IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2019 - 12

Productivity
A more compelling economic rationale for infrastructure
investment has come from introspection in several
advanced economies about declining rates of growth in
productivity. Though the economic evidence of the return
on infrastructure investment is patchy [10], [11] and needs
to be improved, there seem to be positive returns, particularly for investment in the transport and digital communications areas. Physical and digital connectivity enables
trade and workforce mobility; it promotes agglomeration
and innovation. The arguments for infrastructure investment in the United Kingdom have increasingly rested on
the notions of raising productivity and competitiveness.
Social Inclusion
It appears that infrastructure investment to promote economic growth and competitiveness yields the greatest
returns where there is already high growth potential. The
completion of London's Jubilee Line Extension to the new
Docklands financial district has yielded enormous economic benefits from enabling commerce and easing travel to
work. But these investments have also exacerbated regional inequalities between the southeast of England and the
rest of Britain. Enhancing infrastructure is regarded as a
potential mechanism for helping to rebalance economic
geography, with a growing emphasis on the infrastructure
needs of the north of England-though it is not clear whether high-speed rail connectivity will benefit the north or add
more wealth to the south. Similar arguments about using
infrastructure investment to stimulate deprived regions
have been made regarding the U.S. Rust Belt [12]. Related
political motives underlie policies to promote access to
high-speed broadband in rural areas, when it is seldom economical for telecom firms to lay fiber in such places.
Sustainability
Creating infrastructure involves long-term commitments.
Once built, infrastructure can be very costly to modify or
remove. Infrastructure can even have a legacy that lasts
beyond the long lifetime of fabricated facilities: transport
locks in patterns of spatial development, while power plant
sites often end up being used for several successive generations of plants. Choices made about infrastructure can be
fundamental for sustainability in a wide range of senses:
environmental, social, and economic. From an environmental perspective, energy and transport infrastructure
are the largest sources of carbon emissions and of air pollutants that are harmful to the health of people living nearby. Dams and inland waterway navigation can disturb
sensitive aquatic environments.
On the other hand, infrastructure has made huge contributions to restoring the environment-for example,
through modern wastewater treatment facilities that prevent pollution of rivers and coastal waters, and solid waste
treatment that recycles and/or extracts resources (including energy) from solid waste. From a social perspective,
12

IEEE SYSTEMS, MAN, & CYBERNETICS MAGAZINE Ju ly 2019

infrastructure (notably transport and digital communications) enables participation in society, promoting the
spread of ideas and access to information needed to hold
governments to account. Analysis demonstrates that the
state of a nation's infrastructure influences all of the United Nations's Sustainable Development Goals, specifically
121 of the 169 targets [13].
The Developing Country Perspective
Though most of the preceding discussion has addressed the
issues of advanced economies with a large and aging stock of
reasonably well-functioning infrastructure, the greatest infrastructure challenges are found in low- and middle-income
countries. Currently, 2.5 billion people lack basic infrastructure services. One estimate suggests that US$45-60 trillion of
infrastructure investment is required to address these needs
[14]. Investment is taking place at a staggering rate. China
invested 8.5% of GDP in infrastructure from 1992 to 2011 [15].
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor involves US$62 billion of Chinese investment by 2030 in energy, transport, information and communications technology, and industry, which
is more outlay for infrastructure than has occurred since the
creation of the state of Pakistan.
These investments will lock in patterns of development
for many years to come and also leave a burden of debt for
future generations. Crucial decisions will be made over the
next few years that will establish development pathways
for exploding urban populations and economies in transition. Notwithstanding these impressive infrastructure outlays in emerging economies, in least-developed countries,
such investments are regarded, all too often, as being too
risky or controlled by political interests. Incomplete or
inappropriate infrastructure creation becomes a drag on
growth. Lessons are being learned from the failures of the
past [16], but the challenges of the future are intensifying.
Interdependencies in Infrastructure
Systems of Systems
Infrastructure networks have been designed and evolved
as sector-specific entities: electricity, gas, road, rail, digital
communications, and so on. They inevitably have interdependencies, but these have not, until relatively recently,
attracted a great deal of attention. One network operator
(e.g., a water utility) has tended to assume that the networks upon which it is dependent (e.g., electric power and
transport for the delivery of treatment chemicals) will continue to function, come what may. That optimistic assumption has been shattered by a series of damaging and
disruptive incidents. Though by no means the worst, the
well-documented account of flooding of an electricity substation in Lancaster in December 2015 [17] is revealing in
that it demonstrates how rapidly all of today's societal
functions can cease without electric power for information
and communications technologies.
This scenario points to a process of rapid technological
convergence on electricity as the dominant energy vector



IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine - July 2019

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