The Covid-19 pandemic has focused the attention of public bank advocates on immediate economic needs: small business loans, municipal finance in the face of a tax base collapse, and how to support the unemployed and vital non-profits, such as hospitals and food banks.

Our 2019-2020 bill, on the other hand, focused on infrastructure, and right now it might feel as if the things that the word “infrastructure” bring to mind, like roads, highways or bridges, are not just dull but almost irrelevant.

But consider this: As in 2008 and after, funding “shovel-ready” projects can be a way of putting people back to work in the face of long-term unemployment arising from business failures. And those projects can also help us prepare for the challenges of climate disruption, a crisis we must face head on and proactively if we’re going to escape disaster.

raingarden

An urban rain garden provides an attractive solution to downtown storm runoff

With green infrastructure, planners, engineers and municipalities have developed practices, and in some places taken political steps, to preserve and enhance natural systems’ ability to keep water clean, improve public health, control noise, prevent flooding, and cool the air.

Curridabat, Costa Rica, is a suburb of the country’s capital, San Jose, and far from wilderness. But the country’s commitment to biodiversity led local officials to think differently about how to manage heat, open space, and biodiversity. If Costa Rica could create biocorridors to connect its jaguar population, why not build greenways in urban areas for people?

As this article details “Curridabat’s urban planning has been reimagined around its non-human inhabitants. Green spaces are treated as infrastructure… Geolocation mapping is used to target reforestation projects at elderly residents and children to ensure they benefit from air pollution removal and the cooling effects that the trees provide. The widespread planting of native species underscores a network of green spaces and biocorridors across the municipality, which are designed to ensure pollinators thrive.” Curridabat’s former mayor even took the step of recognizing pollinators as citizens during his 12-year term.

In most cases we don’t think of infrastructure very much at all until it fails us, or until technology or economic systems force us to think about it in a new way, and encourage investment in new systems (electrification a few generations ago, broadband now), or disinvestment in others (the replacement of streetcar service with privately owned autos). While our immediate attention is focused on getting through the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to keep an eye on climate, rising sea levels, and potential impacts on food, water, and energy. Massachusetts is already reimagining “built” infrastructure to incorporate natural processes, for instance a proposed Widett Circle wetland. Our Massachusetts Infrastructure Bank bill imagines infrastructure in broad, locally-determined terms, leaving room for innovative projects that work with nature—and may make infrastructure a little more interesting to Massachusetts voters and taxpayers.