Stock and Flow: Making Better Use of Metropolitan Resources

One of the most striking features of politics and management in cities around the world is the belief that “the next new project” will solve the most pressing problems of the day. The political compulsion to cut red ribbons, coupled with the professional excitement of building new things with the latest technology, has generated many new investments that are almost always costly and frequently use scarce public resources ineffectively. All too often these public investments involve inflated expectations of benefits, underestimated costs, actual cost overruns, and unanticipated negative externalities—such as adverse environmental and social consequences. These widespread traits together should arouse considerable public skepticism about the efficacy of those public officials and their technical advisers who enthusiastically promote new projects. Such skepticism has implications for metropolitan-level affairs as well as city-level affairs. The main implication at both levels is that proper operation and maintenance of facilities that already exist is far more important than building new projects.