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How Housing is Affected by Infrastructure Development

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Historically, infrastructure — that is, the organizational structures and facilities that keep society running — has long served to connect the world, ushering humanity into the modern digital age. Yet infrastructure development in the 21st century looks much different than it did in the past. For instance, as the negative effects of climate change become increasingly apparent, sustainable infrastructure development is now a high priority around the world.

Where sustainability is concerned, various power industry experts believe that “individual actions are important but they are not sufficient.” Instead, sustainability must be achieved on a large scale, via social institutions such as government bodies, businesses, and non-profit cooperatives. Improving outdated infrastructure, while being mindful of a community’s environmental impact, is a great place to start.

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Green infrastructure plans may include such factors as groundwater runoff, alternative energy solutions, and sustainable transportation development. However, housing is typically left out of the conversation, even as it is considered a fundamental human right. Housing’s fundamental designation dates back to 1948, when the United Nations released its revolutionary document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As we continue to navigate an uncertain future wherein natural resources are continually depleted, cities around the world are focusing their infrastructure development on sustainable practices. Let’s take a look at some of the global leaders in sustainable infrastructure development, and the role that affordable housing plays in the big picture.

The Roots of Modern Housing and Infrastructure

Infrastructure and social justice have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship across history. Indeed, the modern era of infrastructure development in the U.S. kicked off in the early 1930s, when the nation was beginning to recover from the Great Depression. Upon taking office in 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt placed a strong emphasis on infrastructure, creating jobs in the process. Thus, Depression-era American infrastructure served a dual purpose, helping to stimulate the economy while improving modern life and increasing access to crucial amenities. 

According to Popular Mechanics, FDR’s dedication to improving infrastructure effectively “saved democracy.” Yet even as roads were paved and bridges and airports built in large numbers, housing was largely overlooked. For the health of the planet, and the wellbeing of its citizens, it’s time to correct that mistake and emphasize housing access in all future infrastructure development plans. 

Even in developed nations, however, affordable housing is a delicate topic. To begin with, building a custom house requires plenty of money and time. Although costs can vary significantly depending on property location and size, a new home build in the U.S. can set you back nearly $300,000 on average. Additionally, the construction process can span seven months or more.

Repairing an existing structure is often a similarly daunting endeavor, helping fuel the idea that homeownership isn’t an option for the lower class. Throughout the U.S., low-income citizens typically resort to renting rather than buying, but the rental market can be volatile. An estimated 11 million Americans spend more than half of their monthly income on rent, and that doesn’t even account for the cost of utilities such as electricity and water. 

Why Sustainability is Crucial to Modern Infrastructure

But there may be hope on the horizon where affordable housing access is concerned, and sustainable development is a key factor. Even the most sophisticated home builds typically rely on the power grid and local infrastructure, even as the availability of fossil fuels is dwindling. 

Any way you look at it, the situation is dire: Fossil fuels are a finite resource, and the global supply of oil will effectively dry up by 2052. Eight years later, natural gas production is expected to cease. As such, city planners and government officials alike are scrambling for solutions before we reach the tipping point. 

For example, hydrogen has been tapped as a potential solution to the impending fossil fuel shortage, alongside technological advancements in alternative energy. In terms of sustainability, hydrogen is an exceptional choice, as one method of sourcing the gas involves refining methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Within the U.S., the bulk of methane emissions come from the energy sector, with the agriculture industry close behind. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that natural gas and coal mining systems are the biggest culprits in terms of methane emissions.

Infrastructure Development: Looking to the Future

As such, finding alternative energy solutions has become a necessary consideration in regards to environmental health. Solar and wind power are gaining traction around the world, but there’s still a long way to go. Even the most advanced alternative energy systems require a means of storage, and industry leaders are looking to bridge the gaps. 

To wit, a team of forward-thinking students at the Missouri University of Science and Technology is looking into the viability of lead battery microgrid systems as a potential renewable energy storage solution. Renewable energy solutions allow for homeowners to become more autonomous and self-sufficient, while also reducing their carbon footprint. Similar initiatives have been extremely successful in the world’s most sustainable cities, including Stockholm, Sweden, where houses are constructed mindfully to reduce emissions.

Closer to home, only time will tell whether housing will finally take its rightful place in the realm of infrastructure development. And in looking for solutions that address both environmental concerns and the fundamental human right that is adequate housing, reducing pollution is imperative to public health. 

From hydrogen to solar energy and beyond, the future of sustainable energy looks bright. What’s more, technological advancements in both alternative energy and infrastructure development have the potential to improve the national housing situation, well into the future.

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