Friday, 28 November 2014

Trains, planes and mischievous elves


Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking at 'London Infrastructure Plan 2050 Event: Circular Economy', organised by London Sustainability Exchange as part of Mayor Johnson's consultation and held on the top floor of City Hall.

The synopsis I'd provided in advance was:


"Throughout the modern era, infrastructure and the economy upon which it depends have been (thought of as) linear.

Roads, canals and railways took goods and people from A to B; the economy was conceptualised as a machine with inputs that related directly to outputs; the future was estimated on the basis of straightforward equations so that schools and hospitals and other ‘social’ infrastructure were delivered through ‘predict and provide’.

The past may work for a while, but it locks us in to its way of thinking – and it leaves us trapped by dead Cost Benefit Analyses and in possession of unaffordable ‘white elephants’.

Now that economy and society are understood as complex, adaptive systems; now that the ICT revolution is in full swing; and now that mega-projects have become almost impossible to justify, we need an infrastructure that is flexible, adaptable, plastic, bendy and small-but-easy-to-emulate.  Rather than predict what infrastructure we’ll need, David Fell will speak about what our infrastructure will need to be like.”


My actual presentation didn't mention cost benefit analysis, or equations, or possibly even ICT, which is probably a good thing.  I did say, however, that the economy used to be thought of as being like this:


but now it was probably better to think of it being more like this:


and this presented quite a challenge for infrastructure planning and design.

I also discovered that a wonderful organisation called 'More than Minutes' were capturing proceedings in graphical format; and, since I had the privilege of giving the opening address, they decided to draw me:




In fact, they captured the whole thing:




The best bit though was that, in trying to exemplify what I was blathering on about with this flexible adaptive infrastructure stuff, I spoke of drones, and how quickly they'd gone from being hostile devices that killed people in rural Pakistan to being benign devices that were going to deliver our Christmas presents.  Soon we wouldn't need lorries, I suggested, and Santa's elves would probably pilot the drones.

And they drew that too:



After all that I need some fresh air, which was outside surrounding all this:




For a moment I thought I heard the harmonised hum of tiny engines and happy helpers...

...but it must have been a trick of the tail.



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