Redefining Infrastructure for Thriving Communities, Businesses, and Ecosystems
- Advance the integration of natural and conventional infrastructure systems to strengthen long term resilience to flooding, sea level rise, drought, and other disruptions.
- Empower communities and businesses to discover wise infrastructure solutions that maximize social, economic, and environmental benefits.
- Support informed decision making through interdisciplinary expertise, cutting edge tools and techniques, and collaborative partnerships.
Communities around the world are struggling to rethink, rebuild, and revitalize infrastructure systems. These systems are aging, vulnerable to environmental disruption, and increasingly at risk of failing to provide the services on which modern society depends. Furthermore, public and private owners of this infrastructure must update and adapt these systems in an era of rapid environmental and social change.
The University of Georgia established the Institute for Resilient Infrastructure Systems (IRIS) with these challenges in mind. IRIS brings together an interdisciplinary team of experts with extensive experience in creating pragmatic and effective infrastructure strategies that reduce hazards vulnerability, provide water security, reduce pollution, and restore ecosystems while providing additional social benefits and engineering functions. IRIS seeks to redefine the meaning of infrastructure to better serve multiple community goals and promote this re-conception with innovative forms of stakeholder engagement and communication to maximize the full range of economic, social, and environmental benefits possible.
The term infrastructure has traditionally referred to engineered systems that support the basic functions of a modern industrialized society such as water and sewage, energy, transportation, and public facilities. These services are provided by a complex of integrated built and natural systems.
Like all creatures, humans rely on natural processes to supply the necessities of life. In the modern era, we have expanded our ability to make use of these resources through the deployment of various infrastructure systems. Traditionally, the built portions of this infrastructure consisted of “hard” elements such as concrete, steel, and asphalt. These elements have often been described as Gray Infrastructure. Recently, the concepts of Green and Blue Infrastructure, Natural Infrastructure, and Ecological Infrastructure have been used to describe the services provided by natural systems (e.g., forests, wetlands, floodplains, soils) thought to be outside of these “hard” components, but which are essential for their functioning. IRIS aims to break down these distinctions and reconsider the totality of built and natural infrastructure systems as integrated infrastructure and community-centered infrastructure so that these systems can better serve the many human needs required to foster strong and healthy communities.
Integrated infrastructure refers to the intentional integration of gray with green-blue infrastructure – combining engineering innovation and ecological intelligence to create robust hybrid systems that enhance human well-being through multiple services.
Community-centered infrastructure considers the full range of benefits and pursues multiple goals– the social, economic, environmental, and health benefits – in designing infrastructure systems.
IRIS works with communities to empower them to incorporate the technical, social and environmental dimensions of infrastructure challenges into their planning, design, and implementation processes and discover solutions that are flexible, effective and just. Information about vulnerabilities and resilience are essential to the decision-making processes.
Despite growing awareness that the adaptive capacity of cities and communities is shaped by complex interactions among the built environment, natural ecosystems, social systems, and legal and policy frameworks, current approaches to resiliency remain siloed. IRIS’ work is not limited to analyzing engineering and technical data as our faculty examine how social structures, laws, policy, private standard-setting, and cultural forces impact the development of resilient infrastructure. We then employ the most effective and cutting edge techniques for communicating and visualizing the relevant data and the benefits and costs of solutions to support communities and businesses in making the most informed choices possible.