Planner Speak: What do you mean by infrastructure?

Last week we introduced the term “built environment” and explained that infrastructure is part of the built environment. Without infrastructure, many of the things we take for granted would be impossible, or at least far more difficult. Getting around, having clean drinking water, getting rid of our trash and recyclables, talking to people who are miles away, and turning on the lights are all made possible by infrastructure.

Infrastructure (n.) is the structures and services that support a community. Roads, sewers, waste collection services, electrical power networks, and mobile phone networks are all examples of infrastructure. Infrastructure supports the production and distribution of goods and services.

Transportation infrastructure makes it possible for us to get from place to place. Highways, smaller roads, bridges, tunnels, street lights, traffic lights, buses, rail lines, airports, ferries, paths for bicyclists and pedestrians, sidewalks, and bike lanes are all part of our transportation infrastructure. These are the structures that support multimodal transportation. For a deep dive into the term ‘multimodal transportation’, check back next week.


We also need infrastructure to manage water, from purifying and distributing drinking water to managing storm water, irrigating crops, controlling floods, removing snow from roads, and disposing of waste water that comes from our toilets and washing machines.

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When you flip on a light switch, do you think about the vast network of energy infrastructure that powers your light bulbs? The power could come from fossil fuels, nuclear power, solar, wind, or hydroelectric. Whatever the source, it is distributed to you through the electrical grid.  Aside from the electrical power network, other examples of energy infrastructure include natural gas pipelines, electric vehicle charging stations, and steam heating systems.

A large portion of our cities’ and county’s infrastructure is designed, constructed, and maintained by public works departments. This week is National Public Works week so this would be a great time to take a moment and thank your public works department for taking care of the structures and services that help us live happy, healthy lives.

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