The commercial activity involved in repairing old structures or constructing new ones

 I never really pay much attention to new buildings going up, and I’m sure you don’t either, unless the building work directly affect you. Wherever you look in cities, towns and the countryside there is construction work going on. Maybe it’s a sign of “a strong economy,” and maybe it’s a sign that we are going to turn our beautiful land into an office/retail/residential complex. So as we begin our investigation together, try to reflect on the amount of construction currently going on in your city or country, and ask yourself what all this construction really means to us as a species.

Whilst in thailand a few years ago, I noticed that there were dozens of unfinished apartment buildings and office blocks towering above the skyline. “Why haven’t they finished them?” I asked someone. I was informed that the stock market crash of several years previous had meant that there was no money to finish them, and so they stood empty, plastic sheeting flapping in the wind – abandoned. You see, to build things, you need money, or you at least need to be able to borrow it. When the money runs out, so the construction is just abandoned, waiting patiently for humans to finish it. But what I want to know is why we are so insistent about constantly building new things. Why bother in the first place? I decided to ask one of the well known construction firm bosses about it.

Me:     Hello, my name is alan. I was hoping to ask you a few questions about the construction industry? Primarily I would like to know why you are constantly building! Haven’t we got enough?

Boss:  Hi alan, to answer your question: Absolutely not! With the rise in population and the continual growth of the economy, we need to keep ahead.

Me:     So what you’re saying is, we should keep building as much as we can?

Boss:  No. We build to satisfy requirements and also to stimulate demand. For example we are building new apartments here in the city to encourage more people to live in the centre of the city.

Me:     So does the city need more skyscrapers?

Boss:  Well, where else are you going to put all the people who move into the city? There is no more space to build in the suburbs, so we have to go up.

Me:     But doesn’t this mean we will have to keep going up, and up, if the projected population increase happens as you say.

Boss:  Well (laughing) the sky’s the limit as they say. With modern building methods there isn’t really a limit on how high we can go!

Me:     But what do you think that does to the people, living so far away from the earth? Don’t they become a little “disconnected”?

Boss:  What? No, not at all, in fact people love it, (a) they get a great view from up there and (b) it gives them a sense of being “above” everyone else, if you know what I mean?

Me:     I do. But surely there will come a time when you can’t build anymore. I mean, even in a city there is only so much space?

Boss:  True enough, but when that happens we can just demolish an old building and start again. Do you know how many apartments we can fit into a space reserved for only twenty houses? Hundreds. Maybe a thousand. It depends how high we are allowed to go.

Me:     So the council does limit what you build?

Boss:  Of course, there are regulations! But they know it’s in the interest of all to keep building. We create new buildings. New companies come into the area bringing new capital investment with them which means more jobs for people here, which means they will have more money so they will be able to afford one of our nice new apartments we are building (laughing). Look, the economy needs the construction industry. We are the ones who create the towns and the cities. We are shaping the future.

Me:     It seems to me that you are the ones responsible for creating the urban jungles we now see all over the world. You are the ones who are turning green open spaces into concrete wastelands.

Boss:  Now wait a minute. We do no more than the people want. If people didn’t want the office/retail/residential complexes, we would be out of a job.

Me:     It seems that if people stopped “wanting” what you build many people would be out of a job.

Boss:  That’s true enough. Do you know how many people the construction industry directly and indirectly employs? Hundreds of thousands. Even when you exclude the number of people who work on site, there are the people who provide the timber, and the nails, and the concrete, and the steel, and the glass, the fixings and the tools and machinery, and don’t forget the people who provide the interiors, the plasterboard manufacturers, the flooring specialists, the toilet manufactures, the pipe work companies, the electrical cable companies, the lighting suppliers. And that’s before anyone moves in. Then the interior needs to be furnished with desks, or beds, computers or kitchen units.

Me:     I see.

Boss:  You people who complain about the construction companies ruining the green spaces have no idea what you’re talking about. If we didn’t keep building or renovating, all of those people I mentioned previously would be out of a job, the economy would collapse, and then where would we be? If there were no new buildings the electricity, the gas, and the water suppliers would lose out because they need people to bill to make money and pay their staff! Telephones need to be connected. Internet needs to be connected. We make it possible for all these service companies to survive. Everyone is connected to the construction industry. Everything depends on construction!

Me:     What a scary thought, but thanks for your time.

Boss:  My pleasure.

So it seems from my conversation that we can’t do without the construction industry. Well, not if we want to continue with the lifestyles we have become accustomed to. If all the construction companies stopped building for a year, can you see what the knock on effect would be? For the societies we have created it would spell disaster; millions of people would be out of work. There would be more widespread poverty than ever before. Social systems wouldn’t be able to cope with the increased demand on their resources. Tax revenues would fall dangerously low. The banks would suffer. There could be rioting in the streets with people connected to the building industry demanding jobs be reinstated. There would be chaos! “So listen up everyone, we can’t stop building until every inch of this planet is paved in concrete!” Imagine what would happen. It doesn’t bear thinking about does it?

We must have progress

Imagine you live in a peaceful village for a moment. There is local agriculture, people live simply but comfortably, they have little money, but they don’t need much; they grow as much as they need and trade with other communities for the things they don’t have. They live as a community in balance with the land. “Yuk, a hippie commune,” I hear you say “How horrible, I’d hate to live there!” But this is no hippie commune.

One day, in the fields nearby, they see large groups of people walking around with what look like plans for a new building. One member of the community approaches them and asks them what they are doing.

    “We are hoping to build a new car plant here” they casually reply.

    “What!? But you can’t. This is greenbelt land. This is agricultural land, can you not see how beautiful it is, why do you want to spoil it?”

    “We are not going to spoil it! We are going to be creating many jobs for local people, people like yourself. Around the plant we will build a nice park and lake that those who work here can enjoy.”

“But there is already a park that people can enjoy; they can enjoy the natural beauty of the area!”

We don’t need a new man-made one! What about the noise, and the pollution?” they demand.

    “But think about the employment! People need to eat you know. You can’t stop progress. If you’ve got any complaints you can register them with the council.”

    So the village community get together, and arrange to formally protest to the council in the hope of blocking the building permit. At the public meeting, there are many for, and against, the plans.

    “This area needs more employment,” shouts one. “We don’t want to be poor; this is a great opportunity for us. If we don’t let them build here, they will just go somewhere else. Why shouldn’t we be the ones benefiting from the factory?”

    Although, there are some who complain about the spoiling of the natural environment, the destruction of traditional village life and pollution, there are more who agree with the plans to build a new car plant.

    “Imagine what it will do for the prosperity of the area,” someone else says loudly. “We can’t let a few hippie protesters get in the way of progress.”

    But a member of the village community blocking the plans stands up and says.

    “First of all, we are not “hippies,” we are a community of people who just want to live in balance with nature and ourselves (people laugh). This so called progress you speak of, will bring about a complete change of life for all who live here, and not for the better. Sure, you may have some extra money in your pocket, but what will you have lost?”

    “You’re just jealous!” someone shouts. “Just because you don’t want it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it.”

    The council agrees.

    The land is rezoned as “prime development land,” a fat cheque changes hands between the car company and the council. “Let the construction begin!” shouts the council leader at an official ceremony. The first sod of earth is dug. People cheer, smile for the cameras, and shake hands. Next day it is all over the local newspaper. Underneath the photo of smiling executives and councillors is carried the headline. “Car company welcomed to our town bringing much needed employment to the area.”

Change is good. They say

Next day, the diggers roll in to prepare the foundations of the new plant. Cranes arrive, and the steel structure is slowly erected. Months go by and the plant starts to tower over the old village.

    “We need a new road, the old one isn’t going to be adequate to cope with all the increased traffic,” say the council.

    Land is sequestered, and more machinery rolls in to build the road. In less than a year, the plant is nearly ready. Jobs are being filled and everyone is feeling confident. The village community is still complaining but their complaints are falling on the deaf ears of those who greedily await the opening. Slowly but surely, the community becomes divided.

    “If you can’t beat them, join them,” voices one community member who has accepted a job at the plant. “I’ve got a new baby on the way, how am I supposed to pay for everything he needs?”

    Soon the plant is ready, and it is officially opened by the head of the local council.

    “This is a great day for us” he announces. “This is a new dawn for us, and we wish everyone every success.”

    The employees start rolling in. 400 new jobs created, and most of them arrive by car. “We’re going to need a bigger car park,” thinks one of the bosses to himself. So they buy up more land from locals eager to cash in on this building bonanza.

    Then a construction company director has an idea.

    “Instead of people having to commute miles into the plant, we should build new homes for the employees, so they can walk to work. We could build a school and then more shops because the employees will need somewhere to spend their money after all!”

    So it begins. More and more land is bought up, houses are packed in tightly, more access roads are built, the school goes up, a local hospital is built, and more businesses are attracted to the new towns economic prosperity. Soon the place is buzzing. What was once a community in the real sense of the word is taken over by greed. Restaurants and fast food joints are built to accommodate the workers who don’t have time to cook anymore, and a retail park with an electrical store, a computer store, clothing stores, and a home improvement store.

    Most of the original “community” members have taken jobs in the surrounding businesses. After all, it’s a lot easier to make money there than it was in the community. Produce is no longer grown, it’s easier to buy it from the local supermarket, however many miles it has taken to get here. Simple lives are replaced by complex ones, fuelled by the need to keep working to maintain their new lifestyles.

    “Now this is what I call a real community,” voices the construction boss.

    Then one day the economy crashes. The car plant is moved to a country far, far away where the land costs and the labour costs are cheaper, and the town falls silent. “But how will we cope?” ask the townsfolk, but this time the business and community leaders have no idea. They have built themselves out of any connection with nature, and now all they are left with is buildings and debt. Even the “hippie” community has no idea what to do. They have forgotten how they lived without all of this stuff, without all the money, and now they are left broke and unhappy. How can they reclaim the life they used to know? Do you know?

    “I know, proclaims the construction boss. We have to build more; we have to create more demand. We have to attract new capital investment. This is going to be great! I see a wonderful future in front……”

What will you do for money? Anything?


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