Infrastructure and Infrastructure Asset Management are Critical to the Lives of our Communities

OpEd – David Jenkins (CEO, IPWEA Australasia)

There are many ways in which we can improve the decisions we make around building new infrastructure. Many infrastructure assets, big and small, will serve communities for decades. They are often refurbished, potentially retrofitted and repurposed. As a result, decisions made on infrastructure in 2023 will reverberate through generations and will outlast many of us.

And yet so much of our planning is short-term. So, my first resolution or hope for 2023 is that we plan for the long term despite living in a short-term world. This requires a change of mindset for infrastructure planners and the elected representatives in the way they work with all three tiers of Government. My second hope is to consider the changing circumstances as we develop our infrastructure strategies.

The pandemic has seen a huge shift in the way we work, and the way we use our cities. People are increasingly moving to the regions, and our central business districts are being re-imagined. Beyond that, we have an ageing population that requires a significant service industry. Yet, the people working in this industry are often forced to make long commutes because they have to live far away from their workplaces.

Climate change is a pressing issue for infrastructure planning, and sustainability and resilience are critical. Still, both themes extend well into the future and will also be driven by demographic changes.

Demographic considerations also raise issues around inter-generational inequity. For example, many of us welcome new infrastructure for the current generation, but if we don’t plan well enough – financially, and in terms of its use – it may be an unwelcome burden to future generations.

Just as many young people today blame baby boomers for locking them out of the housing market, young people in the future could face a bleak reality of not only never achieving home ownership but continuing to pay for the infrastructure their parents and grandparents enjoyed, which might not be as valuable to them.

This goes back to the idea that infrastructure is a long-term consideration and proposition and raises the point that, in many cases, shiny new assets might not be the most appropriate solution, either for now or in the future.

Asset maintenance and renewal is as, or arguably more, important than building greenfields infrastructure and choosing that path can be a way of addressing the issue of intergenerational inequity.

David Jenkins
IPWEA Australasia

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