Cities urgently need different approach to infrastructure

06 May 2011

In the May 2011 Deloitte Access Economics-Arup Investment Monitor, Arup argues that a different, systems-thinking approach to infrastructure decision-making is needed to support our major cities.

Despite some AU$82bn of economic infrastructure projects currently under construction, reports indicate this may not be enough to address Australia’s infrastructure requirements over the next decade. For the country’s infrastructure to sustain our ongoing national prosperity, an estimated AU$455bn to AU$770bn* will need to be invested in infrastructure over the decade to 2018.

“Despite the Federal stimulus package, in today’s economic climate many critical infrastructure projects remain stalled” Steve Lennon from Arup’s Management Consulting group explains. “The market for PPP’s and other innovative, vendor-driven funding mechanisms also remains subdued. With governments uneasy about debt, this has contributed to our significant infrastructure backlog, which is holding back the performance of our cities and decreasing productivity.”

In recent years, delivery of our society’s urban infrastructure has failed to meet public expectations. Some Australian jurisdictions can boast notable success stories, but all have experienced troubled gestation and delivery of critical infrastructure. Financial investment is also insufficient.

While Infrastructure Australia is a welcome addition to the nation’s infrastructure governance framework, Arup believes that more change is needed, advocating a systems-thinking approach to infrastructure, decision-making, funding and implementation.

“Infrastructure must not be thought of as the end in itself; it is a means to delivering community and economic outcomes” explains Andrew Wisdom, Head of Planning for Arup in Australasia. “Cities are complex entities. Understanding a city as a whole, and finding pathways to more sustainable futures requires an appreciation of the complex interactions between urban systems such as transport networks, housing infrastructure, land use planning, water and energy supply networks, resource and waste management and social networks.”

‘Systems thinking’ is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. Our city systems consist of people, processes and technology that interact together to make up the environment we experience. This idea is not new to urban planning, but modern communication and computing tools allow us to model city systems much closer to reality than has been possible in the past.

"Cities that work for people need to be understood as complex, adaptive systems” Steve concludes. “Our challenge now is to develop better tools to understand and manage that complexity.”

* According to 2008 reports by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Citigroup respectively.



Celia Choong
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