Shovel-ready infrastructure projects are being fast tracked by the Australian government to stimulate economic recovery from COVID-19. Transport infrastructure is a big beneficiary for this billion dollar spend and a significant opportunity for us, with our passion for its city shaping impact.
Stimulus investment is a professional opportunity but also an opportunity to consider our civic responsibility in supporting shared and sustainable prosperity through infrastructure design and delivery. If public transport is essential infrastructure, in this moment of exacerbated inequity, can investment broaden to include affordable housing as essential infrastructure?
Under-investment in essential infrastructure, along with incomes not keeping pace with the cost of housing, and gender inequity all impact the opportunity for diverse participation in society. The pandemic has exacerbated both demand for and an existing shortfall in affordable housing, with the private market increasingly un-affordable for people on low to middle incomes, including essential workers.
Who is Essential?
The events of the past year have highlighted the true meaning of essential. Essential workers including nurses, teachers and emergency service personnel are deserving of an infrastructure of care. Many essential workers qualify for affordable housing, if it is even available, based on National Rental Affordability Scheme (NRAS) standards - a sole parent nurse with two children or a single childcare worker for example.
Blue Collar : Pink Collar
Multiple lifetime factors mean that women are over-represented in lower paid jobs, part time and casualised work, and caring responsibilities. Many essential sectors have female representation of around 80%. If investment by government offers stimulus and jobs, we should acknowledge that around 80% of construction jobs are held by males. Is affordable housing as essential infrastructure where we meet in the middle – creating blue collar jobs to provide pink collar homes?
Australia’s investment in social and affordable housing is low – targets of approximately 5-10% versus 35% in the UK. Policy constraints and jurisdictional variables must be acknowledged and considered to shift to patient capital investment with broad benefit. Without greater commitment, we risk a tragedy of the commons.
Essential infrastructure can be considered as a suite of infrastructure that supports the common good. We often start our work exploring what makes a place unique. But what of the common - common needs, common spaces, and common good? A diverse city must provide a range of affordable housing options. As designers, we have rights and responsibilities - not just to advocate for change but to act in making meaningful impact towards shared prosperity.
I am a bit shirty about the coloured collar talk. Instead of exacerbating gender polarisation - the blue collar shovel holders versus the pink collared care givers, we need common ground. If we are going to call a shovel a shovel, can we talk more about providing egalitarian, enduring and essential infrastructure and less about the tools we will use? Can we stitch the fabric of our cities together with threads of humanity and inclusion?
Hero image @Franzie Draws