'Beyond tele transportation - UK’s most important 21st century infrastructure project'
A stroll down Roman Road in East London - or indeed any other of the many routes we inherited from our ancestors that are still in use – will remind us how infrastructure can be a long-standing engine for growth, both economic and social, as well as a powerful element that physically transforms the landscape.
The historic and cultural relevance of infrastructure might even be greater than their actual use. Take the case of the extraordinary network of waterways within the UK, made redundant as a freight carrier shortly after their completion, by the emerging rail system, and yet maintained and reinvented as a leisure asset in more recent years, to become an intrinsic element of our landscape. The 20th century saw the appearance of new, ground-breaking infrastructure at an unprecedented pace. From electricity distribution networks to motorways, air travel to container shipping (not to mention the internet), the way people, goods and information move around the country has dramatically changed over the last 100 years.
Today’s innovations give a blink of what the future will be like: high speed rail, driverless cars and 5G networks are just the preambles of what the 21st century may bring. In a context where flying cars and tele-transportation are no longer just science fiction fantasies, it is plausible and likely that the most disruptive technology of the century is yet to be conceived. So, what is therefore the “UK’s most important 21st century infrastructure project”, if we can hardly grasp today what the challenges future generations will face?
It is clear, that no matter how innovative, no new infrastructure has completely superseded the existing ones, instead it added to them, complementing, diversifying and enhancing the range of opportunities that the whole system can provide. As even more radically different new infrastructure will follow, it is crucial to constantly develop and upgrade an “infrastructure of infrastructures”. To coordinate and integrate the different existing infrastructure assets and the new upcoming projects, addressing in a holistic way the diverse components of people, goods and information movement, to include:
- Fast and slow;
- Mass and individual;
- Continuity and on demand;
- Material and virtual;
- Public and private; and
- Local and global.
I believe this “infrastructure of infrastructures” will be the UK’s most important 21st century project: an open and flexible system which at the same time embraces change and is resilient to it, to make the most of past and present assets, and to enable innovation to happen.
This blog formed part of my application to be included on the new National Infrastructure Commission Young Professionals Panel.
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National Infrastructure Commission, Young Professionals Panel