Friday, May 25, 2007

maybe they should have tried an oil-based product

Jean long ago sent me the thrillingly titled "Transportation and Urban Development in Houston, 1830-1980," written by Peter Papademetriou of the Houston Metro. Thank you, Jean. I just went back through it and read the really early parts, and I have a passage to share with you:

As a result of [expanding] commercial traffic, early improvements in transportation facilities were undertaken by private businessmen... in 1850 a group of merchants [including William Marsh Rice] formed the Houston Plank Road Company, a plan to construct a road of two-inch oak or three-inch pine planks. However, growing interest in the railroads led to cancellation of the project and through the 1870's even the streets in the town of Houston itself remained dirt, except for an ill-fated shell paving project of 1858 which contributed to the phenomenon of dust rising in clouds, a complementary nuisance to the mud which otherwise plagued city residents. (p.7)

It's tempting to imagine wooden highways stretching as far as the eye can see, met by offramps white with conchs and cowries. The reality is absent or, in any case, far less compelling, but it does make one salient point-- the technologies we use for paving are not self-evident or even necessarily the best. We tried wood and calcite, and then concrete and asphalt somehow stuck. But when the overpasses start crumbling, maybe they'll get replaced by stabilized earth, or close-mowed turf, or piezoelectric thermoplastics. If we're supposed to imagine jetpacks and spaceports, why shouldn't the surface under our feet undergo the same prospective futurity?


Paul said...

My nickname in high school was piezoelectric thermoplastics.

d - barr said...

It's also tempting to imagine climate control systems that have advanced beyond the eisenhower era idea of the hermetic seal and a design that is basically the same box with a fan that it was at the turn of the last century.


Hey piezoelectric! NEERRRRRDDD!!!