Thursday, November 1, 2007

Aging Infrastructure Creates Opportunity : Reflections on Edens, Lost and Found

Today, a greater amount of attention is beginning to focus on our cities aging infrastructure. Recent event in New York City, with a major steam pipe bursting, and in Minneapolis, with the collapsing bridge, have brought more attention to this issue. Many expect that as our cities age and their infrastructure begins to wear, incidents like this will become more common. In reading Edens Lost and Found (Introduction and Los Angeles chapters), there is discussion of the errors that took place in creating our major city’s infrastructure. It occurred to me that as this infrastructure approaches the end of its usable life we have a great opportunity to replace those systems with ecologically superior models, and greatly improve our environment as well as the overall livability of our cities. Los Angeles represents a terrific example of this because its initial infrastructure was so terribly designed by modern standards that perhaps it has the most to gain from its reformation. There are two terrific examples of infrastructure modernization that can make a great difference in LA, floodwater management and transportation.

Los Angeles created a flood management system that pushes all flood waters into giant concrete river basins that divert all water outside of the city. These basins not only do a disservice to the city by removing water that could be put to use, but they also serve to create massive dissections of the city which have an enormous and negative affect on pedestrians and all city dwellers who are now greatly discouraged from crossing the basins. In Edens Lost and Found, the concept of cistern-and-swale technology (though I hesitate to use that term for such a low-tech idea) is discussed as a more viable solution to the massive flood basins currently in place. This technology manages flood water and effectively retains it for later use. The impact of the use of cistern-and-swale instead of the massive basins could have a great impact on the city through improved use of storm water and allowing greater mobility across areas of the city that are affected by these great boundaries of concrete.

Another example of a devastating infrastructure choice made by the city of LA that offers great opportunity for improvement is that relating to transportation. LA is notorious for its traffic, and for good reason. The city was built up around the automobile. LA’s concrete jungle nearly requires inhabitants to use an automobile to get through it. However, as LA’s huge number of bridges and overpasses age, the repair of the auto infrastructure will become more and more expensive. Combined with the price of fuel, there will be great pressure to develop alternative methods of transportation. Though Californians love their autos, it only makes sense that we would have to question the increasing costs associated with maintaining an increasingly expensive and inefficient mode of transportation in light of smarter technologies that move LA’s citizens to work, home, the beaches and the malls.

All in all, our aging cities offer the greatest opportunity to make a real impact on the environment and on the quality of life through smarter infrastructure choices. More people, more money and a greater overall impact make our cities great candidates for an all new infrastructure boom in this country similar to the one that took place in the early-to-mid 20th century, but smarter and more environmentally and socially sound.

1 comment:

GoForTheTop said...

Really good insights here! I was actually in NYC when the steam pipe burst! It caused massive transportation problems for everyone in the city ( it took me 3 hours to get home--an otherwise 15 minute trip) and frightened everyone with the thought of another terrorist attack. It is clear that aging infrastructure has a huge ripple effect and should therefore be considered an opportunity for improvement.
Your suggestions for storm water and transportation improvements are insightful and I surely hope that these cities are thinking along these lines and taking account of systematic repercussions of infrastructure collapses.