success in terms of development, it is not at all clear whether such Nation-State-centric governance will be appropriate when it comes to dealing with the very consequences of such development. And these consequences are numerous, such as the exhaustion of the industrial development model and ensuing economic crises, climate change and pollution, growing social inequities, population growth, migration, and many others more (see below). In short, we at IGLUS think that while nation-States have been instrumental and have served (well) as the relevant units for industrial development, they constitute inappropriate geographical units when it comes to dealing with the consequences of this very development. In short, new more relevant geographical units will have to be defined – and corresponding governance mechanisms will have to be engineered (see below) – so as to deal with these very consequences. This will necessarily involve a much more pragmatic, problem-solving approach, and, as I like to think, collective learning approach (Finger and Asun, 2001). The philosophy and the very goal of IGLUS is precisely to explore such a collective problem solving-approach so as to help the new relevant entities – which we at IGLUS think are the metropolitan areas – govern the challenges they already do and increasingly will have to face.
(Large) urban (infrastructure) systems and their challenges
At the heart of (answering) these challenges are the urban – or rather the metropolitan – infrastructure systems. At IGLUS, we distinguish between “primary” and “secondary” urban infrastructures, yet we focus only on the primary ones, as they are foundational for secondary ones, as well as for all other economic, social and cultural activities. Primary infrastructures are energy, transport (for persons and goods), telecommunications, water (drinking water and wastewater), housing, waste, and what we call green infrastructures (urban parks, urban trees and other vegetation). Secondary infrastructures could be health care, education or cultural infrastructures (museums, etc.). Neither the economy, nor society can function without them.
At least these primary infrastructures are of systemic nature, i.e., they can only functions as integrated systems and as such constitute complex and dynamic socio-technical systems (Pasmore and Sherwood, 1978). As systems, they are characterized by non-linearity, emergence and adaptation (Thurner, S., Hanel, R. and P. Klimek, 2018). As complex and dynamic socio-technical systems, they also display particular economic characteristics, such as path dependency, sunk costs, externalities (including public services characteristics), network effects, tipping, etc. (Finger, 2019). But infrastructures are not static; rather, they follow a life-cycle, as they have to be planned, built, operated, maintained, rehabilitated and renewed. At times, they decay. Finally, all these primary infrastructures, at least in a dense urban context, are strongly inter-related and dependent upon one another – e.g., transport, housing and water depend on energy, transport depends on housing and vice versa, green infrastructures depend on water, etc. – and it can therefore be argued that metropolitan areas constitute by themselves complex and dynamic socio-technical systems (Batty, 2013).
While their systemic and interdependent nature is in itself a challenge, urban and especially metropolitan infrastructure systems are, in addition, challenged by a series of outside factors. Let me briefly discuss the seven most important factors which are challenging urban infrastructures separately and of course differently depending upon the stage they are at in their life-cycle: