Traditional infrastructure adaptation to extreme weather events (and now climate change) has typically been techno-centric and heavily grounded in robustness—the capacity to prevent or minimize disruptions via a risk-based approach that emphasizes control, armoring, and strengthening (e.g., raising the height of levees). However, climate and nonclimate challenges facing infrastructure are not purely technological. Ecological and social systems also warrant consideration to manage issues of overconfidence, inflexibility, interdependence, and resource utilization—among others. As a result, techno-centric adaptation strategies can result in unwanted tradeoffs, unintended consequences, and underaddressed vulnerabilities. Techno-centric strategies that lock-in today's infrastructure systems to vulnerable future design, management, and regulatory practices may be particularly problematic by exacerbating these ecological and social issues rather than ameliorating them. Given these challenges, we develop a conceptual model and infrastructure adaptation case studies to argue the following: (1) infrastructure systems are not simply technological and should be understood as complex and interconnected social, ecological, and technological systems (SETSs); (2) infrastructure challenges, like lock-in, stem from SETS interactions that are often overlooked and underappreciated; (3) framing infrastructure with a SETS lens can help identify and prevent maladaptive issues like lock-in; and (4) a SETS lens can also highlight effective infrastructure adaptation strategies that may not traditionally be considered. Ultimately, we find that treating infrastructure as SETS shows promise for increasing the adaptive capacity of infrastructure systems by highlighting how lock-in and vulnerabilities evolve and how multidisciplinary strategies can be deployed to address these challenges by broadening the options for adaptation.
- infrastructure systems
- social-ecological-technological systems
- urban systems
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Science(all)
- Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)