It didn’t take the drought in the West or lead in the water at Flint, Michigan for me to appreciate the abundance of clean water we have in Cincinnati. Not always, but many times when I’m taking a shower, washing prints in the darkroom or watching the sprinkler in the garden I think to myself what a blessing it is to be able to turn on a tap and have clean, affordable hot and cold running water. Quite often I hear people express gratitude for water, consistent electricity, waste collection and recycling, roads, bridges and sewer systems—the physical and organizational systems that are necessary for a society to maintain health and functionality. We don’t talk about it much, but the appreciation is there—at least in my circle.
Our street was torn up on both sides last year so new gas lines could replace the old ones. While at times the noise, mud, dust and steel plates covering holes in sidewalks and driveways were annoying, we all knew the neighborhood would be better and safer for it. Our house is 89 years old, so we’ve had to replace and clean out sewer lines, repair leaking walls in the basement and reroute runoff from the roofs. It’s always a drudge when one of these systems fails, but the time, energy and money put into repairing them always pays off.
Having traveled in countries that have little or no infrastructure, my appreciation is not just that we have functioning systems in the United States, it goes especially to the people who built them in the first place and the countless workers who maintained them thereafter. Before the immense roadway pictured above was built, there was a two-lane street with parking meters on the right and a hillside of weeds on the left. Now, I not only marvel at the engineering design and intelligence that when into it’s creation, I wonder about the birthing process. What social-political entities initiated the project? Who decided what the roadway needed to be and where it should be placed? Who provided the steel and concrete—and at what cost? What parties came to the table to finance it? I am amazed at how undertakings this huge come to fruition.
Research by the United Nations indicates that most people in the world do not have the luxuries of abundant and clean water, healthful waste-disposal systems, paved roadways and access to an energy grid. In thinking about what it takes to create these structures I’m reminded of the Peace Corps and what it provides—know how, community development and engagement toward the “eradication of disease, feeding the hungry, and addressing other challenges through innovative, grassroots solutions.” Many of their efforts involve innovation, training, creating infrastructures with the material and human resources at hand—and often in challenging if not impossible political climates.
I cannot begin to grasp the complexities involved in helping communities in need, whether here or anywhere else. As an armchair appreciator of infrastructure, I just observe that the systems we enjoy—and sometimes complain about and question how to maintain—began with individuals who responded to a pressing need by bringing together people of means and influence to envision a solution and get it financed. The names of these individuals constitute a Who’s Who list of American entrepreneurs and industrialists, people who amassed great fortunes for themselves by investing in the materials and machines that largely resulted in our infrastructure. Today, gratefully, the tide has turned. Individuals who have generated great wealth are joining Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates as signatories to The Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. I recommend a visit to their web site where you can click on their names and see the faces of the people who are quite literally, building a better world. Their generosity is a demonstration that consciousness at the top is shifting from “me” to “we.” And it gives us hope.
They are not alone. Investment firms and businesses worldwide have chosen to identify themselves as socially and environmentally responsible, engaging in practices that are focused on more than making a profit, activities intended to “make the world a better place.” Also encouraging are the initiatives of past presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. In his book, Giving: How Each of us Can Change The World, President Clinton profiles many of the innovative efforts being made by companies, organizations and individuals to solve problems and save lives “down the street and around the world.” The Clinton Global Initiative has the former president not only walking the talk, but bringing together global leaders “to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”
Whenever I enjoy a hot shower, drink water from the tap, drive on well-paved roads, enjoy a constant source of power and take comfort in knowing that our waste is being handled properly and recycled, I want to appreciate that these are luxuries that need to be maintained and improved upon. While I am not playing a major role in these activities, I am nonetheless participating by being grateful, paying taxes and voting my conscience.
It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.
William J. Clinton
ABOUT THESE IMAGES
Title: Roadway Underside
I made regular visits to photograph an immense construction project that was to become the main artery running between the city of Cincinnati and the riverfront sports facilities. I used a wide angle lens and laid on the ground in order to include as much as possible of the immense steal beams.
Title: Concrete Sewer Pipes
I like to photograph on construction sites, but it has become increasingly difficult to find places that are not fenced in. These pipes were in the open, across from a regional airport. Being a Sunday, no one was around, so I wandered the area appreciating that I could take my time to get some good angles. Fortunately, the late afternoon light accentuated the surface textures in the concrete while maintaining some shadow detail inside them. In Photoshop I eliminated some distracting telephone wires in the background.