Sitting here in central Houston this week, with no water, spotty internet, and the looming fear that we would lose power and heat, I kept thinking about John Snow.
Snow was the guy who solved the mystery of the cholera epidemic in London in the 1850s, which took thousands of lives. In so doing, he unleashed a remarkable modernization movement in sanitary infrastructure, which has led to a revolution in public health. This sanitary revolution also set the tone for the way cities — and, indeed, all human settlements — work today: We depend almost entirely on centralized infrastructure to provide us with the things we need to live a civilized life.
There’s no question that we in the United States are living off our past investments in infrastructure without building the new stuff we need or even upgrading the old stuff we have. This is often cast in terms of economic competition with China and other developing countries, but it’s much more personal than that — it’s a matter of maintaining the quality of our lives every single day. Yet our general sense of inertia and our unwillingness to make long-term investments puts us at risk every day, as the ERCOT crisis has shown.