I sometimes think that infrastructure must have been a 19th century idea, because at the turn of the 21st century it clearly isn't working. Long-term, long-life construction projects under the control of cash-strapped governments whose policies change every week are a disaster - the present transport crisis is a good example. What we really need today is not more cycle paths (hurry over to China if you want to see a vanishing nightmare on two wheels) but urban motorways.Can we get them? Certainly not.Transport has become a dirty word because more people associate it with pollution than prosperity.
Forty or 50 years ago we could have had urban motorways in every town and city in Britain at 1 per cent or less of what they would cost now. All the original motorway prophets, such as Bressey and Abercrombie, assumed that city centres were going to have to be linked by high-speed motor roads, just as they were by railways. During the 'motorway honeymoon' of the 1950s this is what began to happen. There was not a single objector to the plan for the London end of the M1 or to Spaghetti Junction in Birmingham.
Opposition only started when the urban motorway idea ran head on into the booming housing market idea. That was when 19th-century-style far-sightedness was needed, and that was when it was out to lunch.As a result, the later high-speed motor roads bypassed towns and cities. No wonder out-of-town development and inner-city decay marched hand in hand.
Opposition to motorways is not confined to Britain. Continental countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands have better and larger high-speed road networks than we do, but only because they started on them before the know-nothing backlash began, and persisted with them long afterwards. At the time of the Maastricht Treaty, there was still support for transport infrastructure in Europe, but no longer. At the last EC summit before enlargement, ministers rejected a £1 billion transport networks programme designed to streamline the links between all the EC countries. Already the French had axed their original TGV programme; Germany had started to cut capital building projects by a third; and Britain had scrapped its roads programme, dismantled British Rail, ditched Crossrail, and started giving windfall Lottery money to the culture industry administrators, curators and communitarians instead. As a result, every European engineering and construction consortium big enough to undertake serious infrastructure projects has packed its bags and left home, most interestingly for Asia and Africa - where there are countries that have no administrators, curators and communitarians at all.
There is a lot of architectural correctness like this around today. I encountered a bit of it when I gave a chat to a large American engineering firm a month or two ago. This firm has worked with most architecture firms of consequence in the US, so I have no intention of biting the hand that feeds you.
Nonetheless, I must say that my views on the proper direction for technical research in architecture went down like a lead balloon. For some time I have suspected that there is a virus abroad that has infected all engineers with a desire to proselytise for urban life, natural ventilation, daylighting and low-energy building.
These are people who would rather open a window than breathe conditioned air; rather cling to daylighting than admit that the 1 per cent art gallery 'daylighting' that they get in the end is not the same thing at all; and rather put on 10 extra sweaters than admit that the only way to create a reasonable climate in buildings is by expending a reasonable quantity of energy. They just don't get it.