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    Unexpected Outcomes of Decaying City Infrastructure

    photo of an outdoor city-run drinking water fountain

    Throughout Canada and the United States, citizens are facing the negative impact of decaying city infrastructure. Important systems that provide transportation, utilities, and well-being are deteriorating, and without proper attention, these systems will continue to fail the people they are supposed to serve. 

    Common Causes of Infrastructure Deterioration

    There are many ways that infrastructure can deteriorate over time, including: 

    • Insufficient funding due to local budget cuts or a reallocation of funds. 
    • Delayed repairs and maintenance on essential physical systems such as water pipes and electrical grids. 
    • Population growth that stretches the capacity of outdated systems. 
    • Environmental factors such as temperature, sea level, and natural disasters. 

    Each of these factors can overburden city infrastructure and create widespread problems for the people who depend on these systems to survive and thrive. Aging and environmental factors cannot be controlled, but with the proper planning and budgeting, cities can diminish the impact that infrastructure deterioration has on residents. 


    A city may be populated by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Many of these people leave their homes every day to go to work, school, the grocery store, and other destinations. 

    Safe transportation depends on reliable infrastructure such as roads, public transportation, and trains, but what happens when these transportation systems deteriorate? 

    Public Transportation

    Public transportation, such as buses and tramways, is a vital resource for many people around the world. These systems are meant to provide reliable and affordable transportation, but across North America, these systems are rapidly deteriorating. 

    According to researchers at University of Waterloo, the public transportation systems in Toronto are failing to provide quality services to core riders who are facing high costs, delays, and cancellations. When public transportation systems fail to meet riders’ needs, this can lead to increased car traffic and carbon emissions. According to the United Nations, switching from cars to public transportation can reduce up to 2.2 tons of carbon emissions per person. As a result, riders leaving public transportation can negatively impact the air quality and health of a city’s citizens. 

    A lack of reliable public transportation especially hurts vulnerable members of a city’s population—the elderly, the unhoused, and people with disabilities who depend on well-equipped buses and trams to maintain their independence and quality of life.


    In the United States, railways are deteriorating due to a lack of funding and natural disasters. There is currently $45.2 million worth of delayed repairs waiting for funding from the federal government. 

    New York and New Jersey have been waiting for over a decade for funding to repair the rail tunnels under the Hudson River that were flooded during Hurricane Sandy. The damage has led to years of delays and cancellations, impacting commuters and travelers in the region. 

    Train systems along the East Coast are facing similar problems, leading to delays in travel, shipping, and industry. 


    Utilities are systems that provide people with reliable access to water, electricity, waste management, internet, and more. Utilities help people to live comfortably and safely in their homes, but without consistent maintenance and testing, these systems can deteriorate and negatively impact the quality of life for city residents.


    When water pipes are left to deteriorate, communities are forced to face serious medical and financial consequences.  

    According to a report published by the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO), there are an average of 700 water main breaks every single day in the United States and Canada. The faulty systems causing these leaks have led to higher water bills and the loss of high quantities of drinking water. For example, 10% to 40% of Ontario’s drinking water is lost in these leaks and water main breaks. 

    Aging pipes lead to the loss of drinking water, but they can also create a complete lack of drinking water. Water systems in Canada and the United States have failed for decades to provide potable water to cities and communities across North America, including First Nations communities. Decaying pipes and contaminated water sources introduce dangerous contaminants into municipal water supplies, creating public health crises.   

    Dealing with Decaying Water Infrastructure Systems

    In 2016, the residents of Flint, Michigan were advised not to drink tap water. Due to pipe corrosion, the city’s water supply was contaminated with lead and dangerous bacteria. Communities across Canada and the United States are dealing with contaminated water supplies, and citizens are boiling water or exploring water filtration options to protect their health. 

    There are appliances that work to remove unhealthy contaminants from water supplies. For individuals who are worried about the quality of their local water supply, or who live in a city or town that has issued a specific contaminant warming, a reverse osmosis system can help. This appliance is installed under the sink, removes pesticides and heavy metals, and sends clean water to a specific faucet. For those living in rural communities, UV water treatment systems can be used to destroy microorganisms in well water. 

    Decaying water systems and hard water can also cause structural damage within residential properties due to mineral build-up in pipes and appliances. A water softener removes the high mineral content of hard water to reduce the risk of scaling and pipe blockages. 


    Over the years, the quality of schools in North America has declined. Many school districts are working with limited funds, massive teacher shortages, and aging buildings. 

    According to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, researchers have found that overcrowding in schools can have measurable, negative impacts on students’ learning and performance. Environmental conditions, such as loud noises and high temperatures, can also impact students’ experiences. 

    On top of overcrowding, some schools are struggling to provide reliable access to drinking water, electricity, toilets, and technology for students. Research shows that these school infrastructure issues are strongly associated with increased violence and discrimination, and reduced learning and innovation. If a student is worried about their classroom’s leaky ceiling and faulty wiring, how are they supposed to grow and learn? 

    Can These Infrastructure Systems Be Repaired? 

    As infrastructure systems continue to decay, many communities are left to wonder if there are any possible solutions to the negative outcomes residents are experiencing. In order for infrastructure to improve, government leaders must prioritize infrastructure repairs and acknowledge the impact that infrastructure decay has on the most vulnerable members of our communities. 

    Until necessary repairs are made, individuals and communities are finding new ways to stay healthy and safe in the face of deteriorating infrastructure.