Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function. It can be generally defined as the set of interconnected structural elements that provide framework supporting an entire structure of development. It is an important term for judging a country or region’s development.

    The term typically refers to the technical structures that support a society, such as roads, bridges, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, and so forth, and can be defined as:
    The physical components of interrelated systems providing commodities and services essential to enable, sustain, or enhance societal living conditions.

    Viewed functionally, infrastructure facilitates the production of goods and services, and also the distribution of finished products to markets, as well as basic social services such as schools and hospitals.

    The word infrastructure has been used in English since at least 1927, originally meaning “The installations that form the basis for any operation or system”. The Oxford English Dictionary, traces the word’s origins to earlier usage, originally applied in a military sense. The word was imported from French, where it means subgrade, the native material underneath a constructed pavement or railway. The word is a combination of the Latin prefix “infra”, meaning “below”, and “structure”. The military use of the term achieved currency in the United States after the formation of NATO in the 1940s, and was then adopted by urban planners in its modern civilian sense by 1970.

    The term came to prominence in the United States in the 1980s following the publication of America in Ruins, which initiated a public-policy discussion of the nation’s “infrastructure crisis”, purported to be caused by decades of inadequate investment and poor maintenance of public works. This crisis discussion has contributed to the increase in infrastructure asset management and maintenance planning in the US. That public-policy discussion was hampered by lack of a precise definition for infrastructure. A US National Research Council panel sought to clarify the situation by adopting the term “public works infrastructure”, referring to:

    Both specific functional modes:

    • Highways, streets, roads, and bridges; mass transit; airports and airways; water supply and water resources; wastewater management; solid-waste treatment and disposal; electric power generation and transmission; telecommunications; and hazardous waste management
    • The combined system these modal elements comprise. A comprehension of infrastructure spans not only these public works facilities, but also the operating procedures, management practices, and development policies that interact together with societal demand and the physical world to facilitate the transport of people and goods, provision of water for drinking and a variety of other uses, safe disposal of society’s waste products, provision of energy where it is needed, and transmission of information within and between communities.

    In Keynesian economics, the word infrastructure was exclusively used to describe public assets that facilitate production, but not private assets of the same purpose. In post-Keynesian times, however, the word has grown in popularity. It has been applied with increasing generality to suggest the internal framework discernible in any technology system or business organization.


    From an engineering point of view hard infrastructure (assets) refers to the large physical networks necessary for the functioning of a modern industrial nation, whereas soft infrastructure refers to all the institutions which are required to maintain the economic, health, and cultural and social standards of a country, such as the financial system, the education system, the health care system, the system of government, and law enforcement, as well as emergency services.

    The following list of hard infrastructure is limited to capital assets that serve the function of conveyance or channelling of people, vehicles, fluids, energy, or information, and which take the form either of a network or of a critical node used by vehicles, or used for the transmission of electro-magnetic waves.

    Infrastructure systems include both the fixed assets, and the control systems and software required to operate, manage and monitor the systems, as well as any accessory buildings, plants, or vehicles that are an essential part of the system. Also included are fleets of vehicles operating according to schedules such as public transit buses and garbage collection, as well as basic energy or communications facilities that are not usually part of a physical network, such as oil refineries, radio, and television broadcasting facilities.

    Hard Infrastructure Assets This is a list of what the Founder and Principal Engineer considers hard assets:


    • Road and highway networks, including structures (bridges, tunnels, culverts, retaining walls), signage and markings, electrical systems (street lighting and traffic lights), edge treatments (curbs, sidewalks, landscaping), and specialized facilities such as road maintenance depots and rest areas

    • Mass transit systems (Commuter rail systems, subways, tramways, trolleys, City Bicycle Sharing system, City Car Sharing system and bus transportation)

    • Railways, including structures, terminal facilities (rail yards, railway stations), level crossings, signalling and communications systems

    • Canals and navigable waterways requiring continuous maintenance (dredging, etc.)

    • Seaports and lighthouses

    • Airports, including air navigational systems


    • Electrical power network, including generation plants, electrical grid, substations, and local distribution.

    • Natural gas pipelines, storage and distribution terminals, as well as the local distribution network. Some definitions may include the gas wells, as well as the fleets of ships and trucks transporting liquefied gas.

    • Petroleum pipelines, including associated storage and distribution terminals. Some definitions may include the oil wells, refineries, as well as the fleets of tanker ships and trucks.

    • Specialized coal handling facilities for washing, storing, and transporting coal. Some definitions may include Coal mines.

    • Steam or hot water production and distribution networks for district heating systems.

    • Electric vehicle networks for charging electric vehicles.


    • Drinking water supply, including the system of pipes, storage reservoirs, pumps, valves, filtration and treatment equipment and meters, including buildings and structures to house the equipment, used for the collection, treatment and distribution of drinking water
    • Sewage collection, and disposal of waste water
    • Drainage systems (storm sewers, ditches, etc.)
    • Major irrigation systems (reservoirs, irrigation canals)
    • Major flood control systems (dikes, levees, major pumping stations and floodgates)
    • Large-scale snow removal, including fleets of salt spreaders, snow plows, snowblowers, dedicated dump trucks, sidewalk plows, the dispatching and routing systems for these fleets, as well as fixed assets such as snow dumps, snow chutes, snow melters
    • Coastal management, including structures such as seawalls, breakwaters, groynes, floodgates, as well as the use of soft engineering techniques such as beach nourishment, sand dune stabilization and the protection of coastal wetlands.


    • Postal service, including sorting facilities
    • Telephone networks (land lines) including telephone exchange systems
    • Mobile phone networks
    • Television and radio transmission stations, including the regulations and standards governing broadcasting
    • Cable television physical networks including receiving stations and cable distribution networks
    • The Internet, including the internet backbone, core routers and server farms, local internet service providers as well as the protocols and other basic software required for the system to function
    • Communications satellites
    • Undersea cables
    • Major private, government or dedicated telecommunications networks, such as those used for internal communication and monitoring by major infrastructure companies, by governments, by the military or by emergency services, as well as national research and education networks


    • Municipal garbage and recyclables collection
    • Solid waste landfills
    • Solid waste incinerators and plasma gasification facilities
    • Materials recovery facilities
    • Hazardous waste disposal facilities

    Soft infrastructure includes both physical assets such as highly specialized buildings and equipment, as well as non-physical assets such as the body of rules and regulations governing the various systems, the financing of these systems, as well as the systems and organizations by which highly skilled and specialized professionals are trained, advance in their careers by acquiring experience, and are disciplined if required by professional associations.

    Unlike hard infrastructure, the essence of soft infrastructure is the delivery of specialized services to people. Unlike much of the service sector of the economy, the delivery of those services depend on highly developed systems and large specialized facilities, fleets of specialized vehicles or institutions that share many of the characteristics of hard infrastructure. The following list is a non-exhaustive list of soft infrastructure components, prepared by the Founder and Principal Engineer:

    • Governance infrastructure: The system of government and law enforcement, including the political, legislative, law enforcement, justice and penal systems, as well as specialized facilities (government offices, courthouses, prisons, etc.), and specialized systems for collecting, storing and disseminating data, laws and regulation
    • Emergency services: such as police, fire protection, and ambulances, including specialized vehicles, buildings, communications and dispatching systems
    • Military infrastructure: including military bases, arms depots, training facilities, command centers, communication facilities, major weapons systems, fortifications, specialised arms manufacturing, strategic reserves
    • Economic infrastructure: The financial system, including the banking system, financial institutions, the payment system, exchanges, the money supply, financial regulations, as well as accounting standards and regulations
    • Major business facilities and systems: including warehouses as well as warehousing and shipping management systems. Manufacturing infrastructure, including industrial parks and special economic zones, mines and processing plants for basic materials used as inputs in industry, specialized energy, transportation and water infrastructure used by industry, plus the public safety, zoning and environmental laws and regulations that govern and limit industrial activity, and standards organizations
    • Agricultural, forestry and fisheries infrastructure, including specialized food and livestock transportation and storage facilities, major feedlots, agricultural price support systems (including agricultural insurance), agricultural health standards, food inspection, experimental farms and agricultural research centers and schools, the system of licensing and quota management, enforcement systems against poaching, forest wardens, and fire fighting
    • The health care system, including hospitals, the financing of health care, including health insurance, the systems for regulation and testing of medications and medical procedures, the system for training, inspection and professional discipline of doctors and other medical professionals, public health monitoring and regulations, as well as coordination of measures taken during public health emergencies such as epidemics
    • The educational and research system, including elementary and secondary schools, universities, specialized colleges, research institutions, the systems for financing and accrediting educational institutions
    • Social welfare systems, including both government support and private charity for the poor, for people in distress or victims of abuse
    • Cultural, sports and recreational infrastructure Sports and recreational infrastructure, such as parks, sports facilities, the system of sports leagues and associations
    • Cultural infrastructure, such as concert halls, museums, libraries, theatres, studios (film studios and recording studios), and specialized training facilities
    • Business travel and tourism infrastructure, including both man-made and natural attractions, convention centers, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, and other services that cater mainly to tourists and business travelers, as well as the systems for informing and attracting tourists, and travel insurance

    A. Engineering and construction: Engineers generally limit the use of the term “infrastructure” to describe fixed assets that are in the form of a large network, in other words, “hard” infrastructure. Recent efforts to devise more generic definitions of infrastructure have typically referred to the network aspects of most of the structures, and to the accumulated value of investments in the networks as assets. One such effort defines infrastructure as the network of assets “where the system as a whole is intended to be maintained indefinitely at a specified standard of service by the continuing replacement and refurbishment of its components”.

    B. Civil defense and economic development: Civil defense planners and developmental economists generally refer to both hard and soft infrastructure, including public services such as schools and hospitals, emergency services such as police and fire fighting, and basic financial services. The notion of Infrastructure-based development combining long-term infrastructure investments by government agencies at central and regional levels with public private partnerships has proven popular among Asian- notably Singaporean and Chinese, Mainland European and Latin American economists.

    C. Military: Military strategists use the term infrastructure to refer to all building and permanent installations necessary for the support of military forces, whether they are stationed in bases, being deployed or engaged in operations, such as barracks, headquarters, airfields, communications facilities, stores of military equipment, port installations, and maintenance stations.

    D. Critical infrastructure: The term critical infrastructure has been widely adopted to distinguish those infrastructure elements that, if significantly damaged or destroyed, would cause serious disruption of the dependent system or organization. Storm, flood, or earthquake damage leading to loss of certain transportation routes in a city, for example bridges crossing a river, could make it impossible for people to evacuate, and for emergency services to operate; these routes would be deemed critical infrastructure. Similarly, an on-line booking system might be critical infrastructure for an airline.

    E. Urban infrastructure: Urban or municipal infrastructure refers to hard infrastructure systems generally owned and operated by municipalities, such as streets, water distribution, and sewers. It may also include some of the facilities associated with soft infrastructure, such as parks, public pools and libraries.