Deconstruction That Improves Your Life

Whole Earth, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Deconstruction That Improves Your Life


Infrastructure can backfire and harm human welfare rather than help it. Infrastructures can accelerate exploitation; discourage use of ecostructures that could have performed the same job with greater human enjoyment and less environmental damage; bury citizens in, grave financial debt; encourage engineers to sell a product rather than solve a problem; promote wasteful uses; and blind the public to conservative use, recycling, and efficiency.

So some cities and citizens rebel. Aided by earthquakes, San Francisco abandoned the idea of reconstructing another freeway. Aided by quicksand and decrepitude, New York took down its West Side Highway and gentrified the Hudson shoreline. In Ontario and Montreal, deconstruction thrives. Now the licensing commission that oversees hydropower has ordered the Kennebec Dam in Maine to be removed because letting the fish run is a better idea. Sixteen dams are already gone and a dozen more will probably go. The dam deconstruction industry looks like a growth business. Nuclear reactors, which are notoriously costly to run and insure, are closing down at a rate of about one a year! Some levees built to hold back the Mississippi are now left open and towns have moved instead. Florida's Kissimmee River, once channelized, is now is being re-meandered by the Army Corps of Engineers--one of its largest projects. Now if we could deconstruct certain Ivory Towers, real deconstruction of harmful infrastructure might just become a fad.

RELATED ARTICLE: Deconstructing Levees

The deconstruction of levees and dikes has become reasonable, if not wealth-enhancing. The photo on the left shows the breaching of a dike along the Puyallup River at Tacoma, Washington. The river had been channelized and wetlands lost. To restore this wetland, 55,000 cubic meters of solid waste landfill had to be excavated, a buried oil pipeline was rerouted, and a new dike was built to surround the old system. Juvenile salmon now have a place to feed and hang out before heading to the Pacific. The question remains: should we keep managing the new ecostructure for salmon or allow it to transform into a marsh?

Old Infrastructures, New Flows

Once established, the connectivity and configuration of infrastructures influence centuries of human history. After Roman roads, the canal system became Britain's first nation-wide (or almost) communications network. Their towpaths, once used by horses to putt barges along the canals, have recently been converted into the pathways for fiber-optic cable. The new use of the towpaths has, in turn, reinforced the historic value of the old canal system, even though no one uses horse-drawn barges.

Burying the fiber-optic cables under the towpaths seemed a much better option then burying them in roads that are stuffed with other utilities. In addition, Brits settled near the figure-eight-shaped canal system about 200 years ago. Many of the settlements grew because of commerce. This earlier pattern of urbanization set the stage. Today, sixty percent of Britain's population live within eight kilometers (five miles) of a canal, making it economical to tease the towpath right-of-way from Britain's Waterways Board. Fibreway, a company that manufactures telecommunications equipment, offers cable with the capacity of 32,000 simultaneous phone calls and 400 digital TV programs.

Deconstructing Deadbeat Dams

Removed Dams

North Carolina: Quaker Neck Dam, Neuse River (non-hydro)

Vermont: Newport 11 Dam, Clyde River (FERC hydro),

Dams Committed for Removal

Maine: Edwards Dam, Kennebec River (FERC hydro)

Wisconsin: Woods Creek Dam, Woods Creek (non-hydro) Pine Dam, Pine River (FERC hydro)

Michigan: Surgeon Dam, Sturgeon River (FERC hydro); Stonach Dam, Pine River (FERC hydro); Stonach Dam, Pine River (FERC hydro)

Dams Under Active Consideration for Removal

Maine: Great Works Dam, Penobscot River (FERC hydro); Brownville Dam, Pleasant River (non-hydro); Souradabscook Dam, Souradabscook River (FERC exempt hydro);

New York: Station 160 Dam, Genessee River (FERC hydro)

Florida: Rodman Dam, Ocklwaha River (navigation)

Colorado: Glen Canyon Dam, Colorado River (federally-owned hydro)

Washington: Condit Dam, White Salmon River (FERC hydro); Elwha and Gines Canyon Dams, Elwha River (FERC hydro); Four Army Corps dams, Lower Snake River (federally-owned hydro)

Oregon: Savage Rapids Dam, Rogue River (water diverson)

California: Ringe Dam, Malibu Creek (southernmost run of steelhead)

Hydropower Reform Coalition or American Rivers Hydropower Programs

Both at 1025 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 720 Washington, DC 20005, 202/547-6900, fax 202/347-9240, HRC email: hrc@igc. …

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