Rob Walker | Essays

Infrastructure Field Trips

The Levin-Richmond Terminal, "the infrastructure that builds our infrastructure."

I’m not exactly a conference addict, but I have to admit to pangs of regret about being unable to attend Macro City, in San Francisco, devoted to “the vast, often overlooked networks of infrastructure that surround us.” Partly that’s because speakers include some favorites of mine — Rick Prelinger, Nicola Twilley, Geoff Manaugh, and others.

But it’s also because the conference is offering seven “field trips” around the Bay Area. It’s useful to hear smart people talk about unheralded but crucial elements of the built environment. It’s something else to get a firsthand look at Zanker Recycling Municipal Landfill + Construction Debris Processing, or the SSF Secondary Wastewater Treatment Plant. Or take a Surveillance History Walk, or visit the Polaris/Eagle Rock Levin-Richmond Terminal. 

If that doesn’t sound immediately interesting, consider the (partial) description of that last example:

Take a peek behind the infrastructure that builds our infrastructure. At the Levin-Richmond Terminal, 1.5 million tons of construction aggregate is unloaded each year. Equipped with high speed conveyors, sand, gravel and other construction aggregate shipped from Vancouver quarries on Panamax freighters are unloaded at 5,000 tons per hour. After unloading, the aggregate is sent via truck to rail at the Richmond terminal, which interchanges with Union Pacific and BNSF Railways, and sent to cities and towns across the country. 

Here, in other words, is one of those mysterious corners of our complicated world of made things, money, distribution, building, and economics that chugs crucially away without most of us really understanding it.

What a great thing to see. 

Macro City happens May 30-May 31, 2014 at SPUR and the Brava Theater in San Francisco, CA. More here.

Posted in: Infrastructure, Social Good

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