Monday, January 14, 2013

New Infrastructure

New Infrastructure
          Up the lane and down the street a little ways from our house, huge machines have arrived to upgrade the water and sewer pipes coming in and going out of a city pumping sub-station. This is on an otherwise sleepy, residential block close to the beach on the Chesapeake Bay.
          Our once-quiet street is now an impassable eyesore, except for the people unlucky enough to live near the pumping station. They may drive to their homes through mud and brine on a narrow lane between machines and park in their own driveways.
          Pipes connected to each other line the sidewalks, which are closed to pedestrians, and pumps rumble day and night, circulating water perpetually from beneath the ground and back into the ground. The site is like an autopsy, where we can see the exposed innards of the awesome technology which brings running water and sewer services to our homes in this part of town.
          But it’s also a huge pre-emption of the right to live with quiet enjoyment in our homes. That right is over-ruled by deciders downtown, who are no doubt correct. The infrastructure needs the upgrade to accommodate all the extra people now living in our neighborhood.
          It’s city life. A big problem. All signs are, it won’t get solved anytime soon, and meanwhile work goes ahead down our street to replace the old city plumbing with the new plumbing, and even the city knows it’s a big pain in the ass, and it will go on for about a year until people forget what they always liked about the neighborhood and are almost ready to move when one day the machines go away and the street is good-to-go again. Nice.
          But we also have a problem of sea-level rise around here, and not much has been done about it. So that’s a huge thing. And we’ve been lucky. No humongous storm has hit us for awhile—certainly not since I’ve been here. But I think most people sort of feel in their bones that we could be about due...for “the big one.”
          I can’t imagine the waters rushing into the sanctity of my home, but I also see around me that Mother Nature is struggling for her life against the encroachment of human beings. Human beings like me.
          I see the collapse of the wetland trees and the hunger of the birds and raccoons if I forget to put out food every day. We’ve crowded Mother Nature’s diversity and variety into fetid swamps and regimented parks, and if she in her desperation lashes out at our shores in a move to make things whole again, will new infrastructure keep back the tides from my front door?
          But infrastructure is a concept we can grasp. After all, we invented it—to make life easier, for ourselves, for our families. It’s essential to have indoor plumbing, running water. Running hot water! The city even takes away our garbage and trash with military efficiency. What would I do otherwise with something like our old broken toilet seat? Throw it in the woods?
          There just are no easy answers to anything, and the problems in the world seem endless.
          I used to think that if everyone lived a simpler life, we could continue as a species and as a civilization indefinitely.
          But a simple life is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most people want more than the basics. They want to go shopping! After awhile, so did I. But a funny thing happened to me on my way to the middle class. It all collapsed.
          I think that’s part of what this new infrastructure is about— bringing back the past, securing that quality of life for another generation. It seems necessary, it may be successful. But if the sea swallows us up, what good will it do?
          Meanwhile, as the process down the block continues, we all know we’ve got to get together and do something on the climate change issue. There’s some movement at City Hall—studies and whatnot. New bike lanes have appeared on many streets. Light rail is up and running—just one route so far, back and forth across downtown, through some of the neighborhoods most likely to disappear under water.
          It seems the larger reality of the sea rising around us has everybody stumped.
          I guess it’s the money. It will cost too much to save everybody from the rising ocean. So we mostly we ignore the problem, and people must make their own plans. Meanwhile, the infrastructure will be here for our neighborhood, in case “the big one” doesn’t happen.
          I pray it doesn’t happen, but also that living through the danger will make us all a more loving people, not just to each other but to the whole world and all the creatures in it.
          I also hope that in this new millennial age we can come to understand and accept physical death. Why fight it? In one way or another, it’s always going to go along with physical life.
          That’s the kind of infrastructure I’d like to see put in.


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