Beauty in public works

These are two scenes from my morning drive earlier this week to Radnor, Pennsylvania for a breakfast meeting. The “byway” scene is on the way to Radnor, and the “highway” scene below is one the way back.

As I’m reading/listening to “The Power Broker,” chronicling the life of Robert Moses, New York master builder, one of the things that’s striking is that for all of his faults, Moses’s earliest works were “parkways,” which continue to embody the idea that the journey is as important as the destination. His Long Island parkways especially were designed to be beautiful roads.

At the same time, Granola Shotgun chronicles the problem with the way we fund and build infrastructure of this scale. It’s not built for human scale, it’s not built to look beautiful, it’s not built to be economically sustainable, and it’s not built to last. There are so many examples of these problems shared on that blog.

We need highways, obviously. But we could do a better job making them beautiful, and we’re just choosing not to do that. The overcast skies don’t help in these photos, but driving that highway just felt terrible.

What’s evident in the “byways” photo above isn’t just that there’s a cute little bridge designed for an occasional car, but the entire scene. There are no expensive creek/bridge materials to maintain. There are no sidewalks built with municipal bonds. There are no sidewalks that will public/private maintenance. It’s just a country road, basically.

A lot of people would call this road “underdeveloped,” but I call it perfectly developed. It does its job in a way that lets nature be what it is. That’s a good way to live.

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