Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In Praise of Concrete

It is common practice among the metropolitan city folk to lament the despoilment of Japanese coastlines and riverbanks by thick slabs of pork-sodden concrete; I myself have done so on occasion. But have we ever bothered to ask the locals? In the 1940s and 1950s, fourteen typhoons that hit Japan, seven in each decade, each caused 100 or more deaths. A couple of them killed more than 1,000 people. In the 1990s, no typhoon caused more than a few dozen deaths and many claimed single-digit casualties. Now, imagine how many more people could have died in the Great East Japan Earthquake if there had been none of this concrete. In fact, that’s when I first got to thinking about this.

The concrete serves another purpose. They often provide the foundations for the roads and railways that connect the coastland communities with each other and the hinterlands. That cannot always be said for the riverbanks, particularly as they leave the hills and approach the estuaries, but some of that is counterbalanced by the greater benefits to life and property afforded through protection from alluvial cataclysm.

Is there inefficiency? Is there pork? Sure. Of course. I’m sure there’s lots and lots, indeed enough lard to deep-fry all the pigs in Canada for all I know. And plans with round numbers followed by lots and lots of zeros certainly should be eyed with skepticism. But keep in mind that there’s another side to the balance sheet that may not be obvious to the casual tourist aesthete.

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