Rachel MacCleery Discusses Infrastructure at the Atlantic Dialogues

Atlantic Dialogues panel, courtesy of the German Marshall Fund.

Atlantic Dialogues panel, courtesy of the German Marshall Fund.

Last week, I had the opportunity to represent ULI at the Atlantic Dialogues, speaking on a panel focused on the future of infrastructure.

The Atlantic Dialogues is a two-day conference co-founded by The German Marshall Fund and the OCP Foundation. The Dialogue’s dynamic and interactive format encourages all participants to fully engage in the discussion, via in person discussion and the use of an app that allowed real time voting and word clouds generated by participants.

Attending were 300 high-level public- and private-sector leaders from around the Atlantic Basin (North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia).

I spoke on a panel called “Planes, Cranes, and Lanes: Infrastructure Challenges in Atlantic Cities,” which asked speakers to respond to a key question: “How can critical infrastructure improvements lay the foundation for the economic competitiveness of Atlantic cities?”

Andrew Tuck, editor at the United Kingdom’s Monocle magazine, moderated the session. My fellow panelists were:

  • Mr. Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa
  • Ms. Dominique Lallement, International Development Consultant
  • Mr. Philip Yang, Founder, Instituto de Urbanismo e Estudos para a Metropole (URBEM), Brazil

I had three main points to convey to Dialogue’s participants. First, I emphasized that cities should be building infrastructure at the human-scale, for people. “People today are footloose, just like capital,” I said, “and when people make choices about where they want to live, they want to be in cities that serve them.”

Second, I made the case that land use is an infrastructure solution: “The smartest solution to infrastructure is actually an old school one, which is land use. And a lot of the infrastructure problems that we see are actually land use problems. It’s much easier and cheaper to provide infrastructure services to compact cities or cities that have a mix of uses.”

And finally, I said that cities should be adopting an investment framework for infrastructure. These decisions are long-term ones, with implications beyond the up-front capital costs. Cities need to think about operations and maintenance, and they also need to be strategic.

“Decisions that get made about infrastructure today will impact a region and a country for the next 50, 100, 150 years,” I said. “A lot of times the up-front discussion is about jobs and how many jobs an infrastructure investment can create. Jobs are important, but the longer-term question is how well does this infrastructure investment position a region for the future?”

I enjoyed the opportunity to speak about infrastructure and exchange ideas with my fellow panelists and other Dialogue participants. Thanks to Geraldine Gardener and her German Marshall Fund colleagues for highlighting the importance of infrastructure and cities to the security and prosperity of Atlantic countries.

Read a transcript of the infrastructure session and other panels here.

Watch a video of the session here.

See videos from other sessions here.

Andrew and his colleagues also interviewed me for a radio program, the Urbanist, which aired in the UK. Listen to the episode that featured speakers from the Dialogues event here.


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