For the love of infrastructure

Too much vision or too little vision? This was a question pondered by BBC television and radio presenter Evan Davis at an event staged by infrastructure-focused PR firm Westbourne Communications at its London base.

Davis, who presented BBC2 series Made in Britain and Built in Britain – looking at the UK’s manufacturing and construction accomplishments – reflected on today’s dearth of infrastructure visions. On the other hand, he said, it was better to have no vision than “bundling siloed ideas together and trying to artifically create one”.

A packed room was no doubt testament to Davis’ standing in the infrastructure community. A self-confessed fan of infrastructure, he has blogged the following: “I admit, my tastes might be slightly specialist. I love visiting construction sites. I’m a member of a group called Subterranea Britannica devoted to the appreciation of man-made tunnels. And I enjoy little more than the thrill of standing on bridges over TGV lines, watching trains speed by at 180 miles an hour underneath.”

Certainly, infrastructure has the capacity to arouse strong emotions – which, in some cases, has surprising results. For example, when Infrastructure Investor interviewed Meridiam’s Joseph Aiello last year and discovered that the name “Harriet” had been given to a piece of tunnel boring equipment for the Port of Miami Tunnel, we naively assumed that it was a one-off. But then, in an article by Davis, we discovered that an equivalent piece of equipment being used for London’s Crossrail project has the name “Phyllis”. How many examples are there? We’d like to know.

Given the level of attachment to infrastructure personified by Davis, and hinted at by the awarding of pet names to machinery, we also wonder whether there is a whole level of appreciation for our asset class that we were never previously aware of. Is there perhaps an infrastructure fan club? If not, perhaps there should be. It might even have media personalities like Davis lining up to join it.