System Fail: A review of the systems approach as a decision makingMethod for lifeline infrastructure systems

    Ford, Chris
    Auernhammer, Jan
    Conference Papers
    Design Thinking and Innovation


Abstract: Lifeline infrastructure systems are planned and implemented to provide urban dwellers
with critical resource units. These resource units include food (kCals), communication (mHz),
energy (kWh), and water (MGDs), while also discharging units of waste (tons). Decision‐makers
historically responsible for shaping these lifeline systems (including members of the Planning, Civil
Engineering, and Architecture disciplines) have demonstrated a collective systems‐centric mindset
for infrastructure implementation. This paper reviews the Systems Approach as the prevailing
decision‐making method responsible for shaping the majority of infrastructure used in the United
States today. However, a legacy effect of past systems‐centric infrastructural action is one that
entrains the majority of infrastructural planning, design, engineering and construction within a
decision‐making process now challenged by complexifying urban contexts of the 21st century.
Through problem‐oriented inquiry, this paper: 1) identifies a bias for the system as a solution type
for the design of urban infrastructure; 2) explains the systems approach as a thought model and
process for decision‐making; 3) advances people‐centered mindsets will be essential for designing
next‐generation infrastructure solutions appropriate for 21st century urban futures.
Keywords: Infrastructure; lifeline systems; systems approach; design methodology.


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