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Here's How Much America's Infrastructure Is Worth Compared to Other Countries

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Americans tend to think of the US as a leader in building–while simultaneously worrying over the state of its crumbling infrastructure. So when it’s compared dollar-to-dollar to the rest of the world, how much are our skyscrapers, highways, airports, and factories really worth?

Arcadis, the Dutch consultancy, recently released an analysis of the world’s built assets, aka the value of physical structures, buildings, and infrastructure. Basically, it’s all the money a country spends publicly or privately on physical development, from “infrastructure investment, construction, investments in plant and machinery and improvements in ‘natural assets’ such as land reclamation.” The study relies data from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and from individual countries’ statistics offices.


It’s an interesting snapshot since it deals only with the stuff that has tangible physical value, rather than investments in less tangible stuff like intellectual property or software. More money spent on improving a country’s built environment, from new subway systems to flood-proofing coastlines, means stronger and more productive cities, which contribute to a country’s overall growth.

All in all, the report pegs the value of those physical assets–computed for 32 of the top-spending countries–at a whopping $218 trillion worldwide. So how does the US stack up against other countries? In terms of straight value, we’ve been eclipsed by China over the past two years:


While Arcadis points out that Qatar bowls every other country over when you look at it per capita value, that’s pretty unsurprising for a small country investing massively in its cities and infrastructure. By that metric, the US doesn’t even make this list:

The US is actually slipping down in the rankings in general. Arcadis says that the problem in the US isn’t real estate–we’re doing “solid” in terms of private assets like buildings. But we’re a mess when it comes to infrastructure, especially in high-growth cities that contribute to the overall productivity of the country.

“There is increasing concern about the negative impact an underperforming built environment has on the economic prosperity of US cities,” Arcadis’ Julien Cayet writes, citing a survey by Politico that showed that many US mayors say better infrastructure is the biggest hurdle in their cities. In other words, if cities don’t figure out a way to upgrade their roads, parks, and transit systems, their growth is going to stall out.


OH, and one other problem the US is facing? Severe weather. Arcadis continues:

The situation in the US is further complicated by the consequences of severe weather. From drought in California to hurricanes in New Orleans and New York – there is an urgent need to build more resilient cities to protect the public and the economy from these devastating events. The economic impact of Hurricane Sandy alone is estimated at over $70 billion.


Sadly, as we saw in the GOP debate last night, accepting the existence of climate change doesn’t necessarily mean politicians will be ready to spend on resilient infrastructure. Sigh.

[Arcadis; h/t South China Morning Post; Image: A construction worker getting to his job on a skyscraper near Manhattan’s West Side. Photo by Henry Guttmann/Getty Images]


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