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City Essentials

Under Construction

New York Underground

National Geographic's New York Underground

New York is one of the oldest cities in North America. The Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam was established in what is now lower Manhattan in 1624. The infrastructure that supports the city: roads, waterworks, sewage, electricity etc., grew with the city and the technology. Much of the infrastructure is buried beneath our feet or on such a large scale that it becomes forest for the trees. Maintaining all of this requires planning, monitoring, and yes, money.

Once a structure goes up and is in use, most people don’t think too much about the upkeep. In the home, replacing a light bulb here, some paint touch up there tend to be the extent of an individual’s responsibilities. City structures that we use or come into contact with on a daily basis are someone else’s responsibility.

Even with safeguards in place (inspections and maintenance), tragedies like the I-35 Mississippi River bridge collapse still happen. The I-35 bridge was only 30 years old when it collapsed. Most of the bridges that service New York and Manhattan are far older. The I-35 tragedy was a wake-up call for New York and other cities to reexamine their bridges for structural integrity. In fact, recently the New York Lake Champlain Bridge was demolished — it was deemed more costly to repair than to build new. Far better to be inconvenienced by “Detour” or “Closed for Maintenance” than the alternative.

With the change in the weather, construction work (and the noise and detours) will soon be starting up. Potholes caused by winter road conditions need to be covered and repaved, sewers need to be cleaned out. There’s also the inevitable jackhammer rip of a buried phone or cable line that needs to be repaired. These are the immediate fixes, the bandages for the scrapes and trials of daily life.

For the long term and major fixes, it takes vision and effort to provide for the greater good. Boston had to put up with over 10 years of the Big Dig to improve its arterial roadways. New York has the 2nd Avenue subway construction, the first phase slated to finish in 2016. New York is also working on a long-term (30+ year) City Tunnel No. 3 project to extend the water supply lines into the city.

A city that is under construction is a city that is alive and thinking of its citizens. Like your body, prevention and (planning) is worth a pound of cure. All of us who live in cities — expats and natives — need to remember that while it may hurt now in terms of time and convenience, it will hurt much more without the bridge, or water, or sewage treatment. And one thing that is a guarantee, no matter how much it costs now, it’ll cost a LOT more to fix it later.

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