It's not just Washington, and it's not just electricity cables. Everywhere in the United States, whether the prevailing weather extremes are winter storms, fall hurricanes, or intermittent tornadoes, the answer is the same: plant wooden telephone poles along the street, run your critical infrastructure wiring over them, and hope for the best. 19th century technology at its best.
This weekend in Washington, it's same old, same old: hundreds of thousands of people deprived of heat, electricity, and communications. And it doesn't have to be that way.
This winter in Brussels has had its share of snowfalls, though nothing like Washington's current blizzard. But one thing we didn't have to worry about on our street (photo), or for Brussels as a whole, was power lines collapsing under the weight of snow or ice. They are buried, you see, along with other utilities like telephone cables, water and sewage pipes, etc.
Belgium's no poster boy for governance, what with its multiple parliaments, record-breaking numbers of civil servants, and yearlong gridlock in forming governmental coalitions. But on such matters as the permanence of basic infrastructure, they have thankfully reached the conclusion that streets might just as well have conduits for power lines that are put there to stay, rain or shine.
I fear that in the US, we live for the present, and the notion of investment for infrastructure is as quaint as Dwight Eisenhower's potholed Interstate system. Investment is now equated financial instruments therefore with Wall Street, and we know where that took us. Just look at the appalling state of the State of California, where Peter Schrag in the September 2009 Harper's painted a picture of a citizenry that has voted its way to ungovernability, starving even education - talk about investment in a critical area - of tax funding.
This may not be the weekend to rub it in, but hell, Washington, it's been like this ever since we lived there more than three decades ago, when I wondered how the underground Metro system could break down because of snow (of course, I learned that it's the above-ground parts that are the problem). And another period of Washington residence in the late '90s, when power outages during snow/ice storms had us heating thawed food on a camp cooker inside our frozen apartment, probably in violation of a bunch of city ordnances.
As with so much else, couldn't Washington show the country that there's another way to organize urban living? By amortizing, maybe, part of the annual billions of dollars of storm damage that is due to downed power/phone lines by simply burying them under Washington's pretty tree-lined streets.
So, after the big dig-out is over, how about trading snow shovels for the other kind, and maybe creating some employment for sustainable infrastructure of the most basic kind?