Tangible and intangible infrastructure


Infrastructure plays a very important role in the process of regional inversion. It provides a platform upon which the phenomena supporting regional inversion depend.


Tangible or physical infrastructure comprises the facilities through which communication, learning and transactions occur. Tangible infrastructure is therefore an essential medium that allows the various phenomena connected to regional inversion to unfold. Put another way, tangible infrastructure is the “hardware” that supports the intangibles of regional inversion.


The intangible infrastructure comprises the knowledge and transaction networks in all their social, economic and cultural dimensions. The intangible infrastructure is both fluid and dynamic. It builds on access made possible by the tangible infrastructure, allowing individuals, groups and organizations to establish or develop relations. The values and relations enabled by the intangible infrastructure are at the core of community building, and they are of vital importance to regional inversion.


How does infrastructure support regional inversion?


Infrastructure supports regional inversion in manifold ways. Building up the tangible infrastructure requires considerable investment over time. Facilities must be constructed, upgraded and expanded over the long term. This process of accumulation is of vital importance to regional inversion. The phenomena that support regional inversion depend on the long-term accumulation of tangible infrastructure to deploy their effects.


Among the various aspects that the accumulation of tangible infrastructure supports are the diffusion of knowledge and information, the implementation of educational programs and research laboratories, the movement of goods and people, communications for all aspects of life and work, and the transactions of all economic, social and cultural activities. Educational and research facilities are of particular importance to regional inversion. Their inadequacy can make it impossible to provide the kind of ample access needed to transform regional structures in a fundamental way. Communication facilities are essential to the diffusion of knowledge and information, and to the knowledge networks that make up the intangible infrastructure. Communication facilities are also vital for all the transactions that lead to exchange, and to the transportation of all goods, tangible resources and people.


The support that tangible infrastructure provides for regional inversion can be placed in two major categories. One of them involves contact. This category affects all activities that depend on contact, regardless of whether it is personal, impersonal or virtual. Education, transactional activities, and movement are dependent on the contact function of tangible infrastructure. The contact function is also vital for the intangible infrastructure and all its networks.


Because of the importance of personal and virtual contact for social, economic and cultural advancement, this function is essential for the process of regional transformation. It is hard to think of any activity contributing to regional inversion that does not depend on the contact facilities and networks made available by the tangible infrastructure. Without those facilities, it would be impossible for the intangible infrastructure to have any role in transforming regional structures.


The second category of tangible infrastructure involves access. Providing physical and virtual access to the existing stock of knowledge and information is of vital importance for the transformation of regional structures. Access to state-of-the-art knowledge is essential for all the intangible resources that support creativity and innovation. Access is also much related to issues of fairness and opportunity. Unless tangible infrastructural access is broad and available, crucial processes such as the massification of education and the diffusion of knowledge will be seriously handicapped.


Access also makes tangible infrastructural networks more valuable. The broader the access those networks provide, the more valuable they become. This feature is in direct contradiction to what is perhaps the most cherished principle of economics, or the notion that value can only be obtained from scarcity. With infrastructural networks, as with many other kinds of networks, however, abundance of access leads to greater value for the network and for those it serves.


The functions of intangible infrastructure that support regional inversion are of two types. One type can be characterized as integrative. This function seeks to guarantee that access provided by the tangible infrastructure is used, linked to and internalized by the knowledge and transaction networks in all their social, economic and cultural dimensions.


Integrating access is a vital function supporting regional inversion. The physical and virtual access to education provided by tangible infrastructure must, for example, be accompanied by acceptance through the social and cultural networks of the intangible infrastructure. The social and cultural values fostered by those networks are vital if the educational access provided by the tangible infrastructure is to be used effectively. Values that impede taking advantage of any expansion of access are likely to be detrimental to the process of regional inversion. In those cases, the integrative function of intangible infrastructure would seek a transformation of cultural or social values, such that any expansion of educational access can be effectively utilized.


Another example of the integrative function of intangible infrastructure can be found in the diffusion of knowledge. The access provided by the tangible infrastructure to state-of-the-art knowledge may need social and cultural values that prize novelty and experimentation. The integrative function must then seek the utilization of such access through the value systems that permeate the intangible infrastructure. Values that impede taking advantage of that access would need to be transformed through the intangible infrastructure and its networks.


The second functional typology of the intangible infrastructure is regenerative. This function is vital for recreating and reproducing the intangible resources that support regional inversion. Learning, creativity, knowledge, innovation, experimentation and education at individual and group levels are all enhanced by the regenerative function of intangible infrastructure.


The regenerative function therefore enables those intangible resources to thrive and expand. This function must necessarily work in concert with both the access and contact features of tangible infrastructure. Access to and contact through physical facilities is essential for the regenerative function to have a dynamic role in the process of regional inversion.


The regenerative function operates through the networks of the intangible infrastructure in all their social, economic and cultural dimensions. Such networks are vital to communities that internalize values of tolerance and support for experimentation, novelty, failure and diversity. Those networks are also important for transforming cultural and social values that obstruct the regeneration of intangible resources connected to regional inversion.


As with the tangible infrastructure, the networks of the integrative and regenerative functions acquire value as they expand. In that regard, the accumulation of both tangible and intangible infrastructure can be considered to add value through the multiple facilities and networks that accommodate the access, contact, integrative and regenerative functions.


The accumulation of both tangible and intangible infrastructure is a long-term process requiring substantial investment. It is unfortunate that infrastructure is frequently taken for granted when programs for regional advancement are formulated. Often, only those with a background in design or construction can grasp its importance for regional transformation. Infrastructure, in both its tangible and intangible forms, must be taken into account if the process of regional inversion is to unfold.



For publications on regional inversion and related topics by this author, please see the Publications section of this website.


Copyright © Luis Suarez-Villa