The Big Question

Are we investing in the right infrastructure to benefit today and the future?

Infrastructure is the physical and organisational framework needed for the operation of society.

In the UK, our roads, railways, airports, public buildings and housing are old and failing. The investment needed to maintain, fund and construct robust systems is short-term and often blighted by political meddling.

As a society are we investing in the right infrastructure to benefit today and the future?

Can we redefine what good 21st Century infrastructure looks like?

What if we thought of a different kind of platform for infrastructure, one that wasn’t in need of enormous amounts of time and money, and provided much better results.

Are we neglecting digital infrastructure by obsessing with updating our decaying railways, airports and roads? Is it time to now focus on moving information and not people. Would this provide a better, healthier alternative? This change in paradigm could redefine where we live and how we work. This will need political leadership, not from lawyers, financiers and career politicians but instead engineers (and scientists). They are needed in the UK Government, not simply advising and developing policy, but leading and setting the agenda for a better approach for our country.

Many parts of the UK still suffer from a lack of high-speed connectivity. 4G for remote areas via balloon aside, it seems for a developed country, connections and infrastructure is still lacking.

Moreover it feels disconnected, often undone by local planning authorities. Once one thing is fixed, another is required. Can we plan our new communities in a better, more holistic fashion whereby recycling, transport, digital, housing and social issues are all addressed at once?

VeloCity is a strategic approach to sustainable placemaking and growth centred on a re-imagining of the village for the 21st Century. It comprises a ‘polycentric’ cluster of new and ‘expanded’ villages, which are connected to one another by a fine-grained network of cycle routes to new and existing rail stations. A low-cost, high-speed, data network supports necessary social, environmental and economic infrastructure to enable them to operate in a sustainable manner.

What do we mean by a housing crisis?

There is much opinion about the fact that the UK housing market is broken. Decades of unrestricted capitalism have provided healthy returns for investors, executives and the few — yet failed to provide homes for the rest of us.

The quality of the product has often been deemed poor, difficult to maintain, adapt and reuse. But is this just hyperbole and not reality? Perhaps we need a better understanding of the facts.

There should be evidence-based research to show if we have too much or too little housing — or the right type in the wrong place. The ambition should surely be a new, fully-inclusive and diverse platform for ownership and a better, honest provision of good housing for all?

Case Study
Printing a new home

After the financial crisis of 2008 the ability for young people to own a home became almost impossible. This combined with high and uncontrolled rent continues to be an issue for those wanting to get on the ladder. To help, there have been many interesting schemes, apps and joint-ownership initiatives such as the community-driven Marmalade Lane in Cambridge. But costs still remain high. Can we create homes that are really affordable? Perhaps not built from bricks and mortar. Maybe something usually used on a smaller scale could help?

Amongst other things, 3D-printing looks set to revolutionise the construction industry, enhancingefficiency, minimising waste, and offering a solution to housing shortages. A Texan start-up, Icon, is able to 3D-print a single-storey home from cement in less than 24 hours, for a mere $10,000. Not only does the method produce almost no waste, the house itself is also energy efficient to run.