People as Infrastructure

04 Jul 23

Much of masterplanning is about getting the infrastructure right. In our role at Iceni, we ensure technical matters are addressed in an integrated way, so the finished places service people well. This approach includes solving issues such as “is there enough power in our cables”, “where does the wastewater go” or “is the bus service viable”. But cycles of infrastructural need are not the only design requirement. Creating places for communities must also be about improving well-being and delighting those that experience them, whether they live, work or visit a place. After all, people are the reason there’s an infrastructure need.

We therefore welcome the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) for including Placemaking as part of its toolkit. In ‘ Design Principles for National Infrastructure – NIC’, the NIC go beyond the obvious remit of infrastructure such as transport, energy, waste, digital, water and environment. On ‘Place’, the report suggests looking for opportunities to use infrastructure to benefit the natural and built environment, sustaining local ecosystems and supporting local plans for growth and investment. It also requires learning “from local people and organisations to ensure its design complements the local character and culture and supports its ecology, creating places that people can be proud of”.

The logic can be taken a step further. If people are not only to be considered an end state for infrastructure need, they could also be a baseline resource like power and water. Indeed, people are a basic infrastructure reserve often overlooked. Iceni placemaking parameters stretch from socio-economic need to the cultural significance of a place including its heritage, to defining the right mix of uses or shaping a bike path that is good for kids. The outcome can lead to a loop, from people, to process, to technology then back to people again.

The NIC focus on the major challenges of the future and how the infrastructure engine is regulated and funded. So, does adding people to infrastructure increase the cost burden? In this context, it would be useful for the Government to consider the cost benefit of putting people at the resource end of the equation, as the engine as well as the haulage.