Infrastructure managers have long been perplexed at why more resources are not devoted to maintaining the infrastructure we put so much effort into obtaining.
Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that we really don’t want infrastructure at all, it is merely a convenient means of securing what we do want. So politicians may want the ribbon cutting and voters may want the promised jobs. Council CEOs may want the adulation (and subsequent job security and salary increases) that come from winning capital grants. What no-one particularly wants is the financial responsibility for maintaining that capital over the longer term.
Commuters don’t want a road. Few of us would get much pleasure out of simply admiring a strip of bitumen. What we do want is to get from A to B. Similarly we don’t want a power plant, or transmission wires, we do want to power up our lights and electrical appliances. Morover we don’t want prisons or law courts, what we do want is to feel safe and to be reassured that justice is served.
We may call infrastructure an asset but, once acquired, we think of it as a liability. While the announcement of a new infrastructure project is usually received with joy and jubilation, once the project is completed and the construction jobs have vanished, the mood changes. Governments, agencies and voters now unite in resenting contributing to ongoing operations and maintenance. Bi polar!
What’s the treatment? Bi polar disorder is treated with mood stabilizing drugs. The drugs change perceptions. Highs are dampened, lows are uplifted. Perhaps the answer for infrastructure is the same? Stop the nonsense of venerating new infrastructure projects as a panacea for all human ills. And equally stop the nonsense of assuming that services can continue to be provided without operations and maintenance resources. Dangerous illusions, both.
Both can be addressed by a better understanding of what infrastructure can and can’t do and a far better understanding of alternatives – this is one of our aims here at ‘Talking Infrastructure’.
And so our question today is: If you were an Infrastructure Medic – what would you do to dampen the highs and elevate the lows?