New infrastructure projects are all the rage, post-pandemic. But who benefits from a rising tide of concrete?
Dig for victory: this, repurposed from the second world war, could be the slogan of our times. All over the world, governments are using the pandemic and the environmental crisis to justify a new splurge of infrastructure spending. In the US, Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure framework “will make our economy more sustainable, resilient, and just”. In the UK, Boris Johnson’s build back better programme will “unite and level up the country”, under the banner of “green growth”. China’s belt and road project will bring the world together in hyper-connected harmony and prosperity.
Sure, we need some new infrastructure. If people are to drive less, we need new public transport links and safe cycling routes. We need better water treatment plants and recycling centres, new wind and solar plants, and the power lines required to connect them to the grid. But we can no more build our way out of the environmental crisis than we can consume our way out of it. Why? Because new building is subject to the eight golden rules of infrastructure procurement.