Integrated Asset Management Policy Paper

April 18, 2016
by Mary Beth Graebert, Mohamed El-Gafy, Mark Wyckoff and Yue Cui

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Front cover of the policy paper on Integrated Asset ManagementFaculty in the MSU Land Policy Institute and the School of Planning, Design and Construction completed a study on “Integrated Asset Management: Dealing with Neglected Infrastructure and Vacant Properity in Legacy Cities.” The Michigan Applied Public Policy Research (MAPPR) Paper was funded by the MSUInstitute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR).

The study includes a model that is targeted at legacy cities. They are characterized by:

  1. Shrinking tax bases, but public service and infrastructure areas that remain the same.
  2. Areas with many vacant and abandoned structures, which reduce property values and are often associated with increased crime.

A challenge facing many legacy cities is the lack of staff capacity and funds to effectively plan for surface land use and underground infrastructure (water and sewer) in tandem. Instead these communities are often forced to take a reactionary approach and repair the underground infrastructure in emergency situations that may not take into account land use demand. This approach may not be cost effective and likely misses opportunities for optimization—especially over the long term.

Solutions often presented for potential infrastructure repurposing include: 1) Investment in more efficient infrastructure; 2) right-sizing of existing systems; and 3) planned shrinkage.

Solutions often presented for land use repurposing, aside from immediate redevelopment of vacant lots, include: 1) Open space; 2) parks and recreational areas; 3) community gardens; 4) commercial urban agriculture; and 5) green infrastructure.

The model development focused on underground sewer infrastructure, using the Green Zone, a high-vacancy neighborhood Saginaw, MI as a pilot study. The neighborhood is planned for long-term open space in the City Master Plan. The model results demonstrated likely differences in sewer system maintenance decisions if above-ground land use was not a consideration. The project team shared the model with City officials and their consultants in order to ensure that policy makers will be better informed in the future on the implications of land use options in the context of water infrastructure management and vice versa.

Policy recommendations in this paper call for using an integrated asset management model, which simultaneously addresses infrastructure and land use repurposing. Challenges and lessons learned related to applying this model to other legacy cities, include:

  • Some cities may be more data rich than others and additional data may need to be gathered.
  • Inclusion of the “human element,” i.e., the people who work on this infrastructure, can provide valuable insight not available from computerized data systems.
  • To achieve the most effective result, it is recommended that an entire city be included in an analysis rather than a single neighborhood.

Simultaneously addressing these infrastructure challenges can lead to upward spirals that improve a blighted landscape, reduce public works costs and improve quality of life for residents across legacy cities. Policies at the local level that support integrated asset management, and programs at the state and federal level that support them, are critical to the future success of legacy cities.

Future research possibilities were examined and funding will be sought to apply the same type of optimization model in other Michigan legacy cities, such as Flint and Detroit. As other communities are assessed, it will be possible to establish parameters for identifying which infrastructure and land use repurposing options best fit certain circumstances. In addition, this project lays the framework for adding factors, such as fiscal health, social equity, public health and environmental protection, to the model to optimize integrated policies and strategies. It will also provide a platform for public works agencies from neighboring jurisdictions to begin conversations about how they can help each other better maintain infrastructure and serve the public at a regional scale. Finally, future research will include an estimation of costs and benefits associated with infrastructure and land repurposing strategies, so that legacy cities can appropriately weigh the options.