Understanding infrastructure

In the latest episode of Penn Today’s ‘Understand This …’ podcast series, Professor of Urban Planning John Landis and Professor of Finance Robert Inman discuss the past, present, and future of infrastructure.

Pedestrians lounging around a city filled with bicycles, cars, and airplanes

Welcome to the second episode of “Understand This …,” a Penn Today podcast. Designed as a journey to understand how to solve problems of the day—and of our time—by uniting minds from different disciplines, this episode zeroes in on infrastructure in the United States. That is, how to define it, how to pay for it, and what it might look like to build for the future. Joining the discussion is Robert Inman, the Richard King Mellon Professor Emeritus of Finance in the Wharton School, and John Landis, professor emeritus of City and Regional Planning.

Below, find jump-off points for the conversation. Follow “Understand This …” through Apple Music or your preferred audio-listening platform and continue with us on the path to interdisciplinary problem-solving. 

5:10: What is infrastructure? It is “more than cement,” clarifies Inman.

8:15: How infrastructure shifted when the federal government stopped paying for infrastructure “in a huge way” in the 1970s. Plus, how communications networks came to define an era of infrastructure development. 

16:30: Infrastructure as a connector of ideas. 

18:05: Landis describes the tendency to “kick the can down the road” when it comes to paying for new infrastructure. And how technology might offer a solution to the gas tax.

21:30: Willingness to pay taxes to reduce the risk of catastrophic failure of infrastructure. 

32:30: How to prioritize infrastructure projects. 

33:15: Infrastructure challenges in Philadelphia. 

38:00: Climate change and infrastructure funding.