Lately, public discourse about our infrastructure has increasingly been about how it is old and failing. Numerous infrastructure report cards warn that unless we significantly increase our annual investment in maintaining and replacing it, we’re in for a train wreck.
Putting aside the conversation about our national infrastructure for now, a recent trip to Berlin got me thinking about the kinds of challenges they must face, and how (relatively speaking) we might not have it that bad.
The timing of our visit coincided with the 775th anniversary of Berlin. There are certainly older places on the planet, but being a Canadian makes this kind of history hard to grasp (Vancouver celebrated 126 years this April). Of course, the infrastructure is not 775 years old. Some of it is probably quite old, and some of it is quite new. Bombing in WWII meant that much of what was above ground was reduced to rubble. Following the war and the division of the city into East and West Germany, post war reconstruction could begin.
Each government had different concepts of the ideal society, likely leading to different ideas of what, where, and how to build. I can only imagine the mixed bag of infrastructure that greeted the Berlin administration after reunification. I’m doubting that comprehensive as-built drawings and construction records were available for staff to plan for the management and upkeep of assets. Now they face the long and daunting challenge of equalizing the quality of life enabled by infrastructure across the city (and country). This work is funded by German citizens through a solidarity tax, and which has caused some tensions.
Today, construction is visible everywhere, as infrastructure and facilities are built, rebuilt, and rehabilitated. Passing a construction site, we noticed all the buried rubble that was being excavated to make way for new foundations. I wonder if anyone really knows all that lies beneath the surface in Berlin?
So although we might have a history of underinvestment in maintenance and renewal, at least we don’t need to add all the baggage that comes with years of turbulent history to our list of challenges.