Since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, shovel ready construction has usually come to refer to larger-scale infrastructure where planning and engineering is advanced enough, that with sufficient funding, construction can begin within a very short time. Washington Post staff writer Manuel Roig-Franzia researched President Obama’s repeated use of the phrase, and traced the source first to then Senator Hillary Clinton’s reference in 2007 to 40 “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects “all set to go in New York.”

The Upstate New York economic development arm of National Grid had coined the term in the 1990s and registered the web site to refer to the remediation of brownfields that already had electrical service and gas and sewer lines, as well as preliminary environmental permits. In other words, shovel ready means the basic infrastructure is in place and just needs to be adapted.

The limits of infrastructure stimulus focused on large-large scale highways, bridges, dams, airports, etc, will only perpetuate the climate and equity crises that precede and follow the coronavirus emergency. Instead of a Green New Deal, it will result in furthering the conditions of spatial segregation and sprawl fostered by the old New Deal.

Cotton swabs have emerged as a critical infrastructure. The Solidarity Economics of Manfred Max-Neef puts “people and planet first, rather than the pursuit of blind “growth” and maximum profit.” How can we develop a spatial matrix of axiological needs to co-design infrastructures for solidarities with the front-line communities who have been fighting for social, environmental and climate just over the past four decades?

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