“Lasting” is not enough
It seems strange to us today, but 30 years ago little thought was given to infrastructure renewal. Infrastructures looked so solid, and lasted so long, that little attention was paid to ‘how’ they lasted so long. This was the mid 1980s, and for the past 25 years, the focus had been on construction. As the world had recovered from WW2 and refugees and immigrants flooded into Australia, we had expanded and we had built. In fact, we expanded so rapidly, that not only did we build but the focus of our building was speed, on how quickly we could establish the new housing, the new developments that were needed by our burgeoning population. That was the background for the eight Public Accounts Committee’s Reports on asset renewal. The purpose was to convince the Parliamentarians that they needed to pay attention to renewal. It worked. We started to forecast our renewal requirements and we started to manage our assets so as to contain our future costs. Maintenance improved. Decision making improved. We rethought our existing renewal practices and, in many cases, realised that our assets could last far longer than we had previously thought.
For the last 30 years we have focussed on trying to make our assets last as long as we could so as to reduce our life cycle costs. It was a worthy ambition and it fuelled an entire discipline. Asset management was born and it has flourished.
But now, as we look ahead, it is clear that the world is changing. Climate change and rising sea levels are producing problems since many of cities around the world have been built near the sea to allow for rapid sea transport. Demographic change is impacting service demand. Technological change is impacting not only consumption but production. With an internet connection, we can work most anywhere and this is changing our ideas about cities.
That is why I say that renewal is yesterday’s problem. Renewal underlies the concept of longevity. But tomorrow’s problems are around our ability to adapt to constant and rapid change. They are about Adaptability. This is where we now need to focus. And this is why our theme for December is “Adaptability”
Your ideas on this topic welcome!