Jamie Simchik is a Principal Planner at Fort Hill Places in Boston, MA. Fort Hill Places is a Division of Fort Hill Companies LLC, a full-service architectural, engineering, and urban planning firm with offices in Massachusetts and Florida. In this capacity, Jamie advises public and private sector clients on a variety of real estate-related matters, including project management, preparation of development guidelines, pro forma creation, marketing, public outreach, entitlement strategies, site planning, and transportation planning. Jamie is a member of the ULI Urban Development & Mixed-Use Product National Product Council (Purple Flight) and ULI Boston Infrastructure Local Product Council. He is a ULI Michigan Larson Center for Leadership Class of 2015 alumni, ULI Boston Partnership Forum participant and an active ULI Boston UrbanPlan volunteer.
- The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. at D+ score in the recently released 2017 Infrastructure Report Card. What are your thoughts on how the private and public sector can partner to improve America’s infrastructure?
Sooner or later we, as a country, need to proverbially stop kicking this can of deferred infrastructure improvements down the road. There are quite a few articles at the moment attempting to address this issue, but one that I particularly enjoyed reading was CityLab’s Remember: Public-Private Partnerships Aren’t Free. What we all need to realize is that any infrastructure improvement will come at a cost, whether as an increase in taxes, user fees or some other mechanism. What strikes me as odd is that many Americans simply feel entitled to a superior infrastructure network. I have always been fascinated by the value capture of Hong Kong’s MTA as discussed in an earlier CityLab article: The Unique Genius of Hong Kong’s Public Transportation System. While potentially politically untenable, Americans need to take a more holistic view that the reason a location or corridor achieves success is because it has the infrastructure required to thrive. This cannot just be acknowledged through a casual discussion as there always is a cost of doing business whether realized or not.
- More and more, private equity is finding its way into public infrastructure investments. You know firsthand how challenging it is for the public sector to finance infrastructure improvements. Do you see private investment as a long-term solution to meet infrastructure needs in cities?
I do think private investment will need to play a more substantial role in solving the infrastructure needs in cities as it is apparent that various levels of government are unable to foot the bill for all the necessary infrastructure improvements, especially since the Great Financial Crisis. However, it must first be recognized that not all types of infrastructure are attractive from a return on investment viewpoint. For those types that are attractive to investors, there are plenty of cautionary tales of the privatization of public infrastructure. What I truly feel, and it may seem too simplified of a response, is that we need to have pride in the appearance of our cities. I recently visited Singapore and was asked by locals many times if I appreciated their clean and green city. Singaporeans have intense pride in their city, and we should as well. If private investment can make that happen, it is indeed timely to change our thought process as concerns the financing of public infrastructure.
- You have done planning work in Australia. What did practicing planning in an international context teach you?
My father was undertaking commercial real estate developments in New Hampshire while I was growing up, but my first real exposure to practicing urban planning was during my time in Adelaide, Australia from 2008 to 2010, after graduating from college. When I returned to the States to work and then go to grad school, I found my prior experience in Australia to be a nice juxtaposition to what I was now experiencing at home. The more I practiced, I realized these similarities and differences did not just exist between countries, but also between neighboring municipalities. While I would never say that I am an expert in any one municipality or country for that matter, I like to think this variety has made me more aware of the possibilities that exist rather than being inhibited by one set of municipal regulations or way of doing things. However, I will never forget the look on people’s faces in Australia when I stood up to represent clients at public hearings, and they were startled to hear an American accent!
- Why ULI?
An advisor, who had previously worked as a project manager for Hines, suggested I joined the ULI when I was a sophomore in college. I was impressed by ULI’s international reach and took advantage of the reciprocal membership to the Property Council of Australia during my time abroad. I discovered ULI’s attention to an interdisciplinary contribution to real estate through the Hines Competition, UrbanPlan, Technical Assistance Panels, and Advisory Services Panels. I joined by happenstance, but I know why I am still a member—the opportunity to connect and give back.
- What are you reading for fun these days?
I read Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by J. Anthony Lukas in college, but I recently obtained another copy to give it another read. I found it fascinating when I was in college because it gave context to the Boston I knew mostly by coming down from New Hampshire to see Red Sox or Celtics’ games. I am looking forward to re-reading it now as I am more familiar with the City, as well as its history, and I want to compare it to changes happening today.