2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Business

Infrastructure, most generally, is a set of interconnected structural elements that provide the framework supporting an entire structure. The term has diverse meanings in different fields, but is perhaps most widely understood to refer to roads, and sewers. These various elements may collectively be termed civil infrastructure, municipal infrastructure, or simply public works, although they may be developed and operated as private-sector or government enterprises. In other applications, infrastructure may refer to information technology, informal and formal channels of communication, software development tools, political and social networks, or shared beliefs held by members of particular groups. Still underlying these more general uses is the concept that infrastructure provides organizing structure and support for the system or organization it serves, whether it is a city, a nation, or a corporation.


The word seems to have originated in 19th century France, and throughout the first half of the 20th century was used to refer primarily to military installations. The term came to prominence in the United States in the 1980s following publication of America in Ruins (Choate and Walter, 1981), 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.

That public-policy discussion was hampered by lack of a precise definition for infrastructure. A U. S. National Research Council (NRC) committee cited Senator Stafford, who commented at hearings before the Subcommittee on Water Resources, Transportation, and Infrastructure; Committee on Environment and Public Works; that “probably the word infrastructure means different things to different people." The NRC panel then sought to rectify 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--and 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." (Infrastructure for the 21st Century, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1987)

In subsequent years the word has grown in popularity and been applied with increasing generality to suggest the internal framework discernible in any technology system or business organization. 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 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 reservations system might be critical infrastructure for an airline.

Rural infrastructure

Rural infrastructure differs in many ways from urban infrastructure. While publicly controlled assets critical to human survival exist in rural areas much as they do in urban areas, transport and utilities tend to be much less extensive and relied on less by residents. Other municipal services may also be reduced, e.g. nature's services may be relied upon for potable water drawn from private wells, while other private infrastructural capital, e.g. a dam or canal or irrigation ditch, may be relied upon instead of public means of water diversion and supply. There may also be much more reliance on community emergency response teams such as volunteer fire fighters.

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