Society Insights

The road to new urban infrastructure

The trend

In the past decade, infrastructure has been playing a more and more central role in an economic, political and social context. In fact, infrastructure projects have driven globalization and exemplified development, modelling the concept of urbanization and giving new urban landscapes concrete form. And in the midst of infrastructure axes and urban infrastructure and infrastructure concentration, the tragedy of the pandemic has unfolded. The global economy relaunch of 2021 places infrastructure at the center of the delicate relationship between nations and markets. In Europe, infrastructure is kick starting the National Resilience and Recovery Plan, while the US has approved its most ambitious infrastructure plan since World War II.

In actual fact, the issue of urban infrastructure reverberates even deeper: it touches on the mechanisms of global development and the competitive advantage of global cities.

The green revolution, the green deal, and sustainability are reshaping the way we conceive the relationship between public, collective, and private infrastructure, shifting the borders that were delineated over the last century. What’s more, we are reimagining the concepts of “public works,” sharing, and fee-based infrastructure, which were underdeveloped or non-existent before, as they fell within an undefined perimeter. Broadband, 5G, cables, apps, ubiquitous infrastructures and interactions between these and the traditional physical infrastructures: all this has radically modified the layout of infrastructure for private citizens, the organizational model for work, homes which in some cases become extensions of our offices – going so far as to transform the very concept of privacy.

Privately-owned goods such as cars are moving from the individual to the collective sphere with car sharing. And this sharing concept might someday even apply to houses, which we may eventually come to see as a transitory good. “Financialization” (finance and funds) seems to be more and more responsive to this change, as evidenced in the huge quantities of resources that have been rechanneled into urban infrastructure, modifying the constituent bases. New energy consumption, the concentration of the population, new urban compatibilities, well-designed smart cities - all this will be possible thanks to these new forms of infrastructure.

Over the next few years, the budget policies of many European countries will need to reconcile budgetary consolidation with initiatives to make their production systems assets for economic recovery. For this reason, resources will have to be reallocated to industries with the biggest potential for economic expansion.

Infrastructure is the central theme of a recent Ipsos survey. This study shines an intriguing light on the relationship between infrastructure and citizens. What emerges from the findings is that 68% of the Italian respondents say that in their country is not enough is being done to satisfy infrastructure needs, dissatisfaction that to some degree is also found in the US. Since 2016 (the year of the first Ipsos study), the global percentage of people who say they are satisfied or very satisfied with infrastructural policies dipped from 36% to 26%, while 61% of Americans say their country could do more to support the sector.

Some takeaways

The Ipsos survey, conducted in 2021 in collaboration with the Global Infrastructure Investor Association, involved 19,000 adult respondents from 28 countries.

At a global level, according to interviewees the top priority investment areas in infrastructure are water supply and sewage (42% of respondents), solar energy infrastructure (39%), flood defenses (36%), and new housing (34%).

The percentage of citizens around the world who are satisfied with the infrastructure in their countries is 39%, a figure that is up from 2016 (33%) but down four points from 2020. Italians are the most dissatisfied of all, and on the other end of the spectrum, the Chinese, Saudis, and Dutch report the highest levels of satisfaction (77%, 75% and 74% respectively).

The report suggests that more and more people want tighter control in terms of sustainability, and greater attention to the social repercussions of related issues. In fact, the study reveals that on average, 51% of interviewees believe that environmental impact should be a consideration in decisions on how to improve infrastructure. At a global level, 48% say that social infrastructures - such as schools, hospitals and new housing solutions - should be prioritized; this percentage is six points higher than in 2020.

There is general consensus on the notion that investing in infrastructure will create new jobs and relaunch the economy: most convinced of this idea are South Africans, Peruvians, and Chinese (90%, 88% and 87% respectively), while the least certain are the Japanese (51%) and the South Koreans (56%). Italians are positioned mid-ranking, in line with the global average (75%).

In keeping with previous years, respondents showed a clear preference for maintaining and repairing existing infrastructure (with 55% at a global level) rather than spending on new projects (20%). Interviewees overall were also open to the idea of private sector investments in infrastructure, with 63% favorable.


The road to new urban infrastructure