With the 2021 passage of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Philadelphia and other US cities prepared for an influx of millions of federal dollars meant for critical public projects.
Those cities also needed to form strategies and assign leadership for dispersing that funding.
Enter: Lily Reynolds, an urban planner who has been working with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation, Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS) since 2019. This week, she is stepping into her new role as the first director of federal infrastructure strategy within OTIS.
Her background is in street infrastructure and street planning, with her previous role as the deputy director of complete streets with OTIS. However, in this new role she will be working on several types of infrastructure projects, from broadband to airports and ports to electric vehicle chargers, all of which will fall under her purview.
“I, up until now, have been working with planners, engineers, designers and community members who really look at coming together holistically at a project for transportation improvements in a community,” she told Technical.ly. “I think it’s a really exciting moment with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, where we have a historic amount of investment in our infrastructure to really utilize the learning that we’ve had, and to build on that to really move the needle and increase economic equity and serve economic sustainability.”
Community engagement around infrastructure needs, and equity, have long been part of her work. For example, Reynolds noted a project she’s been managing at Broad, Germantown and Erie for a few years, and through this project, her team has had conversations with neighborhood residents about how much the project is going to cost, and which grants have been applied for and received. Residents in turn asked how they can keep that money in the community in more ways than just built structures.
Reynolds’ Infrastructure Solutions Team will be made up of leaders across government departments collaborating on these projects. That team’s responsibilities include establishing criteria to use when hiring companies or workers to actually build this new infrastructure, such as prioritizing local businesses for contracts. It also includes understanding the different workforce development trends and needs in each industry they’ll be working in.
“There are lots of different organizations who have been doing workforce development, within apprenticeship programs, with unions — you know, all of those things to try and bring skills and skill development equitably to Philadelphia,” Reynolds said. “So we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. We want to bolster existing efforts and make connections between these existing efforts.”
A focus will be equitable job growth for Black and brown Philadelphians.
“We do really need to focus on residents of Philadelphia, or companies that want to hire and employ and train residents in Philadelphia, first and foremost,” the director said. “I would like to see that sort of economic impact really be something we can look back on five years from now” — and call a success.Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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