candidate’s proposal includes $1 trillion in investment in roads, utilities, broadband, public transportation, and lead mitigation, while putting more power in the hands of local communities to use funding on their own terms.
“As a former mayor, I know that priority-based budgets made locally are better than budget-based priorities set in Washington,” Buttigieg wrote in a statement. “That’s why we will ensure that federal funds go to the cities, counties, tribes, towns, and states that need resources, but otherwise already stand prepared to create good jobs and combat climate change by investing in infrastructure.”
Besides its decidedly local bent, the candidate’s focus on tying infrastructure overhauls with climate adaptation and his promise to repair America’s roads and highways largely mirror the goals of opponents like Senator Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Joe Biden (They have released $1 trillion and $1.3 trillion plans, respectively.) His commitment to pair massive projects with a $200 billion job retraining program and 6 million new jobs has echoes of the Green New Deal, supported by candidates like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Buttigieg goes further, however, in linking road-building with road safety: As president, he’d commit to a national Vision Zero policy. Sweden, where the traffic safety movement was born in 1997, has made Vision Zero a national priority; other countries like Canada and the Netherlands have followed suit by launching country-wide campaigns and setting out sustainable safety approaches, respectively. In the U.S., however, Vision Zero goals have been set at the state and city level, with varying levels of ambition and success.
But progress for the national Vision Zero movement has been building: In 2018, the RAND Corporation worked with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Safety Council to create national Vision Zero policy, aiming for zero traffic fatalities countrywide by 2050. Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, who served under President Obama from 2013 to 2017, put his weight behind the movement, too. Still, 35,800 people died in automobile crashes in the U.S. in 2018—and pedestrian and cyclist fatalities increased.
To nudge transportation agencies to deliver on safety goals, Buttigieg’s plan uses carrots and sticks: incentives to states and localities that invest in rebuilding unsafe streets, and the threat of infrastructure cuts to those that don’t make progress. “Today, states can legally set annual targets that allow an increase in roadway deaths and serious injuries each year,” the plan reads. “[Buttigieg’s] administration will require states to actively improve their safety records or road design processes, or else lose federal funding for other roadway projects.” He does not provide a year goal for achieving vision zero.
The plan also calls for doubling funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program to install bike lanes and crosswalks, allocating $1 billion to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Highway Administration to combat dangerous driving, and funding more research into road safety in rural regions, which account for nearly half of all traffic deaths.
While Buttigieg’s climate plan, released this fall, leaned on electrifying personal vehicles, and his infrastructure plan centers cars in its safety agenda, both also call for robust public transportation improvements and electrification. Typically sparsely connected rural areas, especially, are prioritized, with $12 billion earmarked for rural public transportation, transit hubs, and ride-sharing partnerships. Part of his labor transition fund will help “transportation workers who may be affected by the increasing adoption of autonomous technologies.”
Buttigieg mentions pursuing high-speed rail, but doesn’t lay out how much he’d spend. Amtrak superfan Joe Biden has been more vocal about his plans to revive the high-speed rail network once championed by Obama, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ climate plan lays out $607 billion in investment in a regional high-speed rail network.
To pay for some of these infrastructure projects, and “make the Highway Trust Fund solvent,” Buttigieg will put $165 billion into the fund, but is also tasking DOT to come with a “new and sustainable” user fee-based system. The plan outlines a transition from a gas tax to a vehicle-miles-traveled model—with “discounted rates … offered on a sliding scale based on income”—that’s already being tried out in several localities. Reforming the capital gains tax, repealing Trump tax cuts, and closing real estate tax loopholes (which can add up to $400 billion over a decade) are expected to cover much of the rest, according to Politico.
Outside of the transportation realm, Buttigieg’s plan links equity and health to infrastructure goals: It aims to cut the average family’s water bill—which, left unpaid, can in some cases lead to eviction—in half, invest $100 billion in toxic lead removal, and provide clean drinking water for all. He’s also the only candidate to propose a Sea Level Defense fund.
Buttigieg’s experience as a former mayor informs many of his policy prescriptions, and this infrastructure plan is no different. Where Donald Trump sought public-private partnerships, Buttigieg seeks local buy-in: He’d double the transportation grant program formerly known as TIGER Grants (now called BUILD) to $2 billion, and retool it to prioritize accepting local projects that “serve low-income communities,” and double Community Development Block Grant funding to $6 billion.
John Porcari, former deputy secretary of USDOT under Obama, helped advise on Buttigieg’s plan (as well as on the past and forthcoming plans of other Democratic candidates he declined to name). “There are positive aspects to all the [infrastructure] plans released so far,” he told CityLab. “What Buttigieg has really done is look at the essence of where decision-making needs to be made, which is at the local level, and provide better tools at that level.”
At a convening of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month, a group of mayors named infrastructure as one of their top priorities in a 2020 candidate. With this plan, Buttigieg seemed to address them directly. “Under my administration, local governments will finally have a partner in Washington,” he wrote.
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When you’re working to establish a museum with such contested subject matter as the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM), it pays to have a few shorthand expressions within easy reach, lest anyone get confused about creating a curatorial platform for an institution many associate with failure.
Crystal Palmer, a former public housing resident and vice chair of the museum’s board, says the museum will tell “the good, the bad, and the ugly” of public housing. Lisa Lee, the museum’s executive director, says (quoting another board member) that it will “tell the stories of our in-laws and our outlaws.”
Lee is attempting to encapsulate this complicated legacy on the Near West Side of Chicago, inside the only remaining building of the Jane Addams Homes, a public housing complex built in the 1930s. It took 10 years of administrative wrangling to get the building from the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), and the museum hopes to open in 2021. Since 2010, however, it has been mounting exhibitions at a variety of other venues.
It’s unabashedly an “activist museum,” says Lee, and will be full of revisionist histories. The museum’s stance is that housing is a human right—75 years after FDR asserted the right “of every family to a decent home” in his Second Bill of Rights. To make its case, the NPHM will look to everyday resident histories and apply them to today’s housing crisis.
“This methodology believes that in order to preserve history, you have to make it relevant to contemporary social justice struggles, and in order to solve social justice struggles of today, you have to look back in time,” says Lee. “Housing insecurity is one of the most critical issues today, and I don’t think you can solve it without becoming a student of history.”
The museum will tell this intimate and domestic story with intimate, domestic-scaled architecture. “When people close their eyes and imagine public housing, they imagine a scary high-rise,” says Lee. But the building on Taylor Street, commissioned by the Works Progress Administration and designed by Holabird & Root, is positively neighborly at three-and-a-half stories, and scaled to the commercial strip that surrounds it.
It will undergo a light-touch adaptive reuse by one of Chicago’s most talented architects of subsidized housing, the firm Landon Bone Baker Architects. Even before construction, the ceiling heights, corridor widths, and basic proportions of the Jane Addams Homes are reminders that this was where people once lived. “It’s a much more intimate space than a typical museum might be,” says architect Peter Landon, and “amazingly well built.” It had to be strong to survive: It’s been vacant since 2002. Workers have done lead-paint and asbestos abatement on the site. The museum has saved artifacts from the building’s former life, and some original walls will be incorporated in the new design.
Landon’s design begins with a new glass-pavilion entry lobby. In addition to standard gallery space, the 47,000-square-foot museum will contain three model apartments, furnished and decorated to represent different communities that lived in the Addams Homes and in American public housing (including Jewish, Puerto Rican, Polish, and African-American families).
There will be spaces for public programming, performances, and oral history. An entrepreneurship hub will work with nonprofits to develop cooperative models of what Lee calls a “solidarity economy.” There, a focus on the informal economies that thrived in public housing will include ad hoc barbershops and nail salons, but also the drug trade and prostitution. The museum is considering an interdisciplinary center where former and current residents of public housing come together with artists, scholars, designers, planners, and advocates to envision the future of housing.
The rear of the building will have a courtyard featuring several 1930s animal sculptures by Chicago artist Edgar Miller, which will be reinstalled after the restoration. This courtyard recently hosted a 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial installation that focused on oral histories and storytelling, and the museum site has already been the venue for a series of exhibitions. The near-constant stream of activity, for a museum so far without a permanent home, has helped along a capital campaign that has garnered about $6 million toward a $15.7 million goal.
This remnant of the Jane Addams Homes is one of only a handful original CHA properties still intact. Widespread dereliction, violence, and concentrations of extreme poverty plagued many high-rises. Palmer, who lived for decades in the West Side’s Henry Horner Homes, recalls how she couldn’t get basic services like garbage, fire, police, and mail. “It’s like you’re a refugee in the city you were born in,” she says. And yet, “I could stick my hand out from where I lived and touch downtown.”
Early on, the CHA was run by progressive social reformers like Elizabeth Wood, who fought relentlessly to racially integrate developments. But Wood’s successors gave way to policies that created a death spiral of social segregation and infrastructural breakdown. In 1999, the CHA launched the Plan for Transformation, which would tear down 18,500 subsidized homes and build 25,000 new units, many of which would be in mixed-income developments. CHA became a facilitator, guiding investments from affordable housing developers; funding for a given project might come from a dozen different sources, many of them private.
This year, 10 years behind schedule, CHA is set to reach its goal of replacing 25,000 units. But given the level of housing need and the delay, communities were dispersed.
The NPHM is both a product of this dispersal and a corrective to it, and the Plan for Transformation will be a curatorial focus at the museum. Deverra Beverly, who lived in the complex that contained the Addams Homes, is credited with originating the idea of the museum in the midst of demolitions. Beverly (who died in 2013) used the Local Advisory Council structure to build up a power base and advocate for the museum. Even amid dysfunction, Chicago public housing residents formed grassroots leadership and governance structures “that all movements can and should be looking to,” says Lee.
That history is one reason why Chicago is an ideal place for the National Public Housing Museum. Lee has another: “There’s nowhere in the country where the aspirations for public housing were as big, and also the failures and dreams deferred were as major.”
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