Best if used by…

Landscape, industry & infrastructure wonks extraordinaire — mammoth — posted this amazing chart showing typical lifespans of various infrastructural components. It’s quite tempting to view infrastructure as a durable, macro-scale system choreographed by urban planners and engineers: well under control, in other words. When it is replaced, it is by choice, because we thirst for greater efficiency, better performance. Kazys Varnelis refers to the “S-curve” of infrastructural lifespan: “As money is invested in infrastructure, its efficiency leaps ahead radically, but at a certain point returns begin to diminish…. Perversely, as the S-curve flattens, many forms of infrastructure enter into a phase in which social engineering becomes as important as physical engineering.” People correct their behavior in response to infrastructure’s diminishing performance. In other words, it is a system that is continually tuned and calibrated with feedback.

This chart instead reveals infrastructure’s status as mere matter, technological equipment that is subject to the same cycles of maintenance, disrepair and obsolescence that plagues any consumer appliance. Of interest to us is what happens when this sell-by-date is reached. Does it end with slow decay and decrepitude, or with functional evolution, or with catastrophic failure? There is probably another chart to be produced, one which studies the terminal detail of each of these bars: a sputtering dashed line, an abrupt break, or a gradient fade.

Check out mammoth’s blog for more of the same: excellent source!