Between the growth of artificial intelligence, increasing urbanization, a rapidly aging population, and an increasing number of extreme weather events, it may seem that infrastructure — our utilities, schools, and transit systems — can’t possibly keep up with the rapid pace of technological, social, and environmental change we’re now experiencing.

Times like these demonstrate how important it is to marry our innovation and infrastructure agendas. The cities and countries that excel in the coming decades will be those that see opportunity in this confusion and stretch their dollar for maximum benefit.

According to the Global Infrastructure Hub, there will be an estimated $94 trillion in global infrastructure investment needed by 2040. There has never been a more pressing time to build smart, think long term, and be flexible in our approach to infrastructure.

The right ingredients for a bright future

Investment in infrastructure is important because it creates jobs, drives growth, stimulates productivity, and builds a legacy for our communities to thrive. The federal government has recognized this same idea with its Investing in Canada plan, which will spend more than $180 billion over the next 12 years to support infrastructure projects in provinces, territories, municipalities, and Indigenous communities through the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the Smart Cities Challenge.

We’re fortunate that in Canada, we have a stable economy and a globally respected pipeline of high-quality infrastructure projects, as well as an abundance of creativity in our communities from coast to coast to coast, as demonstrated by the 130 applications submitted to the Smart Cities Challenge, which I had the privilege of examining as Chair of the Jury.

The 20 Smart Cities finalists, which include eight Indigenous communities, propose using innovation — both new ways of thinking and technological breakthroughs — to tackle our major urban and rural challenges. Suggestions range from improving health care and building social inclusion, to growing sustainable agriculture and modernizing transportation.

That same spirit of intelligence needs to be embraced more widely in our large-scale infrastructure projects. We need to partner more with the private sector to understand and shape how technology, such as big data, can improve the quality of life in our communities, while protecting privacy, to reduce energy consumption and monitor the performance of critical infrastructure such as bridges in real time. We also need to consider how best to integrate autonomous vehicles to create a robust and varied multi-modal, next-generation transportation system.

Creating an environment for long-term success

Innovation doesn’t just mean the latest tech, it also means finding new, better approaches to how we design, build, finance, and maintain our projects to deliver the best value for Canadians over time.

For example, the council strongly believes governments in Canada should adopt a “dig once” approach when undertaking horizontal transportation projects, such as light rail transit. By simply incorporating the laying of fibre optic cable into the project, communities can save millions in future costs while boosting Canada’s high speed network capacity and enabling the growth of the knowledge economy.

The future for public-private partnerships in Canada remains encouraging with new projects and new jurisdictions such as Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, and several Indigenous communities adopting the model. There is also an opportunity for the federal government to put the P3 model to greater use across a range of projects from CBSA border crossing facilities to government office buildings, energy projects, and military infrastructure.