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Last week’s bridge collapse in Minnesota was a tragedy. Another word we could use to describe it would be to call it a metaphor.
I’m not an engineer, and I’m not going to pretend I’m the kind of person who knows enough about engineering to even pretend he could be one. But you didn’t need to be an engineer to draw the conclusion, as most of us did, that the main thing that led to last week’s collapse was habitual overuse.
Even if overuse wasn’t what ultimately led to the bridge’s demise, the fact remains that a bridge built several decades ago was not built for the volume of traffic many American cities experience today. This goes not just for bridges but all forms of infrastructure, including many highways. And the lesson here isn’t that people several decades ago were idiots. It’s that, if we don’t keep perpetual growth in mind, we’re eventually going to look like idiots ourselves.
I cringe whenever I see a new housing development or strip mall being built in my own part of the country. It’s not the influx of people or increase in local business I have a problem with; both of these could be said to be good things. Rather, it’s the nagging suspicion that whoever decided to build something new did so with as little concern for what already existed as possible.
I grew up in New Jersey and knew it was crowded when I moved to southeastern PA three years ago. I loved New Jersey when I left, but going back there almost gives me a heart attack now. The never-ending series of traffic lights, strip malls, condos, and work sites makes a five mile trip take almost an hour. It’s amazing how a state that’s constantly on the move seems to be so paralyzed.
Southeastern PA isn’t much better, and plenty other parts of the country are catching up. I’m not some open space nut who would rather have trees than nearby stores to buy milk. My problem is, I just don’t think we’re thinking ahead here. We see open land and it’s like we can’t imagine doing anything other than putting something on it.
Maybe this issue is only tangentially related to the Minnesota bridge collapse, but the heart of the story is still the same. As human beings, we shouldn’t hold back on continuing to advance and develop our society. Growth is good. Business is good. We should embrace these as principles. But at the same time, we should also start to acknowledge that the future is coming, and will always be coming, and we might as well learn to prepare for it.
This isn’t going to come—and shouldn’t come—from Washington. As Americans, we need to be looking around our own communities and asking ourselves if this is really the most ideal way to live. Are we walking enough? Are we making the most of our space? Or are we just throwing as many people into every square mile as we can possibly fit? Urban life isn’t for everyone, but just imagine how much money you’d save on gas if more suburban housing developments had convenience stores or restaurants in them.
Most of us won’t perish on a bridge—and thank God for that. I just look at all the congestion that suffocates so many parts of this country, and wonder what horrors this bridge collapse foreshadows.