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In this Essay, I reflect on the different ways in which cities engaged in what I call “infrastructure sharing” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cities around the world responded to the pandemic by repurposing their streets and sidewalks into outdoor seating, dining spaces, and car-free pedestrian corridors. At the same time, many cities and states also faced calls to “reclaim” underutilized public and private structures like empty houses and hotels and put them to a use responsive to the crisis. The Essay will highlight the difference between sharing property and assets that are part of the “public estate” and dedicated exclusively to public purposes, and sharing property and assets that cities hold in a more proprietary manner. The difference between these two kinds of public property carries implications for what kind of sharing of their infrastructure cities can do and the kinds of regulatory and policy mechanisms they might use to accomplish that sharing.

While cities found creative ways to repurpose the public estate during the pandemic that may prove lasting, they have had a harder time reimagining the productive use of their more proprietary assets. That lack of imagination is problematic not just for creating more healthy and sustainable cities, but more particularly for addressing unequal access to infrastructure. Whether expanding or repurposing the public estate or acquiring and transferring underutilized land and structures, I argue that cities can provide new public goods and services to meet the different needs and exigencies of diverse communities through infrastructure sharing. However, sharing assets held or obtained in a city’s proprietary capacity with specific marginalized groups has more potential to facilitate the creation, or cocreation, of goods and services that directly address urban infrastructure inequity.

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Yale Law Journal Forum, Vol. 132, 2022.