When compared dollar-to-dollar to the rest of the world, how much are Australia’s 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 $US218 trillion worldwide. So how do these countries compare? In terms of straight value, the US has 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, Australia is only five places behind:
It’s surprising that the US doesn’t even make the list, however it is actually slipping down in the rankings in general. Arcadis says that the problem in the US isn’t real estate — they’re doing “solid” in terms of private assets like buildings. But they’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.