SCI launches infrastructure costs and urban growth management guide

Meeting the infrastructure needs of a rapidly growing population can often overwhelm the capacity of a city to pay for new infrastructure while maintaining its existing stock of roads, water and wastewater facilities, schools and other public facilities and services. Tackling these problems begins with local governments and their stakeholders and citizens making better choices on growth management – how, when and where a city should grow.

One critical piece of information is often missing from the growth management puzzle: the impact on urban growth patterns of capital and maintenance costs of city infrastructure. The Sustainable Cities International infrastructure cost and urban growth management guide takes practitioners through a step-by-step process of determining the cost implications of different growth scenarios for cities.

Studies undertaken using the methodology described in the guide by the cities of Calgary, Canada and Los Cabos, Mexico identified that significant savings on infrastructure costs could be achieved through more compact growth. Savings of 33% and 38% were identified for the capital cost of roads, transit, water and other infrastructure for Calgary and Los Cabos respectively. Savings on operational costs were found to be 14% for Calgary and 60% Los Cabos.

Time-lapse picture sequence of land-use and transportation change in a corridor. Photo source: City of Calgary

The guide was written by Patricia Gordon who has over 25 years of experience working in on sustainability policy and programs in local government in Canada and the UK. Gordon, who is currently the Director of Sustainable Cities International Network, identified the need for the guide as result of her work with the cities of Calgary, Canada and Los Cabos, Mexico.

The guide has three core components:

  • An overview of important tools and concepts when considering urban growth scenarios for cities
  • Guidance of generating difference growth scenario sets for a city
  • An overview of how to undertake an infrastructure costing exercise for different scenario sets. This overview is complement by examples of applying infrastructure costing to the cities of Calgary and Los Cabos.

“Completing a growth costing exercise is a relatively simply process once cities have developed alternative growth scenarios sets to compare” explains Gordon. The first step in completing a costing exercise is to identify the key forms of infrastructure that should be included in the exercise. This is following by measuring the infrastructure and then identifying unit costs for the building and maintenance of the infrastructure need to be established

“Many cities are experiencing budget cuts and financial challenges in meeting their infrastructure and maintenance requirements” explains Jane McRae Chief Executive Office of Sustainable Cities International. “In Canada alone it is estimated that there is an infrastructure backlog of between CAN$ 200 and CAN$ 300 billion. We believe that this practical guide on infrastructure costing is a significant contribution to the sustainability planning of cities” says McRae.

Would your city, town or region like a workshop and / or consulting support to complete a costing exercise? Cities interested in learning more about how to apply infrastructure costing to their cities should contact Patricia Gordon, SCI Cities Network Director, at or Edna Aguinaga, Network Project Officer at

Download the guide on the Sustainable Cities International website. The guide was made possible with funding from Siemen’s Canada. The work also received the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).



About sustainablecitiesnetwork

Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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