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Infrastructure 1.2


Paris Sewers

Since the earliest European settlers arrived shortly after 1850, residents of what would become Agincourt needed to drink and bathe and pee and poop. How they did that and where have changed dramatically since in nearly 170 years. But incrementally, in spasms of complacency and progress; hardly a steady measured march into our future.  But I’m not a civil engineer and neither are you, probably, so we have to leave such speculations to the imagination.

There is a story about Walter Burley Griffin that I’ve told elsewhere (and should review it, just to be certain I’m telling it accurately). Griffin was a Midwestern American architect, collaborator with early Frank Lloyd Wright, who won an international competition for the design of Canberra, the relocated capital of Australia.

The capital had been situated at Melbourne since 1901, while most of the country’s population lived within a few miles of the coastline, leaving the vast interior untapped. Parliament decided to boldly go where few Australians had gone before, dragging its government agencies kicking and screaming to a virgin site with little but scrub and grazing cattle. Nearly fifty years later, Brazil would make a similar choice for comparable reasons and create Brasilia.

I can’t speak for the politics of Brazil at mid-century, but those of post-WWI Australia were volatile. The government that had envisioned Canberra was replaced with one which did not support the plan, but might have gone out of its way to sabotage what had only just begun. Griffin as director of planning for the ACT (Australian Capital Territory, like out District of Columbia) and increasingly aware that the integrity of his plan was in jeopardy, made an equally bold move to insure its continuation.

You and I (sorry, I shouldn’t speak for you) might have gone for the gold, seeing the writing on the wall, and pushed for completion of the Parliament building itself to a hasty completion. But that building would have been the tombstone for Griffin’s innovative scheme. Rather he chose to push completion of the laying out of the city’s unseen infrastructure: the thing no one would see, but which would be the most expensive to remove or abandon; the plan’s water, sewer, and telecommunication lines. His dismissal shortly thereafter proved the wisdom of his decision. Canberra today appears much as Griffin had foreseen.

Oh, and that Capitol Building waited for another seventy years and was likewise the product of an international competition won by an American. What was a dusty plain is now home to 410,000 people. [Brasilia, on the other hand, in half the time, is a city of 3 million.]


  • Where did Agincourt get its water supply? The Mighty Muskrat or Crispin Creek? Wells or cisterns?
  • How did it deal with not only human waste but also the leftovers from slaughtering fresh meat?
  • And with regard to yesterdays entry, would the relative luxury of a municipal swimming pool have been likely early in the community’s history?

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