Australian lives have been altered majorly in the face of COVID-19. This virus has challenged national resilience as well as infrastructure systems intended to preserve human life and health.
The infrastructure protecting life and health is of crucial importance—as governments are realising more and more. Yet what is social infrastructure? Well basically social infrastructure translates to physical facilities, but that in truth is only part of the story.
Infrastructure Australia says that social infrastructure is that network of facilities, spaces, services and networks that enhance the life and well-being of cities; enabling their citizens to be safe, healthful, and joyful. Social infrastructure enhances social identity, inclusion and cohesion and plays vital daily roles in the lives of Australians.
Top quality social infrastructure depends on the availability of buildings and spaces to accommodate services, programs and activities. Yet support is required to govern social infrastructure, to plan, fund and deliver it. Otherwise, delivery will be slow, service management will be inferior, government budget strain will increase, spaces will be inequal, and service models will be outdated and inadequate.
This result will be bad societal outcomes for many communities, especially for at risk populations likely to be badly affected by catastrophes.
As Australia comes out of lockdown, we now must formulate a fresh new concept of social infrastructure—with the knowledge that most social infrastructure components have been able to provide important services to people in innovative ways.
Here is how we integrate the infrastructure:
- Guarantee equal social infrastructure through our communities, ensuring no one is excluded. As the pandemic has proven, disease does not discriminate—as the virus hit both cities and the countryside, the elderly, the homeless, the seriously ill, as well as young and healthy people. Therefore, existing systems have been stressed for resources.
- Acknowledge and enhance the part that safe and cost-efficient housing plays in essential social infrastructure. For most Australians, we have had to learn to access vital services while self-isolating. Those technologically endowed have been able to work, attend classes, and even undergo doctors’ appointments at home. And governments and agencies have joined forces to house the homeless and poor.
- Communicate with social infrastructure providers to comprehend the experience of citizens and communities during the pandemic. What worked, and what did not? And, with the help of the government, what infrastructure service models should be delivered in the future? The government must present best practice examples as well as provide sufficient funds for all needed changes.
- Continue to change and adapt, as the new normal is likely to be anything but. Novel social infrastructure models will be required, and the government and non-government sectors must devise a strong and resilient infrastructure network. The new Resilience NSW might be the leadership partner to devise a systems-impelled approach for social infrastructure governing.
Some of these changes already were improvised during the pandemic, and must be kept and enhanced. They include:
- A place-based/localised network model that delivers all desired services, support and connection. People will continue to live local and on a smaller scale. People who live local work together, even when it comes to finding innovative health solutions, helping people who live alone or need special support, etc.
- Inclusive digital connections for people in urban and rural areas. Everyone must stay connected, and digital access must figure into business plans and commissioned services.
- Strong social infrastructure funding at all times, so that it is always there when needed. The need for this was proven during the pandemic, when health services, education institutions, volunteer and cultural groups, regional community groups and community centres, and social welfare agencies, have all played major roles in addressing community needs. Common activities—anything from sports to music, hobbies to theatrical arts–build common connections that can come in handy in times of need.
- Increased respect for social infrastructure providers, with support for the idea that social infrastructure workers are essential workers. It is these workers that have addressed major challenges with ingenuity, creativity, and caring, all toward the pursuit of positive social outcomes—affecting positive change as they rendered public libraries, for example, as accessible as possible under tough conditions. These folks deserve top respect—and a role in forming our future.
- Multifunctional and flexible social infrastructure, especially for new buildings. A space reserved for organised sporting events might also be ideal for individual activities like running, walking and cycling. Community centres can become food banks, theatres can become clinics, etc.
In order to build a better future post COVID 19, we must revamp, enhance, and give top priority to the refined art of social infrastructure.