I’ve said it before and I will say it once more, there's no better place to live than in Pittsburgh as a civil engineer. In addition to the never-ending supply of rewarding and challenging work, one of the main reasons I love living in Pittsburgh is our rich history when it comes to infrastructure.
No matter where we look, we are surrounded and reminded of great historical civil infrastructure projects. Every day we travel through tunnels burrowed deep through our hillsides. Or we'll pass over a bridge that is a structural work of art. The same goes for our less encountered infrastructure such as our network of locks and dams on our rivers, or our life-saving watershed flood control dams and reservoirs, or our system of water and sewer treatment plants providing us clean water daily. All are amazing feats of engineering. In the far distant future, say in the year 3000, I have to think civilizations will write many chapters about the historical legacy of Pittsburgh and the hard-working people that helped build much of America. Maybe they'll even talk about our infrastructure much in the same vein that we now romanticize the Roman aqueducts.
On the other side of the coin, we also must not rest on our laurels or take our rich history for granted. We must carry the torch of history lit by previous generations and take care of what has been handed down to us. It is important to remind the engineering community and the public whenever we can about our rich history in civil engineering. The American Society of Civil Engineers is the oldest engineering society in America, and we should be honored to carry this torch.
When I started my term as president, I had several goals I had set for myself. One of them was to reinvigorate ASCE Pittsburgh’s History and Heritage committee. The very first day on the job when I was sworn at the annual Past President's luncheon I spoke with every past president in attendance. I asked each of them what they thought can be most improved within our society. The overwhelming majority of the responses I received that day was to do a better job celebrating Pittsburgh's excellence in infrastructure history and heritage. Including nominating and recognizing more historical landmarks.
Being a bit of a bookworm and history nerd myself this goal was right up my alley. If you ask me what my perfect day looks like, most likely it involves reading a big boring non-fiction history book. Yes, I realize how sad that reads, but it is my sad truth. I have a big stack of Pittsburgh centric science, engineering, and environmental history books that I cherish. Many of which are dog eared out the wazoo. See list at the bottom if you are interested in some of my favorites.
Does this description of a perfect day also sound like you? If so, reach out to me at this email. I'd love to chat Pittsburgh civil engineering history with you. Perhaps if we can get enough people to respond we can get the ASCE Pittsburgh History and Heritage committee re-invigorated like it so rightly deserves for this great city.
As I write this message I'm reminded of a quote from the great Maya Angelou:
"You can't really know where you are going until you know where you have been."
Ms. Angelo understands that studying and preserving our history is vitally important. Without it, we are rudderless and without direction. If you are passionate about history, I welcome you to join me in getting the ASCE Pittsburgh History and Heritage committee back off the ground. Respond to this email or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Batroney, PE, M.ASCE
ASCE Pittsburgh Section President
Tom’s List of Pittsburgh/Western Pennsylvania Science, Engineering, and Environmental History Books: