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The Future of Infrastructure

Voice of the People

Over 10,000 citizens from 10 major cities share their views on how satisfied, safe, inspired and engaged they are with their infrastructure networks and services


The Future of Infrastructure

2 minutes

Welcome to AECOM's latest Future of Infrastructure research report. For this year’s edition, we reached out to more than 10,000 people in 10 major global cities to ask about their everyday experiences with infrastructure services.

How satisfied and safe do they feel with their roads and bridges, rail services and utilities? How engaged are they in the decision-making processes for new projects that can improve lifestyles and drive new economic growth? 

We found that while every city has its own distinct story, there are shared views and experiences that people have around the world. This includes frustration with public transportation and a desire for cities to be greener, safer and better connected. They also share an interest in how infrastructure systems are planned, paid for, developed and operated.

We spoke with senior industry and government leaders about their work to meet these challenges. What we confirmed in this process is that infrastructure is everyone’s business — no matter whether you live in Los Angeles, London, New York, Hong Kong, Riyadh, Sydney, Chicago, Mumbai, Singapore, or Toronto.

Michael S. Burke
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

The report is rich with findings and insights. And we believe these will be useful in advancing public engagement, leading to progress in modernizing the infrastructure systems that power economies and improve lives. There are articles, too, addressing many of the issues raised around funding, stakeholder engagement, resilience, accelerated project delivery, the next-generation workforce and infrastructure innovations that will impact and shape our cities of the future.

Our new Future of Infrastructure report marks the beginning of a series of important conversations involving the public and private sectors, governments, and the people they serve in cities around the world.

AECOM is uniquely placed to respond to the challenges identified in this report. Our engineers, builders, planners and other professionals are already delivering compelling solutions as we help to improve quality of life for all.

Thank you for being a part of this important conversation.

The Future of Infrastructure

Global infographic

Statistics at a glance

The Future of Infrastructure


Residents are willing to play their part

39 percent of Londoners are willing to pay higher taxes to help fund infrastructure improvements.

Executive summary

A tale of 10 cities // THE FUTURE OF INFRASTRUCTURE 

2 minutes

Is anyone happy with their infrastructure? 

It’s a big question. And it’s at the core of a survey conducted for this report with more than 10,000 people across 10 major global cities — Los Angeles, London, New York, Hong Kong, Riyadh, Sydney, Chicago, Mumbai, Singapore, and Toronto.

When a city’s infrastructure works well, we tend to take it for granted. But when transportation and utility services fail to deliver, they have a negative impact on our quality of life, on business and on the wider economy.

We know infrastructure services are under strain to meet growing demand and that investment is lagging. With this in mind, it is perhaps no surprise that the residents of our 10 target cities tell us they are not entirely happy with their city government’s management of local infrastructure and the services it delivers.

Based on our survey, results show an average infrastructure satisfaction score across the cities of 4.1 on a scale of 1–10. The cities included in the study are Los Angeles, London, New York, Hong Kong, Riyadh, Sydney, Chicago, Mumbai, Singapore, and Toronto.

The people’s verdict: cities must do better

Informing this score, in large part, is residents’ desire to have a greater say in the development of infrastructure in their cities. Across all of the locations, a perceived public engagement gap is undermining the best efforts of city authorities to upgrade local infrastructure and improve services. Residents want to be kept more informed about projects and contribute meaningfully to the debate.

Putting aside their concerns about engagement, citizens offer a more positive view of the quality and reliability of infrastructure overall. This support points to a measure of goodwill felt by citizens towards their cities’ infrastructure on which city governments could build — strengthening users’ sense of ownership of, and involvement in, future projects.

Here are the headline findings of our study, based on what more than 10,000 citizens told us about their use of infrastructure and ambitions for their cities.

Infrastructure is everyone’s business. But many feel shut out of the conversation. Most of the 10 survey cities clearly underperform when it comes to engagement with citizens on infrastructure. Aggregate satisfaction is measured at a lowly 3.3 out of 10. It is highest in Mumbai and lowest in Sydney, Chicago and Hong Kong. More focused interaction with citizens could go a long way toward improving perceptions of city governments’ performance on infrastructure and securing support for future projects.

Residents want to play their part. In several cities, residents show a willingness to pay higher taxes to fund infrastructure improvements. And almost one-half (46%) of respondents overall are happy to share personal data — the lifeblood of smart cities — with city agencies to help them improve infrastructure and services. Both commitments can be seen to underline citizens’ desire to play their part in delivering better infrastructure.

Wanted: more private-sector involvement. A clear majority of city residents overall (63%) believe the private sector should be more involved in the development of city infrastructure. The hope being, potentially, that this could help to contribute to the financing, development, delivery, and management of better infrastructure.

Roads, rail and the environment are top improvement priorities. Respondents were asked to choose between several possible initiatives, and upgrading public transportation — particularly roads and underground rail — was identified as  the top infrastructure priority. A close second priority is improving environmental sustainability, through solar power, recycling and wastewater re-use initiatives. Indeed, environmental sustainability is the main priority for five of our cities.

Boosting resilience against cyberattacks is a pressing concern. More respondents have confidence in their city’s ability to protect infrastructure against natural disasters and terrorist attacks than those who do not. However, they are less confident in their city’s defenses against cyberattacks. And citizens need increased reassurance from city authorities about the capabilities of their infrastructure to withstand such events.

The grass is always greener. Almost half of respondents (45%) believe other city governments are doing a better job than their own in fostering environmentally sustainable practices. Solar power is viewed as extremely important to future quality of life, trailing only fiber-optic broadband.

Global snapshot of overall infrastructure satisfaction

The Infrastructure Satisfaction Index draws on responses to selected questions from a global online survey of 10,750 people residing in 10 cities

Scores for satisfaction, engagement, innovation, and resilience are based on a 1–10 scale.

  • 10–7.6

    Very satisfied

  • 7.5–5.1

    Moderately satisfied

  • 5.0–2.6

    Not very satisfied

  • 2.5–1.0


Further reading

So, who is happy with their infrastructure?

Part one: Infrastructure is everyone's business

We want more say

2 minutes

With quality of life and quality of infrastructure services being inextricably linked, respondents make it clear that they want to be part of the infrastructure debate.

In several of our focus cities, more than half of the residents surveyed say they have had no opportunity to comment on public transportation. Many want to have a say in how their infrastructure is planned, paid for, developed, and operated. They want to follow the progress of major projects and get answers from city agencies to their questions about the work. Our research shows that large numbers of citizens are unimpressed with their authorities’ efforts to engage with them.

A detailed look at the survey responses helps to explain the dissatisfaction. Only 38 percent of residents say that city planning authorities are making it easier for them to interact on infrastructure issues through mobile channels, and 39 percent say the same about interaction via social media. In the past 12 months, only one-third (33%) have viewed an infrastructure-related plan made available by city authorities.

Scores for satisfaction, engagement, innovation, and resilience are based on a 1–10 scale.

  • 10–7.6

    Very satisfied

  • 7.5–5.1

    Moderately satisfied

  • 5.0–2.6

    Not very satisfied

  • 2.5–1.0


Sydney stands out in its lack of engagement. Globally, over one-third (34%) of survey respondents — and as many as 46 percent in Sydney — have had no interaction at all with public transport providers in the past year. The figures are almost as high in Chicago and Toronto. Residents of Mumbai and Riyadh, by contrast, have had considerably more interaction, particularly via mobile channels and social media.

“People can feel that they’re not being kept informed about progress with infrastructure or services in ways that are relevant to them,” says Peter Runcie, who is New Industries and Future Cities Leader with the Data61 unit of the Australian government scientific research body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).

He observes that some of Sydney’s local area councils do a good job of interacting with residents on specific issues, such as road improvement, parking and development of local transportation strategies.

“Although uniformity is not desirable, it can be difficult for these localized initiatives and best practices to be integrated at a city-wide level. People, of course, travel out of their local area so their perspectives — although not city wide — do include multiple localities that provide services to them as individuals.”

City story

Keeping Riyadh residents engaged

Construction work on the 112-mile (180-kilometer), 85-station Riyadh Metro, underway since 2014, has inevitably caused some disruption to daily life, acknowledges Saudi Minister of Transport Dr. Nabeel M. Al-Amudi, and therefore all stakeholders eagerly await its scheduled completion in 2021. In the meantime, he says, “We must keep citizens engaged and updated about how things are progressing. It shouldn’t be something that residents simply have to suffer through.”

One initiative from the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) to keep residents interested was novel: in 2015, it held a competition to name the first of the enormous boring machines used to dig the tunnels. Over 1,000 entries were submitted, and the winner was Dhafrah, which translates to English as 'Victory.' Strukton: First tunnel boring machine starts drilling on the Riyadh Metro LineAnother initiative was to build an interactive visitor center showcasing the project. Opened in 2017, the exhibition allows visitors to experience the ticketing, payment and other technologies the metro lines will use when open. Visitors are able to walk through mock-ups of stations and trains, and to watch on screen workers in action in different parts of the project.Saudi Gazette: A glimpse inside Riyadh Metro’s ‘ride to the future'

“Such initiatives have made it easier for people to make the project part of their daily lives,” says Dr. Al-Amudi. “The project becomes something that's enjoyable, rather than onerous.”


When people have opportunities to express their opinions, they also want to be confident that they will be heard.

In the 10 surveyed cities, the opportunities that do exist for better interaction are often wasted through a lack of attention to basic details. For example, no more than 36 percent of respondents feel that the authorities are clear when requesting citizen feedback about public transportation issues. Such clarity is particularly low, judging by the responses, in North American cities such as Chicago (27% in agreement) and Toronto (32%). And a majority (52%) believe that feedback requests come too late to be meaningful. Mumbai residents are most vocal on this count, with 70 percent agreeing with the complaint.

Transportation agencies and utility providers in many cities are getting better at interacting with the public on infrastructure issues, according to Lara Poloni, AECOM’s Chief Executive Officer, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “They certainly understand that customer needs should be the top priority, in terms of planning, services and security,” she says. Judging by the survey results, many cities are nevertheless finding it difficult to translate that understanding into effective engagement practices.

Public officials understand the need to engage more with people  on infrastructure projects agrees Sir John Armitt, Chair of the U.K.’s National Infrastructure Commission, but many are wary of the time it may add to the process. He terms them ‘reluctant converts.’ “They’re worried about the time involved and the objections they’re likely to encounter. However, by not consulting and making decisions in isolation, they’re actually adding time to the process due to the resistance that follows.” His recommendation is, “Get out and talk to people about the costs as well as the benefits. You might be surprised that the more you talk to them, the more they'll engage and warm to the ideas.”

Types of public infrastructure issues where there had been an opportunity to provide feedback

City story

Angelenos have their say about next-generation buses

Los Angeles residents are helping to determine the city’s new bus network plans. A NextGen Bus Study is gathering their input to help determine the new network’s key objectives. A major spur to action is the 20 percent fall in bus use recorded since 2013.Curbed LA: Metro’s declining ridership, explained

As part of the study, an outreach initiative during 2018 sought residents’ views on the plans. To collect this input, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (known locally as Metro) developed an online engagement tool in which users gave details about their current travel practices and destinations, and answered questions about preferences for the network. For example, they were asked to allocate a notional sum of money among different types of improvements, such as increasing geographic coverage and bus frequency at different times of day. The tool also asked residents to make a series of trade-offs, such as fewer stops on a line to enable faster trips versus more stops to shorten the walk to a stop.

Metro promises that residents’ input will be reflected in new bus network plans that will be released in 2019 and implemented the following year. It should be clear by 2021 whether the overhaul will be enough to win back bus passengers on a large scale.

Immersive experiences

A mastery of digital communication and visualization technologies would help city authorities boost their engagement success. Citizens are increasingly technology savvy. A majority of survey respondents, for example, pay for their public services via internet banking and/or mobile apps. And when multiple channels of communication with city agencies are available, citizens appear to use them. Of the one-third of respondents who have viewed an infrastructure-related plan in the past year, 33 percent used a mobile app to do so (including 36% in Singapore and Riyadh, and 52% in Mumbai), and 30 percent an interactive website (48% of Hong Kong residents have done this). One-fifth also viewed a plan in an interactive digital display, such as one that Riyadh authorities organized to showcase its metro rail project (see ‘Keeping Riyadh Residents Engaged').

Top three ways in which infrastructure plans have been made available for view














  • Through a mobile app
  • Interactive website
  • Electronic document (e.g. PDF, DOC, PPT)
  • Printed form/paper
  • Physical display (in a public building)


Survey respondents’ views about infrastructure quality suggest there is plenty of goodwill that cities can build on to increase overall satisfaction levels. Doing a better job of keeping residents informed and seeking their input about infrastructure projects can build on that goodwill. Doing this does not necessarily entail major financial investments, says Ronnie Hakim, Managing Director of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. It does, however, require the commitment of human resources, she says — finding good people to interact with the public effectively face-to-face and digitally.

Engagement should be treated as a core part of an infrastructure project and not an add-on, maintains Sir John Armitt . “There need to be clear targets and milestones [for consultation],” he says. “The targets may be daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. When the targets are met and milestones reached, everybody, including the wider public, needs to know. That’s how to maintain people’s interest over long, drawn-out projects.”

City story

New York lets citizens do the budgeting

Cycleways or sidewalks, parks or libraries? An innovative program to invite local people to prioritize spending on their local infrastructure projects has been hailed a success in New York City.

Harvard University calls the Participatory Budgeting initiative 'the largest and fastest-growing' process of its kind in the United States and gave it an award for innovation in government.Government Innovators Network: Participatory Budgeting in New York City Launched in 2011, the program involves inviting residents of individual districts to vote on how to allocate available funds on local infrastructure and other community projects. In one recent spending round, begun in August 2018, each of 31 districts had US$1 million to allocate. Projects that have benefited from previous spending rounds have involved schools and libraries; many others involve parks, streets and sidewalks, bicycle lanes and other transit improvements.GovTech: A Look at New York City's Participatory Budgeting Map

Each round begins with several hundred neighborhood meetings to brainstorm ideas for projects. Citizens are also invited to submit ideas via an online mapping site, where they can view proposed projects near them and in other districts.New York City Council Participatory Budgeting Volunteers and officials of city agencies work to turn a select number of ideas into concrete proposals, which are then put to a vote by residents (five proposals in each district).

Critics say the funds available are limited and that new layers of city hall bureaucracy are blocking the scheme.New York Times: Three New York City Ballot Proposals, One Worth Supporting Its continued expansion in scope, however, suggests the program is having an impact as an exercise in civic engagement.


How well do you know your community?
Five steps to working closer with communities

How well do you know your community?
Article / Funding

Infrastructure funding:
An informed, engaged public is key to modernizing infrastructure

Infrastructure funding:
Article / Skills

All change?
Infrastructure’s Next-Gen Workforce

All change?

PArt Two

Smart, convenient, data driven

2 minutes

Five of our focus cities in this study — New York, London, Singapore, Toronto and Hong Kong — are among the world’s 10 smartest cities, according to an authoritative annual ranking by Spain’s IESE Business School.IESE: Cities in Motion Index

These cities are using data and digital technology to improve residents’ lives. Our survey respondents in these and the other cities believe there is considerable innovation around infrastructure and services. Overall, and in each city, citizens are ‘moderately satisfied’ on this count.

Scores for satisfaction, engagement, innovation, and resilience are based on a 1–10 scale.

  • 10–7.6

    Very satisfied

  • 7.5–5.1

    Moderately satisfied

  • 5.0–2.6

    Not very satisfied

  • 2.5–1.0



Convenience on demand

Several futuristic, eye-catching technologies will make their appearance in cities in the coming decade. Already a few can be seen in city pilots now, think autonomous buses and cars, pilotless drones for parcel delivery, airborne taxis, and augmented reality displays to help commuters navigate transport hubs. Corporate R&D units and technology start-ups are behind much of this innovation, but some public infrastructure agencies are cooperating with these and other entities to monitor progress and develop innovative applications of their own.

Such an initiative is the Colorado Department of Transportation’s RoadX program, which, as the department’s Executive Director, Michael Lewis, explains, provides seed funding to initiatives or ventures to develop connected vehicle infrastructure.CDOT unveils $20M tech program to make roads safer, faster  It is an example of what 63 percent of our surveyed citizens could have in mind in their belief that the private sector should be more involved in infrastructure development.

5G mobile networks will be integral to enabling all such technologies to operate effectively in city environments, according to Derrick Pang, Chief Executive Officer of Allied Asia Infrastructure. Today’s 4G networks will not be enough to support the data traffic the new technologies will generate and the applications they give rise to, he says. 5G services should be available in most of our study’s focus cities by 2020.Lifewire: 5G Availability Around the World

Other experts say that the most impactful infrastructure-related innovations in the coming years will be those that enhance personal convenience. According to Veronica Siranosian, Los Angeles-based Vice President of AECOM Ventures, the company’s innovation team, these will be digital technologies that will “make people better aware of how they can access and use infrastructure and services.” Lewis describes these intuitive technologies, which enable people to select and pay for their journeys using a few simple steps, as ‘citizen nirvana.’

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) fits this description, says Gene Soo, Hong Kong General Manager of Citymapper, an award-winning transportation app and service provider. A MaaS platform integrates different forms of transport, often provided by different public or private operators, into a single service that users can access and pay for on their mobile devices. European cities such as Helsinki and Stockholm are leading the way with MaaS; Soo expects pilots to be rolled out in the coming years in Singapore Juniper Research: Mobility-as-a-Service to Replace 2.3 Billion Private Car Journeys Annually by 2023, Kaohsiung and other Asian cities. (See ‘Integrated Mobility Continues its Expansion in Singapore').

Share of citizens surveyed able to pay for public transportation or other utilities using mobile app, contactless debit or credit card, and smart card (for transport)

  • Contactless debit or credit card
  • Mobile app
  • Smart card

Smart technology in action 

When asked about the advanced technologies being deployed in cities today, nearly half (47%) of survey respondents say that charging stations for electric car batteries are available, while 49 percent can install digital electricity meters in their homes, and 40 percent have access to digital water meters. On all three of these measures, London’s figures are highest. High-speed fiber-optic broadband - a fundamental element of modern digital infrastructure - is ubiquitous in Hong Kong and Singapore and widely available in London, although, according to respondents, it is less so in Sydney, New York and other focus cities.

New ways of paying for public services is a particularly active area of innovation. More than four in 10 respondents overall (43%), say their main provider of public transportation makes available innovative payment options depending on time of day or usage. Over one-half (52%) pay for transport or other utilities using a mobile app. Nearly the same number (49% overall, and 78% in London) now use a contactless debit or credit card to pay fares.

It is a rich period of growth and diversification in new payment systems for public transport, says Peter Leung, General Manager of Operations Projects with Hong Kong’s MTR (Mass Transit Railway) Corporation. Within a few years, though, he expects convergence around the few that are able to build a critical mass of users rapidly. 

City story

Integrated mobility continues its expansion in Singapore

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) together with the Intelligent Transportation Society Singapore (ITSS), recently introduced a strategic plan called ‘Smart Mobility 2030,’ paving the way for a more connected transportation system through innovative and interactive smart mobility solutions.

Helping facilitate this is an existing open-source platform for real-time, transport-related datasets and APIs that help create personalized trips across multiple transportation modes.

Three key strategies and four focal areas have been identified to help Singapore realize its intelligent-transportation vision.

  1. The first strategy involves implementing innovative and sustainable smart-mobility solutions for diverse travelers, and using intelligent data analytics to facilitate better travel planning and transport management.
  2. The second strategy entails sharing accurate transport data, as well as the development and adoption of intelligent transportation system (ITS) standards to ensure overall system efficacy.
  3. The third strategy seeks to establish partnerships and collaborations between public and private sectors, and heighten awareness of ITS in the industry and with the public.

Anchored on four key focal areas, namely informative, interactive, assistive and green mobility, the ‘Smart Mobility 2030’ initiative will leverage highly reliable data to provide more intelligent transport-related services and convenience, with advanced features to assist travelers with their daily commute. It will also help to streamline operational processes, and create a more sustainable environment.

Data in the driver’s seat

Data collection and analysis lie at the heart of almost all forms of innovation in city infrastructure and services. Working with private- and public-sector partners, including private infrastructure owners and operators, city agencies are putting advanced technologies to work to improve their data capabilities. Internet-of-things (IoT) sensors in bridges, roads, traffic lights and railway infrastructure transmit ever-growing volumes of data about performance, erosion and possible maintenance needs. Advanced analytics, increasingly guided by artificial intelligence (AI), help agencies better understand user behavior in transportation and utility consumption.

Citizens understand the connection between data and good public services. Almost one-half (46%) of survey respondents are happy to share their personal data with city agencies to help them improve city infrastructure or public services. That sentiment is strongest in Mumbai and Riyadh (68% and 56% of respondents, respectively), but is also strong in places such as London (47% agreement), which has several years of experience in using commuter data, including, to deliver innovative transport services (see ‘London is Open for Data').

Government open-data platforms are part of the formula to develop better infrastructure and services. Most of the mobile apps and services discussed in this report could not exist without anonymized data being made available through such platforms. But they must be open to individuals as well as businesses.

AECOM's innovation specialist Veronica Siranosian believes such platforms can be a useful engagement tool for cities. Los Angeles, for example, maintains an open-budgeting platform where people can see how the infrastructure budget is being spent and how projects are performing against key metrics. “Just having that information enables people to evaluate, question, and participate in a more-informed way in government,” she says.City of Los Angeles: Open Budget

Proportions of citizens who are happy to share personal data with relevant city agencies

  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Unsure

City story

London is open for data

Transport for London (TfL), the local government body with overall responsibility for underground, bus and rail systems in the UK capital, is a serial innovator in public-service delivery. Its most renowned innovations are the Oyster payment card, introduced in 2003, and later the use of contactless credit and debit cards to pay for underground, bus and rail travel.ZDNet: Transport for London's contactless and mobile device payments system will be adopted in some American cities

TfL’s open-data initiative, started in 2009, is less celebrated than the Oyster card, but possibly just as impactful. According to accounting firm Deloitte, 42 percent of London commuters use one or more of 600 mobile apps that were built using TfL data. This data was made available to developers in application programming interfaces (APIs) and other types of data feeds. Some of the services originally built using TfL data have gone global, such as Citymapper. Deloitte estimates that TfL’s open-data practices generate economic benefits of up to US$166 million annually for itself, the city and travelers.Deloitte: Assessing the value of TfL’s open data and digital partnerships Among the ways the agency plans to keep that figure growing is to make its API platforms commercially available, and to make its data-sharing expertise available to other organizations in the same way that it has exported its contactless capabilities.Silicon UK: TfL Licenses Contactless Ticketing System In £15m Deal

The Future of Infrastructure

Los Angeles


49 percent of Los Angeles respondents felt they did not have an opportunity to provide feedback on public infrastructure issues in the past 12 months.

Part Three: Future priorities

Make it green, efficient, flexible and safe

2 minutes

Two priorities stand out for residents of our 10 cities when thinking about future infrastructure: they are upgrading public transportation and enhancing environmental sustainability.

A cleaner environment is paramount in cities where air quality has been notoriously poor, such as Hong Kong, Mumbai and Los Angeles. Almost half of respondents (45% overall, and 64% in Hong Kong) believe other city governments are doing a better job than their own in fostering environmentally sustainable practices. The green improvements wanted by residents include more widespread and affordable use of solar power (and the use of feed-in tariffs), more green spaces, and more waste recycling and wastewater re-use.

When asked to name the technologies that will have a big impact on their future quality of life, survey respondents ranked solar power a close second behind high-speed fiber-optic broadband.

Scores for satisfaction, engagement, innovation, and resilience are based on a 1–10 scale.

  • 10–7.6

    Very satisfied

  • 7.5–5.1

    Moderately satisfied

  • 5.0–2.6

    Not very satisfied

  • 2.5–1.0


We asked : In your city what technology and infrastructure improvements are most important and will have the biggest impact on your life.

  • Fiber-optic (super-fast) broadband
  • Solar power
  • Fast rail connections to airport
  • Smart (digital) electricity meters installed in homes
  • Mobile payment channels
  • Wind power
  • Smart (digital) water meters installed in homes
  • Electric car infrastructure (e.g. battery charging stations)
  • Driverless vehicles
  • Social media payments channels
  • Virtual / augmented reality

When it comes to transportation, residents of Chicago, Los Angeles and Sydney — where private cars are the main form of local transport — would channel future spending first and foremost toward improving the road network. By contrast, those in New York, Toronto and Hong Kong, where people are more reliant on mass transit, would prioritize spending on improving their underground metro systems.

However, new investment is not the only answer to road and transport network issues, says Andrew Carruthers, End Market Executive Director, Infrastructure and Environment, Asia Pacific, AECOM. He believes that Sydney’s transport infrastructure needs a rethink. “We inherited [a transport infrastructure] that focuses on moving people from the outer suburbs into the CBD [central business district] and back. But people are becoming resistant to this, as their commute gets longer and more uncomfortable. We need to move away from this CBD-centric infrastructure toward one that connects several mini cities within the city.”

Planning for the future

Infrastructure planning also needs to become more adaptable, says Carruthers. “Long-term planning was fine when rates of change were relatively slow, but change is much faster now. We must create the ability to build infrastructure for a shorter time horizon and factor adaptability into it.”

For Siranosian, adaptability could mean building multi-use infrastructure that uses data to respond to real-time needs. She cites the example of curbsides that are used for commercial vehicles during the day, but could become small parking spaces or even dining areas in the evening.

Infrastructure adaptability and responsiveness become possible when planners adopt agile practices (a methodology originally developed to guide software development), believes Rob Meikle, Chief Information Officer of the City of Toronto. “We’re using more agile-approaches in concept development and testing,” he explains. “As a result, we are able to get projects done faster in smaller pieces, which also allows us to validate the return on investment and benefits and then scale accordingly afterwards.”

City story

Los Angeles Metro's 'extraordinary' approach to planning

Recognizing the limitations of long-term planning in an age of rapid technological change, Los Angeles Metro created an Office of Extraordinary Innovation (OEI). Set up in 2015, the OEI is more than a planning office; it acts as the transportation authority’s in-house innovation agency, with a 10-person team whose remit is to incubate and implement innovative ideas for Metro.Los Angeles Regional Investors Conference, April 1 2016

The OEI invites proposals from the private sector to develop technology-based solutions to the city’s transportation challenges. A current focus is on projects to develop shared mobility and mobility-on-demand services. It also takes on ‘extraordinary’ projects, such as one to develop a gondola that would ferry 5,000 baseball fans an hour to and from Dodger Stadium.Wired: A Dodger Stadium Gondola Is Just LA's Latest Wild Bid to Bust Traffic

The OEI is among the first ventures of its kind to be set up within the transportation agency of a city in the United States. Larger agencies typically develop projects involving long-term capital investment in major infrastructure such as tunnels and bridges. Few are set up to solicit proposals and develop pilots for smaller projects with the private sector. The OEI could provide a model for other American cities, and beyond, looking to exploit fast-developing transportation technologies and services.

Resilient infrastructure

Resilience is another critical requirement in urban infrastructure. One facet of resilience is environmental sustainability, which is high on the list of citizens’ infrastructure priorities. Better air quality and more green space contribute to perceptions of an improved quality of life, but sound environmental practices can also help cities deal with the damaging effects of climate change. Citizens also expect their city authorities to ensure the protection of infrastructure against more-immediate threats, such as natural disasters (e.g. earthquakes and flooding), terrorist attacks and cyberattacks.

While survey respondents express a moderate degree of satisfaction with the resilience of their city infrastructure, there is some disquiet when it comes to cybersecurity. Just under one-third of respondents (32%) may have confidence in the city government’s ability to protect infrastructure against cyberattacks, but more (36%) do not. 

City story

High-tech leak prevention in Toronto's water system

Like most large cities with aging water infrastructure, Toronto faces challenges in maintaining the integrity of its mains, sewers and treatment plants. This is why Rob Meikle, Toronto’s Chief Information Officer, has high hopes for a pilot that the city is conducting with the use  facilities. The device contains sensors that can detect existing leaks and identify degraded sections of pipe that are likely to become leaks. Rolling through the pipes, the ball collects data that is transmitted directly to surface stations or downloaded after the ball is recovered.

“This allows us to conduct preventive maintenance that will result in big savings of water,” says Meikle. He adds that the data gathered is also helping the city to update its drawings of the central water plant. And by applying augmented-reality technology, he says, city water engineers can view realistic simulations of parts of the system to better understand their current state of repair and plan for future maintenance or upgrading. “We see enormous potential for this technology,” confirms Meikle.


Article / Resilience

Making Cities Resilient:
A Cyber Stress Test

Making Cities Resilient:
Article / Innovation

Right Here, Right Now:
Mobility as a Service

Right Here, Right Now:
Article / Accelerated delivery

Olmsted Dam:
Making Modern America

Olmsted Dam:

Part 4: Calls to action


2 minutes
  1. Build on citizens’ goodwill. City authorities should not be surprised at the relatively positive attitudes that residents hold about the state of local infrastructure and services. But poor engagement can quickly change the mood. City officials, infrastructure agencies, utility providers and business stakeholders need to ensure greater strategic engagement to secure and maintain citizens’ support during projects, and following completion.

  2. Be patient, creative and open. Gaining public acceptance of projects — and sustaining people’s interest throughout implementation — involves time and money, but it will be well spent if objections are seen to be addressed. Creative use of digital as well as traditional channels of interaction must be the norm. Authorities must be up front with citizens about the costs and the benefits of projects.

  3. Build confidence through transparency. Citizens are willing to share their personal data to help bring about improvements in city infrastructure and public services. City agencies not only need to reassure citizens that their data is being handled with care, but they need to show them how their data is contributing to specific improvements. Citizens also need to know more about how their city infrastructure is being made resilient against various types of threats.

  4. Learn to share. Aspiring ‘smart’ cities benefit from exchanging data and ideas with companies, application developers and other innovators. City governments should ensure that their open-data platforms contain data of relevance and use that is kept up-to-date and user-friendly for individuals as well as private-sector and other organizations.

  5. Tap into the public’s green impulses. Citizens make it clear that sustainability of their urban environment is very important to them. Prioritizing solar power and other green technologies is, of course, important. But individual residents and community groups can also be sources of useful ideas for improvements in areas such as air quality and green space. And with public interest high, creative interaction with residents on green initiatives can also boost engagement levels.

  6. Adapt to thrive. Long-term planning is not going away, but rapid technology and demographic changes mean that opportunities for improving infrastructure can emerge at any time and be met at speed. Planners who adopt an agile approach can test, design and scale projects at pace — and engage more deeply with citizens.

The Future of Infrastructure


Private sector involvement

78 percent of citizens responded in favor of more private sector involvement in the development of infrastructure.