I was once at an infrastructure conference when a fellow attendee told me that the two most promising infrastructure opportunities in the marketplace were in graveyards and parking tickets, Graveyards I could wrap my head around but parking tickets? Thats not even close to being infrastructure, right?
Actually, the individual was insistent and, truth be told, went on to do a decent job of convincing me. Parking tickets are infrastructure because they require an investment in an army of meter maids and equipment, which (once in place) generate steady, inflation-protected cash flows over the long term. Also, the threat of parking tickets keeps people honest about their parking, which (so the logic went) makes existing parking more efficient.
I bring this up because I think theres actually an important take-away: Infrastructure as an asset class is still very hard to define. And I think that's an important problem, because the lack of consensus around what we mean by infrastructure has knock on effects for financing.
For example, how many interesting and worthwhile infrastructure opportunities have been killed for no other reason than they dont fit neatly into the silos of investment institutions? Viable projects arent getting funded because we simply havent figured out how to define (and where to send) infrastructure investment opportunities.
Anyway, maybe we can finally start getting everybody on the same page, as a couple of Harvard University academics have just released a new paper focusing explicitly on figuring out exactly what it is we mean when we say infrastructure. The paper is good, as it digs in (deep) to the definitional challenge associated with this asset class. And here's a spoiler: the definition for infrastructure they come up with at the end is as follows: Facilities, structures, equipment, or similar physical assets and the enterprises that employ them that are vitally important, if not absolutely essential, to people having the capabilities to thrive as individuals and participate in social, economic, political, civic or communal, household or familial, and other roles in ways critical to their own well-being and that of their society, and the material and other conditions which enable them to exercise those capabilities to the fullest.
Parking tickets? Maybe, just maybe.