I thought it would be interesting to think about the concrete that is a part of my world. I challenge you to do the same… It is very enlightening.
I chose a morning in which I drove the 51 miles to the Portland International Airport, so that I could explore a reasonable portion of my world. I was determined to pay close attention to everything between McMinnville and PDX in determining my dependence upon concrete.
Concrete is the second most consumed product on earth, so I was interested to see if I was getting the full use of this commodity and to determine if I could do without concrete in my world.
Before I even reached my front door I had already considered the concrete on my own property. I mentally cataloged the foundation of my home, the patios, the cast concrete retaining walls, the driveway and even the fence post and deck footings. As I backed out over the concrete floor of my garage I noticed the Hardiplank concrete siding on the homes in our cul-de-sac. I also noticed the concrete stepping-stones, lawn edging, bird baths and fountains that my neighbors had used in their landscaping. Living on a hill causes everyone to use some style of concrete retaining walls and concrete entry steps. I was already feeling pretty dependent upon concrete.
Driving down the neighborhood streets I attempted to quickly calculate the volumes of concrete used for curb and gutters, for sidewalks and for handicap accessibility ramps.
My wheels bumped over a manhole cover and caused me to think of the miles of concrete drainage pipe, the concrete junction boxes and the drop inlets for the storm water recovery system in our city.
On the first corner I glanced over at the electrical transfer station and noticed the massive slabs used to support the many transformers within the fence. I followed the electrical lines up to the steel transmission towers, each with four legs resting on massive concrete footings. In my minds-eye I could envision hundreds of these towers going for miles into the distance. Then I considered the Bonneville dam on the Columbia River from which the electricity is generated. Bonneville is just one of thirteen concrete dams on this river, and the Grand Coulee Dam used 12 million cubic yards of concrete!
My attention was then diverted to the rows of concrete driveways that extend like legs from the street that leads into the downtown area of McMinnville. As I pass the police and fire stations I make a note of the parking lot curbing, the planter surrounds and the light pole bases. I notice the concrete stairway entrances, the security bollards and the decorative concrete planters near the door. I think of all the mortar (a concrete cousin) that ties together the brick facades on these buildings. The tiles on the roof are also made from a concrete pre-casting process.
I thought of the sewer infrastructure, with the miles of concrete culverts, joints and access pipes. I pictured the huge concrete ponds that process the waste water and the concrete diversion canals that complete the recycling process.
As I drove down the connector highway toward Portland, I pass miles more curb and gutter. I spot a solar farm and some windmills, all supported on a concrete foundation. I see a tall concrete grain elevator, feeding troughs at a dairy, concrete privacy fencing and several concrete tilt-up warehouses. I passed large shopping centers and small service shops built with concrete masonry blocks. I see huge concrete parking areas and gas station slabs everywhere I look.
The highway to Portland transversed several rivers on bridges ether made of concrete or sitting on massive abutments created from concrete. When I reached the freeway, I joined a ribbon of concrete that includes the driving surface, the safety barriers and the overpasses. I watched the light-rail train glide safely and efficiently on its concrete infrastructure.
There are multi-story buildings everywhere in the city with concrete cladding and these reminds me that Portland is in an earthquake zone, and those skyscrapers I see are tied to the earth with some very significant concrete footings.
As I crossed the Willamette River near downtown I saw the huge concrete walls that keep the river from encroaching into the city. Then there is all that concrete they used for the docks and in the spider-web of freeway on-ramps and connectors that crisscross the city.
After about an hour I reached the airport parking garage. This structure and hundreds like it is a framework of concrete pillars, floors and walls. There is concrete everywhere I turn at the Portland Airport so I only focused on the runway. Those heavy airplanes land with the force that only concrete can withstand, so I wondered how much concrete it took to make air travel one of the safest forms of transportation. I have heard that a runway requires concrete that can be as thick as 4-feet deep! I have read that even airliner parking aprons are at least 16” thick. There are acres of this concrete flat work at airports around the country.
At the end of this journey of discovery I realized how much of my world is dependent on concrete. I can see how it is possible that every year 6000 pounds of this material is produced for every human on the planet. This is probably why so many livelihoods are dependent upon the simple combination of sand, stone and cement. I am not sure if I could go anywhere without finding concrete…
Today we explored my “concrete-world”… I challenge you to find out what your world would be like without concrete. Then consider those in the world that don’t get the benefit of good concrete like we do here in our world.