By Kim Robson:
In the novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, which is about neither Zen Buddhism nor motorcycle maintenance, the author nonetheless frequently uses motorcycle maintenance as an analogy for life:
“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.”
“The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself.”
~ Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values
We live in a society that values the excitement of innovation and newness over the mundane tediousness of maintenance and upkeep. As a result, of the more than 612,000 bridges in the United States, almost 10% of them are classified as “structurally deficient” and need to be repaired or replaced.
At Green Mom, we strongly advocate for learning how to repair things as opposed to throwing them into the landfill and replacing them. That also needs to apply to government policy. Budget officials at the federal, state and local levels simply push matters aside, failing to allocate necessary resources for preventive maintenance and immediate repair. Roads and bridges feel so permanent; our governments think they’ll last forever, or at least another fiscal year. But government inaction is just one part of the problem.
Americans love the new and shiny. Elon Musk’s proposed underground hyper loop transport is a good example. Instead of upgrading our aging rail system to the 21st century by building high-speed trains, as Europe and Japan have had for decades, let’s build a 226-mile-long tunnel along a highly populated corridor! Honestly, if we could find the money to fund such a monumental project, we could find the money to repair and upgrade our existing infrastructure.
In their article titled “Let’s Get Excited About Maintenance!” in the New York Times, contributors Andrew Russell (professor of history and dean of arts and sciences at SUNY Polytechnic Institute) and Lee Vinsel (professor of science and technology in society at Virginia Tech) write, “Mr. Musk’s idea indulges a fantasy common among Silicon Valley types: that the best path forward is to scrap existing reality and start over from scratch. With urban transport, as with so many other areas of our mature industrial society, a clean slate is rarely a realistic option. We need to figure out better ways of preserving, improving and caring for what we have.” They conclude, “Maintenance is an area of public policy where conservatives and progressives should see eye to eye. The conservative tradition asks us to preserve what we have inherited from our ancestors, and the progressive tradition seeks to provide the greatest good for the greatest number.”
Nobody wants their home taken away by eminent domain. Nobody wants to pay higher taxes, either. But can you imagine trying to build, say, our interstate highway system today? It’d be impossible in today’s political climate. So we’d better start funding existing infrastructure maintenance before it’s too late. Our current president has promised $1 billion for infrastructure, but in reality, we need about five times that amount to do any real good.
Instead of getting excited about new tech solutions, we should get fired up about letting our elected officials know we want them to responsibly allocate funds for infrastructure repair. After all, even self-driving Uber Teslas still will need smooth roads on which to navigate. We can’t let politicians loot public funds for their own boondoggles. The people want and need ongoing investment in roads, bridges, highways, rail, and bike paths.