Urban Disaster and the Big Dig

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Originally uploaded by Zakcq.
I've been a bit too tired lately to think about writing anything that contains an opinion (never thought I'd say that), but I think it's time to get back into it. I've been thinking that I really want to focus my writing here more on urban issues then I have been, if for no other reason then that I should practice explaining my position on some things.

I'm taking a class this summer called Urban Disaster, resilient Cities. It's been very interesting. I thought about disaster and rebuilding a lot while I was living in Berlin and at times I've actually thought about directing my studies in that direction overall. There is something about the way that a city can be completely reshaped that really appeals to my giant, giant ego.

We've been focusing on the San Francisco earthquake/firestorm of 1906, the Chicago heatwave of 1995 (which, by the way, caused more deaths than any disaster in America up to that point, even though no one really noticed), Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 and Oklahoma City bombings. What's really struck me is how little of disasters (especially "natural disasters") has to do with nature and how much has to do with institutional response. When the institutions respond quickly and responsibly, you might barely notice a disaster, but when they fail to (coughKatrinacough) it multiplies the problems by many, many times.

I'll also be writing a research paper on the Sarin Gas attacks in Tokyo in the 90's. I choose that disaster because I think it'll be interesting to look at a disaster where nothing was "physically" destroyed. That way, I won't get caught up in "and they rebuilt Main Street in three years" and instead will have to really look that the institutional and social changes that were brought about by the attacks.

As most probably know, a big chunk of ceiling fell in one of the tunnels of the big dig last week. This really saddens me. I've always been a big promoter of the big dig. I think it's a necessary investment in the future of Boston (and really cutting edge for the US) and I haven't even been too worried about the price tag and the time that it's taken. I'm not really sure what the price tag is at this point (I'm sure someone could google it if they really cared), but I feel that typically with public projects you are going to end up going over budget, so whatever it is, I'm sure it wouldn't surprise me. The extra cost is part of living in a democratic society. When we are building something with public money, there is a ton of oversight, and really anyone with a concern about anything has to be taken seriously. This takes time and costs money. So be it.

unfortunately, the collapse of this part of the tunnel probably mean that there is something going on besides normal cost inflation. Someone somewhere probably got a contract they shouldn't have. That's unfortunate. I'm interested to see more of how the inquiry goes, but I don't have high hopes. Romney smelled the chance to be in on something that the media will like and rode in on his white horse already. I'm guessing they are going to scapegoat someone down the ladder. I just can't believe that in 2006 we are dealing with something that sounds like it should be out of Tammany Hall.

What is really too bad is that this is going to put other cities off of undertaking big projects right at a time when most cities are finally growing in population and improving in terms of economic development. I really hope that some mayors out there will be smart enough to undertake good projects like this but honest enough to see it done right.


Brother James 8:57 PM  

Oh, I don't know that a Big Dig that went off without a hitch will do anything to expedite the process of fixing the 35W/Crosstown bottleneck. We can't even get a contract on that in the BEST of times.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Still, kudos on the Tammany Hall reference. When was the last time you saw a tiger wearing a tux and pocket-watch in a political cartoon?

onetenchelsea 10:06 PM  

Good points. There are some authors named Altshuler and Luberoff who wrote a book called Megaprojects that suggested that the cost of the Big Dig would put off the rest of the country from undertaking any large projects, and this was before the big dig started falling apart. ...in russia, megaproject watches your progress...

Anna 10:50 PM  

Don't you remember that pieces of the Big Dig were falling in, what at least two summers ago? Along with water leaking. Maybe even more recently. What I find disturbing is that someone had to die before people are finally taking notice. This could have been a whole lot worse and we have had plenty of warning signs. Frankly I wasn't that surprised that it happened at all. Although it is sad of course. What do you think about the plan to expidite the process for the women's children to immigrate to the US?

onetenchelsea 12:24 PM  

Yeah, but the water leaking and the small chunks last year seemed only seemed to be reported by Fox News and the Herald. I thought they felt like the typical right-wing media attacks on government doing anything except invading little countries. It's hard to tell how much of that was real and how much was media-fabrication... at least until this happened.

Anna 11:10 PM  

maybe. I remember telling Erik about the Big Dig earlier this summer and saying, "and it's not even that stable, I think people have even gotten hurt." That was like the week before I moved out here. I know something fell one time and they had to take someone in an ambulance somewhere. I remember that. And I don't watch Fox News or read the Herald. It must have been in the Globe or on the NBC affiliate or something.

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