Why Public Space Is So Valuable

Jeremy Mohler

Jeremy Mohler Communications Specialist, In the Public Interest

My favorite job during college wasn’t building sets for the school theater or managing a fancy hotel, it was working the front desk at my hometown library. Not only did I make decent money—which paid for me to commute to school—but I also got to help people find the resources they were looking for.

At least once a shift, I helped someone get on the internet to search job listings or pay a bill. I was young and naïve—and probably not as helpful as I could’ve been—but I could tell it meant a lot to them that the public library was there.

So when I read about what public employees are doing at Denver Public Library, I was reminded of the value of public space and public employees.

Homelessness is skyrocketing in Denver due to rising housing prices and rents. Last year, Colorado had the nation’s largest increase in the number of homeless veterans. City officials have reacted with force rather than care, banning camping and cracking down on existing encampments.

But the library is taking a different approach. Employees partnered with local nonprofits to wash people’s laundry and host writing workshops for those going through hard times. Management also hired two social workers to help visitors find affordable housing, register for public benefits, and connect with citywide resources.

Earlier this year, the library trained staff to administer an anti-overdose nasal spray, as Denver recoils from the opioid epidemic sweeping the country. They bought 12 spray kits in February—by May, they had used seven of them.

“It costs us $75 per kit,” said the library’s central administrator. “If you can save somebody’s life for $75, let’s do it.”

Libraries, like post offices, beaches, and parks, are public spaces that bring us together and form the backbone of a healthy and just society. When they’re well-funded and under democratic control, we can do great things with them.

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Reposted from In the Public Interest

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Freight can’t wait

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

A freight train hauling lumber and nylon manufacturing chemicals derailed, caught fire and caused a 108-year-old bridge to collapse in Tempe, Ariz., this week, in the second accident on the same bridge within a month.

The bridge was damaged after the first incident, according to Union Pacific railroad that owns the rail bridge, and re-opened two days later. 

The official cause of the derailments is still under investigation, but it remains clear that the failure to modernize and maintain America’s railroad infrastructure is dangerous. 

In 2019, 499 trains that derailed were found to have defective or broken track, roadbed or structures, according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s database of safety analysis.

While railroad workers’ unions have called for increased safety improvements, rail companies have also used technology and automation as an excuse to downsize their work forces.

For example, rail companies have implemented a cost-saving measure known as Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which has resulted in mass layoffs and shoddy safety protocols. 

Though privately-owned railroads have spent significantly to upgrade large, Class I trains, regional Class II trains and local, short-line Class III trains that carry important goods for farmers and businesses still rely on state and local funds for improvements. 

But cash-strapped states struggle to adequately inspect new technologies and fund safety improvements, and repairing or replacing the aging track and rail bridges will require significant public investment.

A true infrastructure commitment will not only strengthen the country’s railroad networks and increase U.S. global economic competitiveness. It will also create millions of family-sustaining jobs needed to inspect, repair and manufacture new parts for mass transit systems, all while helping to prevent future disasters.

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work