“Anything Which Can Be Destroyed in an Action Movie”

By on September 28th, 2015 in Blog Posts

A fun piece from John Oliver on infrastructure, which he defines as “anything which can be destroyed in an action movie”[1]:

The message, which you have no doubt heard before, is that we should spend more on infrastructure. What John Oliver misses is that the issue is more complex than just writing checks. Replacing aging infrastructure means deciding what to build next.

The options are often on a continuum, from “build a bigger version of whatever they built last time”, to “try something different”. Each mindset has its merits. Infrastructure investments are big, and they last a long time, so innovation should be incremental. A billion dollar project is not the place to take a risk on an unproven technology. But when the traditional approach has obvious shortcomings, doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result, is a poor strategy too.

Of course, what to build, how much it costs, and how to pay for it are all intimately linked. Here in BC’s Lower Mainland, we partially grappled with this issue earlier this year via the transit referendum. Partially, because the referendum didn’t present the whole choice: nobody was asked if they wanted to pay for road infrastructure, and the provincial government seems happy to direct tax dollars from existing sources towards expanding the road network. As has been observed many times, the result may have been different if the question was: “What percent of the $X billions in the transportation budget should go towards transit, and what percent towards more interchanges and freeway lanes?”

But getting back to John Oliver – the next time you hear a description of the state of our infrastructure (“crumbling” being the lazy journalist’s preferred adjective), remember that infrastructure needs more than just funding. Major investments require major thought about what, exactly, we are trying to achieve, and what we must build to get us there.

Will Cleveland

[1] I disagree. Cars are not infrastructure.

Get in touch

We are based in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, within the traditional and unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

Our projects span North America.
Our network of peers and collaborators spans the globe.

Reshape Infrastructure Strategies Ltd.
409 Granville St, Suite 925
Vancouver, BC
V6C 1T2