Pop Up Infrastructure?

Christmas pop up market at The Rocks

Pop-ups, those temporary, transitory events and structures have lately become very trendy. Marketers love them because, as humans, we are hard wired to respond to novelty. There is also a fear of missing out if we do not take immediate advantage of what is on offer because we know there is a good chance that next time we pass by, whatever it is won’t be there. OK. If the chief characteristic of pop-ups is their transitory nature – and the chief characteristic of infrastructure is its longevity, what are we to make of a headline reading ‘Pop up Prison’?

When I saw it, my first reaction was to smile. I thought of a young and earnest journalist wanting to be up with the latest, and a harassed sub-editor, too busy to correct. After all, pop-up infrastructure is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. But behind the trendy term lies a more serious issue.

In New Zealand, the reference was to ‘rapid build’ which is more accurate. The cell design is one that is in use in war zones and resembles detention centres surrounded by razor wire.  The cells can be rapidly deployed. This is the attraction now for cities with overcrowded prisons.  In war zones  rapid deployment is a response to a sudden and urgent need. It is very costly but in wartime there is not the luxury of time to plan so we wear the costs.  But the same argument can hardly apply to prisons. This has grown up over many years and we have been aware of it. We just haven’t been prepared to do anything about it. Now under the cover of urgency, do we throw caution to the wind, fail to plan properly, and exacerbate our future cost problems?

It is generally recognised that around 75% of the life cycle costs of infrastructure is committed at the planning stage, when we decide where and what to build.  Total life cycle costs may also be considered inversely proportional to time spent in quality planning.

Question: Why do we – both as individuals and organisations – so frequently put off thinking about, and planning for, known future contingencies until our scope for action is drastically reduced?  And what can we do about it?

One Thought on “Pop Up Infrastructure?

  1. Kerry McGovern on January 10, 2017 at 9:01 pm said:

    I suspect we unconsciously or consciously acknowledge we live in open systems with many changeable variables. It is difficult to identify reliable predictions in such an environment. Hence we duck and hope for the best…generally only with our own personal future in mind.
    As public servants, it is increasingly difficult to accurately predict outcomes. Destabilising factors (war being one) decrease the accuracy of our predictions and hence the confidence of the general public and members of parliament.
    Political actors used once to seek predictability. Now the fashion is for chaos.
    It’s time to get back to the drawing board and to separate felt experience from taught / fashionable response.
    This is as difficult as bridging the generational divide.
    And that’s the divide infrastructure planners work within.
    If it’s going to be permanent…more than two hundred years…it should be beautiful as well as practical. And more people should be involved. This creates a commitment. Maybe it is in this creation that the answer lay.

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