Infrastructure

I’m a structural engineer, so I keep up on the general goings on in the construction industry.  Infrastructure is suddenly getting a lot of attention in the media because of the various bridge collapses, and failed levies, etc. that have happened in the past few years and the upcoming “stimulus package”.  The situation with our country’s aging infrastructure is simple: we build it, and then forget about it.  Our bridge and highway system hasn’t really been touched (except for occasional expansions and new additions) since World War II.  Most city sewer systems, at their core, are whatever was placed when the city was founded.  The common blame, of course, for the lack of upkeep, is that it isn’t glamorous to spend money on roads and pipes for poop.  Politicians are more likely to get votes for spending money on flashy things like stadiums and sculptures.
So now we find ourselves with all of our civil systems falling apart around us, all at once.  And the cost to repair everything is way more than any of the governing bodies can afford.  And it occurrs to me, that civil leaders could learn a lot from playing some Sim City.

In the original game you were given some money.  You used the money to zone some land for development and build some roads.  As the population of your city grew, you earned more in taxes and could therefore build more stuff.  Everything would go along swimmingly for a while, spending all your money on newer and cooler things, and then you’d get to a point (please tell me I wasn’t the only one) where your city would hit a figurative wall.  Your city would have a large tax base, but after allocations for road maintenance and the like, you’d barely have enough cash left over to buy a windmill or hydroelectric generator to stave off the brown-outs as your city swelled against the limits of your power grid.  The next 100 years would go by in a flash, as in order to play, you would basically have to fast forward from year to year, struggling to maitain, never mind trying to expand.  There just never was enough capital for that nuclear generator, and you learned early on it was a losing proposition to borrow from the bank…

So here we are in real life, our roads and sewer systems falling apart around us, while we spend all of our money trying to hold the rest of them together with band-aids and our political leaders printing more money than I can even fathom to pay for it all, while we struggle to scrape something together to bolster our energy supply.  Let’s hope Godzilla doesn’t show up to do a little jig through our urban planning…

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