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I've known for sometime that our nation has not maintained or upgraded its infrastructure; I've read the occasional reports from civil engineering groups lamenting the sorry state of bridges and roads around the country, and as an architect, I've been through many schools in Maine to assess the needs and prepare requests for state funding. The collapse of the levees in New Orleans, and the failure of the I-35 bridge in St. Paul are just the tip of the ice berg.

And then the house of cards that was our economy collapsed as well, and it became clear to me that what we needed was a New New Deal, a massive influx of Federal spending on projects that need to done anyway, and also on new infrastructure that will provide a foundation for the economy for another 70 years and more.

The Rec Center in my town is to undergo a much needed renovation, and an article about it in the local paper mentioned that it was built by the WPA (I wrote about it here, What a real legacy looks like). I began to read more:

I called the historical societies in local towns and learned the Camden Hills State Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). I learned that the runway at what is now called Bangor International Airport were extended by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). And then I happened upon an article in Invention and Technology entitled "Top 10 Projects That Transformed America," which included a reference to a book by Robert Leighninger, Long-Range Public Investment: The Forgotten Legacy of the New Deal, and new I must read it. (You'll find a good review of the book here, and also an op/ed piece that Mr. Leighninger wrote for the New York Times that was never published, but that he was kind enough to send to me, here.)

What I've learned from reading Leighninger's book is that the legacy of the New Deal programs is all about us, and is in fact an integral part of our economy today, seventy years later. The massive spending of the 1930's not only put many people to work, but allowed our nation to supply war materiel to the U.K. and other allies, and then to become the global economic engine of the post-war era and beyond.

And yet at this time when our nation hangs perilously close to financial ruin, our government chooses not to act as history has taught, but instead relies on a mix of ideologically driven tax cuts that are known to not stimulate the economy, and spending on projects that will not either nor repair and upgrade our infrastructure, while what our nation really needs is a large outlay on projects that will.


So I come to the point of this diary, taken from Leighninger's book and published here with his permission, and that is to provide you a list of what was accomplished by the "alphabet soup" programs of the New Deal. And then I ask you to contact your local historical society and ask what the legacy is in your area, and add them to the comments.

Accomplishments of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)

Bridges:   46,854
Lodges and museums:    204
Historic structures restored:    3,980
Drinking fountains:    1,865
Fire lookout towers:    3,116
Wells and pumphouses:    8,065
Forest roads:    2,500 miles
Roads and truck trails:    7,442 miles
Cabins:    1,477
Bathhouses:    165
Large Dams:    197
Water supply lines:    5,000 miles
Fences:    27,191 miles
Fish rearing ponds:    4,622
Beaches improved:    3,462
Trees planted:    3 billion
Fires fought:    6.5 million days
Lives lost fighting fires:    47

(Sources: National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni, "Did You Know?" (Jefferson Barracks, Mo., NACCCA, n.d.); Alison T. Otis, William D. Honey, Thomas C Hogg, and Kimberly K. Larkin, The Forest Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1986), 19; Conrad Wirth, Parks, Politics, and People (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980), 145.)

Accomplishments of the Civil Works Administration (CWA)

New roads:    44,000 miles
Road repairs:    200,000 miles
Drainage and irrigation ditches:    9,000 miles
Levees:    2,000 miles
New water mains:    1,000 miles
Sanitary and storm sewers:    2,700 miles
Bridges:    7,000
Large culverts:    10,000
Sanitary privies:    150,000
Pumping stations:    400
Playgrounds:    2,000
Swimming pools:    350
Athletic fields:    4,000
Schools, new or improved:    4,000
Airports, new or improved:    1,000

(Sources: Harry Hopkins, Spedning to Save (New York: W. W. Norton, 1936), 121, 168; Bonnie Fox Scwartz, The Civil Works Administration, 1933-1934: The Business of Emergency Employment in the New Deal (Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), 183.)

Contributions to civil infrastructure through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), 1935-43

Urban streets
 Hard surfaces:    30,000 miles
 Other:    37,000 miles
 New:    24,000 miles
 Improved:    7,000 miles
 New:    25,000 miles
 Improved:    3,000 miles
Road and street lighting
 New:    838 miles
 Improved:    1,641 miles
 New traffic signs erected:    937,000
Rural roads
 Hard surface:    57,000 miles
 Other:    515,000 miles
Bridges, viaducts
 New:    78,000
 Improved:    46,000
 New:    29,805,000 linear feet
 Improved:    3,288,000 linear feet
Roadside drainage ditches
 New:    79,000 miles
 Improved:    84,000 miles
 Vehicular:    26
 Pedetrian:    193
 Railway, sewer, cattle underpasses:    800
Parks, new or improved:    8,000
Athletic fields, new or imporved:    5,600
Stadiums, grandstnads, new or improved:   3,300
Playgrounds, new or improved:    12,800
 New:    5,900
 Additions:    2,170
 Renovated:    31,300
 New:    151
 Additions:    67
 Renovated:    856
Auditoriums, gymnasiums, recreation buildings
 New:    9,300
 Renovated:    5,800
Swimming pools:    900
Wading pools:    1,000
Skating rinks:    1,200
Ski jumps:    80
Golf courses
 New:    2,800 holes
 Improved:    5,000 holes
Band shells:    170
 New:    226
 Additions:    156
 Renovated:    2,168
Office and administrative
 Buildings:    6,400
 New:    1,536
 Additions:    323
 Renovated:    4,524
Dormitories:    7,000
Storage buildings:    6,000
 New:    400
 Renovated:    500
Firehouses:    2,700
Jails and prisons:    760
 New:    350
 Enlarged:    700
 Runways, new or improved:    5,925,000 linear feet
 Taxiways:  1,129,000 linear feet

(Source: Federal Works Agency, Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), 50-52, 131-133.)

Physical infrastructure projects completed by the Public Works Administration (PWA) (federal and nonffederal)

Streets and highways:    11,428
Engineering structures
 Bridges and viaducts:    388
 Wharves, piers, docks:   115
 Subways and tunnels:    14
 Other:    137
Aviation projects
 Airports:    384
 Improvements to landing fields:    193
 Other aids:    101
Railroads:    32
Sewer projects
 Disposal plants:    894
 Sanitary sewers:    535
 Storm Sewers:    121
 Combined sanitary and storm:    75
Garbage and rubbish disposal plants:    225
Water projects
 Reservoirs:    203
 Filtration plants:    119
 Water mains:    290
 Complete waterworks:    1,970
Electrical power projects
 Electrical distribution systems:    92
 Power Construction projects:    283
Gas Plants:    26
Water navigation aids
 Channels and levees:    170
 Dams and canals:    31
 Locks:    35
 Lighthouses:    212
 Other:    293
Flood control
 Channels:    21
 Dams and canals:    181
 Storage reservoirs:    26
 Water power development:    26
 Soil erosion:    96
 Flood control:    25
 Miscellaneous:    95
Game and fish protection:    193
Nonmilitary vessels:    100
Improvements to federal land:    285
Surveying and mapping:    610

(Source: Public Works Administration, America Builds: Te Record of the PWA (Washignton, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1939), tables 10, 11, 13, 19, and 20, 279-82, 288-91.)

Cultural infrastructure projects completed by the Public Works Administration (PWA) (federal and nonffederal)

Educational building projects
 Primary/secondary schools:    6,656
 College/university:    698
 Other educational buildings:    86
Public libraries:    105
Courthouses and city halls:    659
Auditoriums and armories:    103
Post offices:    406
Penal institutions:    253
Social and recreational buildings:    159
Residential buildings:    558
Office and administrative buildings:    341
Warehouses, laboratories, shops:    761
Parks:    61
Swimming pools:    65
Fire and police stations:    128
Markets:    21
Abattoirs:    4
Farm buildings:    7
Miscellaneous:    756

(Source: Public Works Administration, America Builds: Te Record of the PWA (Washignton, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1939), tables 14, 19, and 20, 283, 288-9.)

Health projects completed by the Public Works Administration (PWA) (federal and nonfederal)

General Hospitals:    261
Tuberculosis hospitals:    134
Hospitals for epileptics:    12
Insane asylums:    205
Schools for the feeble-minded:    29
Homes for the aged:    40
Other hospital projects:     81
Federal hospitals and institutions:    151
Pest and disease control:   146

(Source: Public Works Administration, America Builds: Te Record of the PWA (Washignton, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1939), tables 12, and 20, 280, 290.)

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

Leighinger provides a list of the 16 dams built by the TVA.

Rural Electrification Administration (Rural Utilities Service)

This is not mentioned in Leighninger's book, but the REA (created in 1935) was an important component of the New Deal (and one that received large support from those opposed to the New Deal). The REA helped proved power to nearly 300,000 homes, and this spurred private companies to extend their service to other rural areas and charge rates comparable to those charge in urban areas. This saw an increase of rural homes with electricity rise from ten percent in 1930 to over ninety percent tne years later (source: Wikipedia).

Originally posted to Dirigo Blue on Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 06:38 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you! (6+ / 0-)

    Great work in compiling this. These products of the New Deal are what contributed to the building of the middle class. Our affluent middle class, combined with the amenities of the New Deal made us the envy of the world.

    •  I didn't compile it, just transcribed it. But I (5+ / 0-)

      think it is very important to understand the breadth of the legacy that makes up much of the amenities that we take for granted, and how it compares to what Congress and President Obama are prescribing as a fix for our current woes.

      •  One thing that must be addressed when you compare (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the WPA etc legacy of 1930 to opportunities today is that the process of building, well, anything is more complex by several orders of magnitude now than it was 80 years ago. The ADA, individual governing agencies permitting requirements (which often mandate in-depth environmental review prior to permit issuance) probably have quadrupled the time required to obtain permissions to implement most projects. And the more complex and potentially valuable a project, the longer it will take to plan and permit.

        •  Permitting is certainly much more difficult (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          today, especially for projects that would have any significant impact on the environment. For example, it is hard to imagine that the Hoover Dam would be approved now.

          I work with the ADA all the time - it isn't a big deal. Where architects really need to ramp up is on LEED construction, but this is happening, however slowly.

          Also, was as a society need to rethink how we plan the built environment around us, or perhaps better put: we need to begin to plan future development in ways that concentrates it so as to use less resources and leave more open space.

          •  A lot of LEED is hogwash, imho. It's not like a (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            lot of this stuff is rocket science. There aren't really that many new inventions in building technology (except maybe low e glass and polyicynene foam insulation) that need to be taught to architects.

            The best way to save resources through architecture is to pack everybody into dense urban center.

            Everybody doesn't want to live in a tiny apartment building in a dense urban center. That's fine. But we shouldn't pretend that we're being so wonderful when we compost the leftover building materials on our giant lot in a giant suburb with a 5000 sf "colonial" (i.e. not designed for the climate) KB Home on it which is going to house two people.

            •  I thought the apartments in the middle (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Spud1, plumbobb

              of the most densely packed urban centers were far and away the most expensive.

              Like Manhattan.

              •  When 3/4 of your exterior walls are also the (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                exterior walls of other conditioned spaces, and your ceiling and floor are the floor and ceiling of other units, you spend a lot, lot less to heat and cool your living space. Infrastructure is more efficient. Individuals have no need to own automobiles or use automobiles much less.

              •  You will find a densely developed area (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                in almost every town, village and small city. Three and four story row houses like you find in Boston's Back Bay can be built anywhere, and they can be built to not even need a furnace - see this article from a few weeks back in the NYTimes.

                Exurban sprawl is the most wasteful way for development. The only public utilities that are used will be electricity, but everything else happens by vehicle - driving to work and shopping, driving to schools, driving to see your neighbors. And it eats up lands that could be left open and undeveloped, farmlands that could be protected from the ravages of the real estate market, and so allowing for more locally grown foods.

                •  When I talk to clients who want to save money and (0+ / 0-)

                  build "green" I tell them that the best way to do both is to build less. It's so damn easy. Construction cost: $150/sf

                  2500 sf house = $375,000
                  2000 sf house = $300,000
                  1000 sf house = $150,000

                  of course this is not exact; there is some economy that comes with scale, but doesn't it feel better to build less, and to build better (put nice casework in which will allow your den also to be a sewing room when you fold out your sewing station). Save money for usable exterior landscaped spaces instead of a stupid lawn.

                  But in the US, which often values property on a $/sf basis building a smaller, higher quality living space frequently does not make economic sense when it comes to resale.

                  Our society needs to come to value quality, but how this can be accomplished I do not know.

  •  Wonderful information, thank you! (nt) (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spud1, CParis, chrome327
  •  Yeah, real wasteful government spending that (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Tax cuts would have done a lot more without increasing the size of government!!  

    Obama would be perfect if he were a Cubs fan.

    by Georgia Liberal on Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 06:51:16 AM PST

  •  Atta Boy Spud (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Spud1, chrome327

    Here's another small bit of logic :
    No dams in the west in the 30's, no electricity to run the the aircraft plants that sprang up during World War II.


    by colorado bob 1 on Thu Feb 05, 2009 at 06:59:52 AM PST

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