A Des Moines Register story late last year caught the eye of America, as staffer MacKenzie Elmer reported on people--Bhutanese refugees--who have to walk a 3-mile round-trip on the shoulder of a state highway to get from their home to the nearest grocery store.

The story, and many like it in many parts of the U.S., shows exactly where affordable housing shortages and sorely deficient transportation and accessibility options create stretches of developed area that can only be characterized as food deserts.

Which is broken, housing development or infrastructure solutions that give people access to food, to health services, to education, to jobs?

Or are both broken?

If so, what would you fix first?

And how?

These are the questions of our time, and the ones that will define whether private and public sector minds, hearts, bodies, and pocketbooks of people who work in construction, design, engineering, and, of course, investment succeed or not in their efforts to make a difference in light of such significant--and growing--unmet need.

In the words of Jake Varn, a policy analyst for the Bipartisan Policy Center's executive council on Infrastructure:

"While traditional definitions of infrastructure often leave out housing, the two are undeniably connected. The existing supply and utility of affordable housing is directly dependent on the condition of other infrastructure assets. For example, access to high-speed broadband, safe and affordable water services, and transportation options are all vital to the livability of affordable housing. Transit projects, in particular, can directly connect people with economic opportunities by incorporating nearby housing options, often referred to as transit-oriented development."

Varn spotlights both a White House and Senate Democrat approach to infrastructure opportunity here, concluding that America's infrastructure and housing challenges weave together like a double-helix of our social DNA. Varn writes:

While both the Senate Democrats’ and the White House’s proposals touch on the connection between infrastructure and affordable housing, neither are designed to fully solve the shortage of affordable housing. It remains to be seen how, or when, Congress will address the nation’s vast and diverse infrastructure needs. However, given the current party outlines, it is evident that the affordable housing crisis will be a factor in the debate.

Now, we know that as much as there's an affordable housing crisis, there's an equally harmful housing affordability crisis, which differs insofar as it creates an ever-widening gap between what working people have money to spend on housing costs and what developers and builders can design, develop, and construct profitably.

The challenges for housing and the challenges for infrastructure share a lot in common. Old and bygone solutions for those challenges were access to cheap resources--labor, land, lending and finance--resources that will likely not be as cheap ever again.

This is where innovation comes in, and the role of innovation is no less important for solving infrastructure's challenges as it is in addressing the big, hairy, problems that people in housing's business, development, investment, and policy communities face.

Like, how to put data and technology to work to magnify and multiply what people can accomplish to bring costs--money, time, quality, durability, and resilience--into balance with invested resources.

This is why Hanley Wood addresses both housing's challenges at a high level with its Hive conversation and conference in Austin, Nov. 28-29, and why we've also created an event that focuses on the infrastructure side of the same equation, The Infrastructure Imperative, Nov. 13-15, in Cleveland, Ohio.

While the conference has a focus on large infrastructure projects—how to specify, manage, and deliver these big capital jobs—attendees with any role in the construction industry will learn a great deal about improving design and construction now and in the future. Attendees will learn how to leverage the newest innovations to make the construction process smoother and more efficient and build the kind of quality structures at the reasonable price that the public and the owner demands.

Attendees will learn (use those that are most appropriate for your audience):

  • What is blockchain and how it is being used to manage construction projects by distributing information more rapidly and completely.
  • Why the AEC industry has been slow to adopt technology and how to increase that adoption rate.
  • What are the various delivery processes currently being used in construction and why design-build provides such an advantage over the more adversarial design-bid-build approach.
  • What is integrated project delivery (IPD) and where is it best used? How can construction productivity (and profitability) be increased by adopting standard operating procedures on jobsites. A standard construction system is key.
  • Why moving project leaders from job to job destroys productivity and profit.
  • Why technology should be considered a tool rather than a solution in-and-of itself and why the entire team’s technology must be compatible.
  • Why owners should be encouraged to adopt quality-based selection for designers, builders, and suppliers.
  • What environmental permits are required for construction projects and how to get the permits so that projects are not slowed down.
  • What are the barriers to higher productivity and how can they be overcome? Absent change, the global need for infrastructure and housing will be hard to meet.
  • How are the best ideas in the business being brought to market and how can that process be accelerated? How to specify durability in construction and how to meet those requirements to produce durable, resilient, and environmentally friendly structures.
  • The ability of a community to withstand environmental disasters and bounce back is dependent on the investments made in design, construction, and operations under “normal” conditions and how the community addresses its risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Why certified testing technicians and craftsmen can assure that specifications are being met and critical systems are being properly installed.
  • By understanding housing growth, it’s possible to determine how many people will use the local infrastructure, including roadways and water systems, now and into the future based on projected residential and commercial growth.

The all-star team of presenters includes:

  1. Tom Smith, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers
  2. Anne Ellis, a construction industry consultant and former project manager with AECOM
  3. Jacques Marchand, president of SIMCO and internationally recognized expert in durability
  4. Gregg Schoppman, principal with FMI specialized in productivity and project management
  5. Leah Pilconis, senior environmental counsel, Associated General Contractors of America
  6. Ryan Colker, presidential advisor on resilient communities for the National Institute of Building Sciences
  7. Greg Sauter, founder of Smart City Works, a business actuator and accelerator

Register now for The Infrastructure Imperative.

Originally published on Builder.