Aging Infrastructure Data

I have been paying attention to infrastructures lately. More recently, I seemed to be coming across more stories about infrastructural failures, Submarine Cables in Asia, or in the Ring of Fire. The most recent failure being in Minneapolis. Today’s Globeand Mail online has a story that links to some AP video data and this one in particular – U.S Infrastructure under scrutiny – does a good review on how engineers gather their primary data, the nature of that data, and the making of safety reports. Seems like those reports get shelved allot! William Ibbs from UC Berkely an expert on construction risk said it well with a knowing smirk on his face:

well, ah, we’ve had had ah maybe some other social priorities for the past few years in the nation and public works have taken, ah, a bit of a back seat.

The map below shows the distribution of deficient bridges in the US. I thought I was hearing more stories and this data seems to support that my assumptions were not entirely off base!Bridges US

Then I wondered about Canada so I did some superficial digging and found the following report – The Age of Public Infrastructure produced by Statistics Canada. The great thing about all of their report is that you can access their methodology documents, data sources and contacts which is great education material for amateur data geeks who wants to collect data themselves and want to find a systematic and statistically sound way to do so. I also found an Infrastructure Canada report that discusses the Government’s Infrastructure Assets and their management. The collapse in Minneapolis created a media context and receptivity on the subject as seen here – Canada’s infrastructure needs urgent attention, while some specialized think tanks look at particular infrastructures related to investment and stock prices in the energy industry – Aging Energy Infrastructure Could Drive Molybdenum Demand Higher -which is loaded with data particular to engineers in that field.

Why, talk about that here! Well, mostly because infrastructure is a boring thing that we rarely think about yet there is a ton of citizen money locked into these very huge material physical artefacts, also because there is little citizen generated data on the topic and the data available or the decisions that are being made rarely have a price tag or the name of the responsible agent attached to them! Yet without infrastructure we can cannot function! Infrastructure is what distinguishes a good city to live in versus a not so good city to live in, and well infrastructure is an inseparable part of our human habitat.

Imagine a concerted effort by citizens to collect data about satellite dishes, or receiving ground stations, server farms, isp offices, aging bridges, cool sewers, following the complete cycle of ones local water purification plant, or telephone switching station, where one’s poo goes once flushed, where one’s data is stored, and sharing and visualizing all that data on a map. We are starting to see some really interesting adventurer/art urban exploration projects or how some boyz are navigating the 3d elements of a city’s hardware in parkour. I love stuff like this Pothole reporter, could we develop collaborative tools to report missing manhole covers, Ottawa’s thriving road side ragweed cultivations, where the public washrooms are/are not along with public water fountains, Montreal’s missing trees in sidewalk planters (Michael‘s idea on location portal content gathering) and so on.


  1. Hugh’s avatar

    Quebec has seen a number of fatal collapses of road infrastructure over the past few years, most recently the collapse of the de la concorde overpass.

    one engineer friend of mine said he drove under the structure a week before the collapse, took a look at the exposed, rusted rebar, and said to his girlfriend: this thing is not safe.

    wouldn’t it be nice to have site where you could publish geo-tagged pics of potentially dangerous infrastructure problems in need of attention?

  2. Daniel Haran’s avatar

    That link on Molybdenum is fascinating.

    Open data could result in more efficient markets. More companies investing in mining and recycling would steady prices, instead of a few companies making exaggerated profits during a supply crunch.

    That difference in price – and the resulting savings to the government – could more than pay for the cost of publishing the data.

  3. Dan’s avatar

    good information, the more of valid data the better chance Moly will be considered a credible alternative energy production material. I just want to recommend this report i found on Molybdenum which has more data that is relevant to your article.


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