The terrible problem of moving forward


While reading yet another article complaining about the impact of deteriorating infrastructure on the quality of life, this time in the US, and an article about the decline of the TTC under the skillful leadership of the archaeology-trained, politically appointed, young chairman, I was struck by one common thread — it is a bitch to fix stuff that already exists.

ANyone who has done home renovations knows that probably the worse part of the whole project is tearing out the existing stuff to clear the field to put in the new stuff. Oh, sure, changing the structure is pretty tough too — removing bearing walls, foundations and the like because you want a new garage entrance or a hot tub where there was formerly just blue sky. And to go with this, what do you do with the stuff you tear out? I suppose it should be recycled, but for older structures the materials were intended to last — like real plaster walls. Recycling this stuff is just not as easy as the crappy drywall new buildings use.

So here we are, deteriorating bridges (that must be driven over), ancient water systems that still provide for the citizens even while it is being replaced, and so forth. I am sure the costs of providing service continuity while ripping out the old changes things from a ‘just do it’ project to an ‘oh my, how will we ever afford it’ project. And since there is just so much in the later catagory, our world continues to crumble around our ears while the folks in distant lands, who arrived late to this party, are laughing at us while they whiz along on their maglevs to their shiny new cities. Oh well, they will find out…

In a sense we are prisoners of our own prior success. But what is the solution? Damned if I know. But there is a certain appeal to looking back at history when ancient peoples just abandoned a city and built a new one down the road. Maybe they knew something we have forgotten? Problem is that when a city has 10 million people in it (or more)  like New York, Chicago or Mexico City this process is a tad more complex. And there is still the residual emotional attachment problem to overcome even if the (impossible) logistics could be solved. Maybe the root of the problem is that the decision to create these massive cities was a mistake that by now only the collapse of civilization as we know it might cure? Perhaps small is beautiful after all, at least it provides some basic flexibility that we seem to have lost.

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