Over the last few years, as government has grappled with the problem of low growth, the term catalytic infrastructure investments has become more prominent in relation to certain
infrastructure investments in cities and rural development efforts. These projects have been added to ‘strategic integrated projects’ and ‘mega projects’ in our lexicon of infrastructure development as a central plank of government’s economic policy. Infrastructure investment face well-known problems of projects over promising and under-delivering, what economist refer to as optimism bias. On the other hand in our chronically low economic growth situation it is precisely leadership from public investments, amongst others, that can catalyise the growth we need. Are we getting the multiplying impact from infrastructure investments that we should? What can be done to increase the benefits of such investments? Are we learning as we go along? These are the questions this dialogue aims to answer.
The city of Portland on the US west coast defines catalyst projects as “public or private projects that are planned and designed to cause a corresponding and complementary development reaction on surrounding properties. They are projects of sufficient magnitude to stimulate redevelopment of underdeveloped properties or major rehabilitation of underutilized buildings. The identification and implementation of catalyst projects provides an opportunity for public and private investments to receive a reasonable return. The measure of return on investment can include jobs creation, increase in land value, improved transportation and access, and new housing units.”
This dialogue will kick off with a panel who will set the scene by outlining the evidence to date on the wider economic impacts of major public investments in transport, reflect on how the private sector has responded and float ideas on what might increase the catalytic impact of such projects.
As always, the Dialogue’s goal is to use shared information and facilitated discussion to achieve: an improved climate for policy and decision-making; strengthened cooperation within the infrastructure sector; and specifically, ideas that participants may be able to take forward or apply through their respective areas of responsibility and influence.
The Infrastructure Dialogues are hosted jointly by the Development Bank of Southern Africa, the South African Cities Network, the National Business Initiative, the Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Department in the Presidency, and the Department of Economic Development, with the Engineering News as Media Sponsor. This will be the 39th Dialogue held since 2009.