Peak infrastructure | Seth’s Blog

Community resources are easy to take for granted.

Unevenly distributed, they’re the sort of thing we miss only when they’re gone. Invisible things are easy to ignore.

I was stunned to see a sign in Connecticut that listed the names of dozens of highway workers who had been killed in accidents while doing their jobs. Too often, we celebrate the rabble rousers or innovators, without acknowledging our investments and efforts to keep things working.

But everything we’ve built has been built on top of our community commitments to infrastructure.

I’m lucky to have access to things like:

  • GPS in countless devices
  • A team that fixed the pothole on my street
  • A worldwide coordinated effort to patch the ozone layer
  • A state park that coordinated the work to open yesterday for nordic skate skiing
  • Clean water that comes out of the tap
  • Civic systems where I’m not required to pay a bribe
  • Federal packaging laws that dramatically increase food safety and purity
  • Coordinated responses to worldwide pandemics
  • Air travel around the world that is consistently safer and more reliable than the car
  • Electricity that arrives when needed, at a surprisingly low cost
  • Ambulances that show up when needed
  • Stop lights and traffic systems that are reasonably efficient
  • The internet backbone that brought this post to you
  • The weather report
  • The apparently magical way that waste disappears without spreading disease
  • My ability to ask a librarian for help or to find just about any book

Few people worldwide have as much access to these resources, and one of the unsung stories of the last century has been the spread of civil systems to more and more people.

A combination of aging systems, decreased commitment to community spending and the disruptions we’re causing to the climate mean that it’s possible we’ll end up with holes in this infrastructure that we might not be able to easily fix.

The next time you see an infrastructure worker, give them a hug.

Check out Deb Chachra’s terrific new book on infrastructure.

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