The (de)Construction of Bridges and Dams
Infrastructure in America is something for which to be grateful: we can travel the country, read under lamplight, store and reheat food easily, and work and play rather than walk 8 hours every day to the well.
But construction, a critical part of this infrastructure, is a complex beast.
The Hoover Dam is the most well-known dam in America. At the time of its construction, it was the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, and also the world’s biggest concrete structure.
But its construction was not seamless. Building the Hoover Dam caused 112 deaths, not including heat stroke and heart attacks. And the Colorado River has never been the same; the dam endangered entire fish populations by permanently changing the river’s water levels and salinity.
Or how about the Brooklyn Bridge, one of my very favorite places. It killed off both its builder and the builder’s son, so that only the builder’s wife was left to complete the project. Decompression sickness affected many of the underwater workers. In total, 27 deaths were reported during construction, with many more suspected.
In some other countries, the impact is even worse. The Three Gorges Dam in China is the largest electricity-generating structure anywhere. It provides energy to millions of Chinese people. But its completion was only possible after China displaced roughly 1.3 million people – including entire towns – without even compensating many of them. The dam has flooded archeological sites and increased the possibility of serious landslides in the region.
The point is not to say infrastructure is bad or wrong, nor is it to make us feel guilty for using electric lights or driving over bridges to see Grandma. But the history of construction (and the examples go on and on) should make us grateful for two things: the (mostly) men who gave their lives building such important things for us, and the young boys and girls studying now to make sure there are safer alternatives next time.
Do you have a favorite structure that could be added to this list?
When I was studying protest during college, I got the chance to stand alongside some really excellent folk, including Grandmothers Against the War. They have protested on 5th Ave, across from Rockefeller Plaza, for almost a decade. This past week, they were written up in the New York Times. It is a nice, albeit overdue, article, so check it out.