Research & Analysis

Flexible infrastructure needed for successful expansion of cities

A new report highlights the need for Australian cities to focus on flexibility, cross-sector collaboration and smarter use of data to keep up with the demands of population growth and climate change.

Cities are struggling to keep up with the changes we see around us – from new technologies that are changing how we live and work, to accommodating unprecedented population growth or planning for the impacts of climate change. These pressures demand new thinking in infrastructure.

Drawing on global trends and international best-practice, the Flexible Cities report, launched by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and sponsored by Salini Impregilo, considers how Australia can develop the capabilities to both plan and build more flexible and adaptive infrastructure that can serve the successful expansion of cities.

“The future is an urban one and countries really have to focus on their cities because they’re only going to get bigger, more complex, more complicated, having to serve the needs of many, many more people,” said Charles Ross, the Asia editorial director of the EIU.

“That complexity underlined the need for flexibility. We don’t really know what these cities are going to look like.”

Flexibility could take many forms – from buildings with movable physical parts and multi-use spaces that could be adapted for a variety of uses, to improvements to the technology and energy supply that supports the infrastructure. This, according to the report, means not only investing in new infrastructure, but also approaching existing assets in creative ways.

“We want to maximise the function of old critical infrastructure, so we want to retrofit all our infrastructure, we want to design new projects that are adaptable, transformable, or convertible for future use,” Ross said.

“A city that is flexible is not just about pumping it full of technology. It’s more about designing a city which can change and adapt to what the future needs of that city will be.”

One of the recommendations of the report is for governments, industry and Universities to invest further in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and retraining.

“Australia is undertaking a record period of infrastructure investment, but to meet demand, the country requires skilled, creative minds,” Ross concludes.

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