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Environment / Climate change

8 things we learnt from Urban Infrastructure Insights 2015

So the Economist Intelligence Unit has put out a survey regarding the state of the world’s urban infrastructure.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The Urban Infrastructure Insights 2015 report, which is funded by Spanish infrastructure giant FCC, isn’t actually a survey of the infrastructure itself, but a survey of how about 400 policy makers and business execs perceive that infrastructure. And perceptions, after all, can be wrong.

Nonetheless, what people think about the physical fabric of the world’s cities will inevitably have an impact on what actually happens to that fabric – so, here are eight things we learnt from the report.

Most people think we need the private sector to fix things

More than half the respondents think that we should be using “public-private partnerships” for infrastructure and services. Actually, it’s the only category in which more than half agreed on anything.

That shouldn’t entirely surprise us, given who responded to the survey…

…but it’s a fair point nonetheless. With public budgets as they are in much of the developed world, private investors are likely to have a substantial and growing role in getting major infrastructure projects off the ground.

That doesn’t just mean equity investment, however. New transport links such as London’s Crossrail are increasingly being funded by extra taxes on local businesses.

But the public sector will still get the blame when cities start to break

This graph shows what people believe to be the major impediments to sorting stuff out. Check out the biggest bars:

The top four are all about governmental failings: in order of magnitude, lack of urgency, lack of skill, lack of effectiveness, and lack of money.

So, for all the talk about public private partnerships, people still think infrastructure is primarily a job for the government.

No one thinks cities are going to break tomorrow

Nearly half the respondents think we might want to think about investing in stuff over the next couple of years – but almost no one went for “seriously deficient”.

Whether this is a fair assessment we’ll know, if and when things start falling over.

Transport is sexy

No, I know this sounds unlikely, but look at this graph, showing where people think their cities should invest:

Vastly more people want to invest in transport than any other category.

Now it is possible that transport systems really are more in need of investment, than any other form of infrastructure – but we cynically wonder if something else is going on. Cities would last about five minutes without working sewers, water supply or energy systems – but that stuff is so integral to modern civilization that we can’t imagine life without it. We’ve banked it. We just assume it’s there.

Overly stressful commutes, though, are much more visible than some crumbling water pipes. Hence, it’s far easier to get people enthused about a new railway line than about a new sewer.

People don’t have any imagination…

This is the same question, but the time horizon is longer.

It’s… suspiciously similar, isn’t it? The main difference seems to be…

People do have cognitive dissonance

Fewer people think we need to invest over the next five years than think we need to invest right now. That seems a logical absurdity. Surely our infrastructure needs will, by definition, get worse rather than better over time?

London is awesome at this

No, seriously, check this out:

You might wonder if this is because most of the people answering the survey were based in London (after all, the EIU is). But apparently not:

Now it’s probably fair to assume that hardly anyone says “Kobe”, say, because hardly anyone even thinks about Kobe. But London’s rating is not a fluke. People think London is good at this.

So… yay, London.

All charts are reproduced courtesy of EIU/FCC. 

You can download the full report here.
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