Four Reasons We Build Simulations of Infrastructure Investment

Sawin GI SimAs a panelist for a recent EPA-sponsored webcast on green infrastructure and resilience (click here for the slides from that presentation) I was prompted to explain why system dynamics computer simulation is particularly helpful for those considering infrastructure investment in general, and green infrastructure investment in particular. We have four reasons:

1. People need ways to see what they might accomplish together. Bringing green infrastructure to scale in a watershed often requires cooperation between municipalities, between departments within a municipality, and between residents, businesses and local government. When no one sector can get the desired results on their own, computer simulations allow them to see what might be enabled by working together.

2. People need ways to ask ‘what if’ questions about the future. Climate change impacts already ‘in the pipeline’ means that most infrastructure built today will need to perform under different and more extreme conditions than those we experience today. Communities on the brink of investing time and money on new infrastructure need to see how that infrastructure might perform in the uncertain conditions of the future. Scenario testing via computer simulation is a powerful way to do just that.

3. The whole community should have a voice in infrastructure decisions. Good infrastructure choices improve the well being of a community and poor ones can cause long-lasting harm. With a multitude of technical options and sometimes poorly understood costs and benefits, non-experts – who, after all, are the the majority of the people living and working in a community – need clear, simple, accurate tools that bring the big picture into focus.

4. People need ways to prioritize investments of time and energy. Different infrastructure choices come with different costs and benefits. Keeping track of everything from operations costs to air and water quality benefits to job creation quickly becomes more than any decision maker can keep in mind at one time, even for a few possible scenarios. As the combinations and permutations increase, so does the complexity. Computer simulations can keep track of all the details so that community members can focus on what really matters: their vision of the future and the best ways to get there.

If you’d like to learn more about our green infrastructure simulation look here for information about our pilot project in Milwaukee and consider signing-up for updates on an on-line learning community about the simulation and its adaptation to other US cities.