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Keywords:

  • Infrastructure;
  • universality;
  • bundling;
  • access;
  • externalities;
  • urban economy;
  • privatisation

Abstract

The provision of large economic infrastructure in Australian cities is widely seen to be in crisis. This paper examines the reasons why crisis has arisen in the urban infrastructure sector and what might be done to redress this. The analysis and the argument are based on a resuscitation of the ideas and ideals of infrastructure provision and how these have been eroded. The paper shows how these ideas/ideals once underpinned the formulation of state role, governance and regulation systems, financial arrangements, and even community need and expectation. Critical to this was an acceptance of the ideals of universality, access, bundling and free positive externalities, and the belief that these should be assembled necessarily as part of any urban infrastructure roll-out. This package became instinctive in post-war economic and urban management. Yet this instinct has been lost as governments shift from models of infrastructure provision to infrastructure procurement where a major role for the private sector is now common. While such an involvement has its benefits, there are concerns for the urban condition when privatisation of infrastructure construction, delivery and operation becomes dominant. Citing Graham and Marvin (2001), the paper argues that, where once infrastructure was the key device for integrating the elements of the city and its people, the way it is now being delivered produces a splintered urbanism. There is an urgent need, then, to re-think what infrastructure means in today's urban context and thereafter to re-assess the criteria for deciding what infrastructure is to be provided, in what form it should be provided, who should provide it, who should pay, and who should operate it.