Infrastructure Improvements

It happens in life that sometimes a variety of interests will lead to a nuanced perspective on a given problem. Some of these problems are full of dramatic interest that can be seen by many (if not all) people, and other problems are immensely important but are not necessarily all that interesting on the surface. If we are wise, we will have a sensitivity to what is beneath the surface, to take the time to build up an appreciation of that which not readily interesting in the surface. If this cuts against the spirit of our times, it is also a matter of considerable importance, as there are many aspects of life which are not readily interesting on the surface but that are deeply important in terms of their repercussions and implications.

Infrastructure is one of those areas where there appears to be little of immediate interest or excitement. What is sexy about roads, ports, railways, or other transportation networks to most people? We tend to notice such matters only when they go wrong, when we have a traffic jam on a highway on the way to work, when the delivery of our package is delayed because of a derailed train in rural Montana or because of a pileup of container ships in Quanzhou, or when our travels are delayed by the onerous security burdens in our airports. Even our much-valued ability to communicate with people through cell phones and computers depends on the infrastructure of wireless connections and fiber-optic cables that allow for a great deal of speed and capacity in our communications. Whether we are dealing with business, transportation, or communication, a great deal of our well-being in life depends on infrastructure, even the water and sewer networks that are essential to our cleanliness.

Yet infrastructure is not a subject that draws a great deal of attention from either people or politicians so long as life is going well. Despite the best efforts of the American Society of Civil Engineers, for example [1], to grade the state of infrastructure and investments in maintaining and improving that infrastructure, the poor state of our infrastructure has not drawn a great deal of attention, much less a great deal of effort. Part of this lack of effort is a result of priorities. In an age where insecurity and vulnerability run rampant in all walks of life, from our ability to earn enough to feed and house ourselves, to our ability to protect ourselves or care for our children or elderly, the additional strain of facing the deterioration of the very skeletal structure of our society is not something that is easy to deal with in the absence of hope that this too may be dealt with given our resources (and not merely economic resources).

Let us ask ourselves how we got our infrastructure to begin with. Through a mix of public investment, funded by bonds and taxes, and through a mix of private investments with the expectation of profit, canals were built, roads were cut through the forest, bridges and dams were built, schools were constructed, wires were laid down, buildings were built to connect people together. There are essentially two forms of infrastructure developments that represent different visions of progress. One type of development is external infrastructure, where roads and railroads and other transportation networks are geared to taking primary resources to the outside world in exchange for profits from commodity trading. This is the sort of development that has taken place in much of the world, from the Southern United States to Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Regardless of the wealth that has come to such nations, that wealth has tended to concentrate itself in elites, and especially in rulers, while ordinary people live in favelas and struggle without even basic infrastructure in their own lives. In contrast, those areas that have succeeded in the modern world have done so because they focused on a policy of internal infrastructure, building canals and highways and railroads and air routes internally, leading to the growth of towns and cities along routes, providing to local needs and concerns, leading to economic growth inside of the society, for the betterment of a larger group of people.

Yet our crisis in physical infrastructure is related to and mirrored by the collapse of our societal infrastructure, the trust and fondness of people for each other, the bonds of friendship and family. It may be that we cannot rebuild the infrastructure of our physical world until we have paid attention to the neglected and ramshackle infrastructure of our relationships. It is perhaps because of my sensitivities both to the infrastructure of buildings and education and roads and other networks as well as to the infrastructure of families and communities, of churches and meaningful relationships, that this subject has retained such a fascination for me, given that it represents the ground on which my personal and professional longings rest, with implications far beyond my own complicated life.

In many ways, this decline of infrastructure is no new matter [2]


[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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