Our ancestors separated themselves from the competition by finding uses for what they found around them. They took branches, stones, and clay to build shelters for protection from the elements, predators, and even other humans. In order to link those shelters into a community, spaces were cleared out to make walking and traveling easier; those cleared spaces are called roads.
The first roads were formed out of laziness. If a hundred people walk across a field in different places, they all struggle through the brush. But if they all walk in a line, only the first people struggle and the rest walk on the cleared path. Roads were first maintained by individuals that lived nearby, clearing out overgrowth.
Roads could also connect multiple communities allowing for greater communication and travel opportunities. With more travelers, there was an influx of new goods, ideas, and new buyers to expand the economy. It is no wonder that the road system quickly became institutionalized by a government benefiting from economic growth.
With more money from more people moving into a community, the government could pay workers to maintain public services like wells, roads and public centers. A happy population is a loyal population, after all. As technology progressed public services expanded to water distribution, waste collection, emergency services, and eventually electricity generation and distribution, to name a few parts of the infrastructure. This is not to say that the government was the only provider of those services; many private businesses have a toe in those markets now.
Whether you agree with the current economic system or allocation of tax money, you must remember that some of that money is going toward the public services that make up our infrastructure. The more people using those services, the more upkeep required. The price of upkeep should be paid with the new taxes being collected from the additional people using the service.
One of the landmark projects of the 20th century, called the New Deal. It seized a bunch of money that had been tied up in the hands of just a few people in 1920s America. The law distributed that money to millions of workers to update the infrastructure of the entire country. No matter how much or how little of your tax money goes to those public services, never forget that you are a part of providing them for everyone.
As our technology continues to skyrocket the progress of our species, our infrastructure needs to keep on pace to ensure the safety of the people. Let’s take the roads as an example. When we first started out, we needed to clear enough space for a person or a horse to walk on, a wagon could sometimes fit on a wide road. We now drive around in cars that can go upwards of 70 miles an hour on a regular basis. The roads that might have fit a wagon are not suited for those kinds of speeds.
Have you ever seen one of those huge on or off ramps from the highway? You might notice that is just slightly tilted in the direction of the curve; I want you to take a moment to appreciate that slight tilt. Those structures, though they may appear boring and grey, are absolute marvels of mathematics and engineering. The architects of those ramps determined the exact angle the roads should be constructed based on the traction of your tires based on the possible speeds you might choose to drive on it. There is more math and physics that goes into getting onto the highway than you ever imagined!
In a way, our infrastructure reflects our own internal anatomy. There is a transportation system with large central roads branching into smaller side roads, much like our circulatory system with arteries branching into capillaries. There is a waste disposal system where all sewage goes to a treatment plant and is then recycled, much like our lymphatic and excretory systems which store waste until it’s removed. There is a communication system with telephone wires and transformers, much like our nervous system has neural paths and clusters. We may not have been aware of our own anatomy when we first began building public structures, but it’s interesting that the similarity arose anyway.
Today, we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of the time before the New Deal. Most of the money is tied up in the hands of a few individuals and it is time for another massive public service project. We are heading down an incredibly unsustainable path with our addiction to dirty energy sources like coal and “natural gas.”
If we do not have a significant change in the way we get our energy (wind, water, solar), the beautiful infrastructure that we have worked on until now will go to waste. We know how it works and where it came from, we can look back to move forward and build a better tomorrow.