How to rebuild Baltimore

August 02, 2012

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Baltimore MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake are quite right to draw attention to the need in Baltimore and the nation to reinvest in our failing water systems ("The slow drip of infrastructure crisis," July 31). It is understandable but disappointing that they failed to explain that we — a profligate citizenry and our elected leaders — are largely to blame for decades of deferred maintenance and failure to upgrade to new technology and also that the problems are not confined to our water systems. We have systematically squandered a legacy built through the hard work of preceding generations.

Most readers will recognize that giving their children a dilapidated house or car is not a great gift, but the typical taxpayer has little knowledge and less redress when a government executive or legislator chooses to satisfy vocal current interests at the expense of our silent infrastructure. All residents and businesses suffer from this failure of fiduciary responsibility and leadership, not only the 25 percent of city residents living below the poverty line. The mayor's protests of statistical error notwithstanding, Baltimore City's steady population decline arguably is a result of people moving out before failing infrastructure renders our urban cores totally dysfunctional. The problem extends beyond water and sewer lines: shortcomings of our electrical service, data communications, roads, and other infrastructure components have been painfully apparent.

Fool me once, so the saying goes, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. If the time has come to reinvest, then voters and taxpayers should insist on a new deal: First, require that adequate funds are dedicated to infrastructure maintenance and upgrading so that decades hence our children are not confronted with the same crisis. Second, insist that our infrastructure is designed, constructed, and managed to provide reliable service and to be quickly repaired when failures occur. Finally, rebuild with an eye on the future by incorporating new information technology and data communications throughout the Baltimore region. We know how, but it will take leadership.

Andrew Lemer, Baltimore

The writer is an international consultant on infrastructure policy.

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