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Reclamation and rehabilitation
On maintenance, rehabilitation, and starting over
Signs of decay are easy to spot once you set about looking for them: Dilapidated old barns in the countryside, abandoned buildings in the city, faded billboards by the side of the road. For too many people, though, every symptom of decay is escalated all the way up until it is taken as proof of terminal decline on a much larger scale.
■ It can be perfectly rational to let things fall into decay. An old farmstead that used to depend on a windmill to drive a water pump no longer has any use for that windmill once a rural water system service connection becomes available. Since rural water service is invariably safer and more reliable than a household well, it makes all the sense in the world to allow a windmill that has no further use to fall into decay. There are lots of other demands on time and resources that are more worthy of investment from our limited resources.
■ On the other hand, it isn't rational to allow important things to fall into disrepair. In fact, it is a duty to keep them from falling into decay. Voters and their elected representatives too often permit the essentials of civilization -- like infrastructure -- to decay, simply because there isn't enough immediate reward for doing the prudent thing. That's a shame upon all of us.
■ Somewhere in the middle of all this we uncover a special act: That of finding something that has fallen into decay and discovering a way to make it useful again. It's an honorable thing to do, and it's worthy of more of our applause.
■ Not everything is worth salvage or rehabilitation. It's an economic decision: If more value can be created than the cost of the inputs, then the rehabilitation creates value. If not, then it may be better to let the decay run its course (or to sweep away the debris entirely). But human ingenuity is a special thing, and we shouldn't just cheer for those who create things from scratch. A round of applause is also due for those who raise things to higher levels of value, especially after neglect.