Saturday, July 31

Today's word: Infrastructure

I read an article in today's paper about some of the road systems that need to be upgraded or renovated and about areas that are desperate for expanded or new roads. And then I saw an article about bridges needing to be fixed and realized the number of articles I've seen recently in which people have referred to our transportation infrastructure.

And that reminded me of a presentation by Karen Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education. In her presentation, she remarked on the importance of a technology infrastructure and how difficult it will be to accomplish most of the rest to the educational technology plan without the infrastructure.

We all understand, I hope, the importance of an infrastructure as it is a foundation or framework, as it represents necessary resources. In other words, an infrastructure is a non-negotiable. In other words, without an infrastructure or a solid infrastructure or an infrastructure in good and dependable condition, bad things can happen. I find myself thinking about Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

I learned the value of a good public transportation system when I lived and worked in places without one. I've learned the value of a good road rebuilding and maintenance program from living in the northeast and the midwest, experiencing potholes and that jaw-rattling, spine-jarring washboard road damage that inevitably comes with spring.

The Chicagoland area has had a number of road programs delayed because of a strike. The ripple effect of that damage is probably calculable, but not by me. What I know is this: the car repair people are likely to be happiest because they may continue to get business because the roads aren't fixed. In the mean time, those who supply materials for road building and repair aren't quite so happy and neither are the workers idled by the strike unless they really support the strike. And there's a limited period of time for working on roads in the Chicagoland area which means that the roads not fixed and those not built before winter will not be fixed or built until next spring, if we're lucky. And the compounded damage to the bad roads will only make the repairs that much more expensive and the potential danger to the drivers that much worse.

As I think about the strike and what it costs everyone, I think about the social and cultural infrastructure that is influenced, supported, and impacted by a strike or by any other organizational or individual activity (or inactivity). I think about how repairs will be more expensive and how the lack of repairs will make conditions that much worse. Which makes me think about local issues, such as a home for women in danger of closing because of lack of funding, and national issues, such as immigration reform. Which makes me think that the problems with our roads and transportation infrastructure is but a microcosm of the national infrastructure problem we have.

We have, many of us, become so consumed by or focused on a particular problem that we are unable or unwilling to see the affect that problem has elsewhere. I know it can be dangerous to use a biblical reference, but here goes. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 speaks of the importance of the relationships of the parts of the body. The passage is metaphorical, but it works in thinking about a national infrastructure because the 1 Corinthians 12:26 reads, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."

I don't think we can consider the cracks and fissures in our transportation system without realizing they can, in large and small ways, contribute to cracks and fissures in our cultural and social infrastructures. And I do think that if something goes well in one system, it can have a positive influence or effect on another.

What's my point? Good question. While I understand people focusing on issues about which they are passionate: immigration reform, gun control, welfare reform, etc., I think it is imperative that people watch out for possible unintended consequences when messing around with infrastructures. What seems like reform or improvement for one infrastructure system may serve to create a crack in another.

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