Three years and one day ago today...

I was watering my garden when my sweetie ran out to told me there had been a bridge collapse.

“Where?" I asked.

“In Minneapolis, the bridge over the river.”

There are two major rivers in the Twin Cities (the Mississippi and the Minnesota), and countless bridges crossing them. I assumed that one of the derelict bridges crossing the Minnesota had finally given out, possibly taking a pedestrian or cyclist with it. It took me a while to process that the I-35W bridge across the Mississippi had gone done. Back when I was in college, I had crossed this bridge twice a day. I had countless friends and relatives in the area. This was stunning.

One interesting realization that came out of this was the way that the media and society treat “local” events. The collapse of the World Trade Center's main towers is, in a sense, a defining moment for my generation. There are good reasons for this. But outside of New York City, I daresay the media and politicians (and marketers) have marketed and branded the tragedy. People with no real connection to the collapse have internalized it, and taken it as their own personal tragedy.

There's nothing wrong with this, of course. What's interesting to me is the way in which we, as a whole, have not personalized other tragedies, including those that happen to have touched me. I'm from Minneapolis. I also know people who lived blocks from the Seventeenth Street Canal in New Orleans. I know people who were in the Superdome during Katrina. The I-35W bridge collapse and Hurricane Katrina were intensely personal for millions of Americans, yet I'll claim that many (if not most) Americans have yet to internalize, let alone learn from them.

There is a new, functional (if not fabulous) 35W bridge in Minneapolis. Stimulus money has paid for lots of new bridges and civil engineering projects. However, the US hasn't addressed the political, philosophical, and economic issues behind its crumbling infrastructure. It's built new and improved roads and bridges in certain neighborhoods, while leaving others in decay.

There's a gas leak in front of my apartment; the utility company has known about it for years. A couple times a year the smell gets really bad and they send someone out to look at it. Nothing gets done, though. The cost of fixing the pipe outweighs the cost of venting gas into my neighborhood.

Every fews weeks a water main breaks. Sometimes this floods buildings and shutters local businesses. Especially in the US' eastern urban centers, underground pipes are often well over a hundred years old. Replacing them all would cost billions, if not trillions of dollars. Yet, many US cities are broke. However, money goes to war, not to cities. Tax structures and politics shuttle what does get spent on infrastructure to suburban and rural areas.

The United States cannot afford to forget that infrastructure matters. It also can't forget the many lessons of Katrina; among others, the dangers of ignoring the needs of the US' poorest (and in many cases, least white) neighborhoods. We all need affordable and safe transportation, water and schools.

Alas, I fear this neglect is at worst intentional, at best a product of political and economic expediency. I wonder if my nation's leaders want some of us to stay in poverty, for the benefit of others. It is, I feel, particularly cruel that many of my leaders are, from my perspective, using a third tragedy, that of 9/11, to distract us from the lessons of horrors taking place in hometowns across the country.

I'm well aware that the tragedies I'm discussing are incredibly different (among other things, they differ by orders of magnitude in the numbers of causalities. I'm not interested in discussing which tragedy was worse, as much as the differences in how politicians and leaders have responded to each, and how those responses intersect.

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