Infrastructure -- planning, privatizing, and paying for it, and its relationship to cities and sustainability -- was the timely topic of the the 7th Annual Land Policy Conference held earlier this month in Cambridge, with some 90 leading researchers and practitioners on hand. Some highlights:
-- Fred Salvucci, the former Massachusetts transportation secretary and chief architect of Boston’s $15.6 billion Big Dig, opened the conference by recounting the "acrobatics" necessary to coordinate multiple stakeholders in that megaproject and meet the challenges of financing.
-- In the keynote address, Brookings Institution fellow Katherine Sierra highlighted "green infrastructure" initiatives related to renewable energy in Austin, Texas, sustainable transport in Mexico, and resilience planning for climate impacts in Jakarta. "The time is now," she said. "The choices are being made."
-- Yan Song from UNC Chapel Hill presented on the estimated $1 trillion in infrastructure investments underway and being planned in China, and the associated implications for economic growth and urbanization there.
-- Lincoln Institute president Gegory K. Ingram, a longstanding expert on infrastructure going back to the World Bank's 1994 World Development Report, presented a paper by César A. Calderón from The World Bank on measuring the economic impact of infrastructure.
-- Lawrence C. Walters from the Romney Institute of Public Management, Brigham Young University, and David Crapo of Crapo/Smith LLC, discussed railroads and public utilities as models for private operating entities, followed by Janice A. Beecher of Michigan State University on the regulation of utility infrastructure.
-- The challenge of financing infrastructure maintenance, despite strong evidence that deteriorating roads or drinking water pipes has high economic costs, was explored by Felix Rioja from Georgia State University.
-- Louise Nelson Dyble of the Michigan Technological Institute explored lessons from the $1.8 billion 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway, as part of the trend of privatizing toll roads.
-- The impact of "mega-events" such as the Olympics or the World Cup was the subject of the presentation by Victor A. Matheson from the College of the Holy Cross, who noted that long-term benefits are fleeting and prone to be exaggerated; a key question is how cities use the infrastructure put in place for such events after the crowds have gone home. The redevelopment of East London for the 2012 Summer Olympics will be an important test case.
-- Anu Ramaswami from the University of Colorado Denver delivered a sobering assessment of the minimal results in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even on a per-capita basis, of climate action initiatives undertaken by metropolitan areas.
-- Alex Anas and Tomoru Hiramatsu from the State University of New York at Buffalo analyzed the spatial effects of road pricing policies such as congestion pricing, finding that a braoder approach, such as a fuel tax, tends to lead to more centralization in urban areas.
-- Robert Picciotto of Kings College London presented on the "dirty little secret" of many big infrastructure projects -- involuntary resettlement -- and called for better planning and a fairer process.
-- The social, economic, and cultural impact of dramatically expanded use of mobile phones in the developing world -- and specifically Africa, where a cottage industry for phone repair and retrofits is well-established -- was the story told by Mirjam de Bruijn of Leiden University. "People are going to be walking around the slums and the favelas with a supercomputer in their hand," noted discussant Anthony Townsend from the Institute for the Future.
Katherine Sierra's keynote address will soon be available at the Lincoln Institute's video page. The full agenda can be viewed here. The papers presented at the conference will be compiled in a single published volume and also made available online. The most recent conference volume, Value Capture and Land Policies, was published this month and was based on the Land Policy Conference in May 2011.