America has structural problems that need to be addressed

I’ve been thinking about apartments. The reason is clear. One just collapsed in Florida with a horrific loss of life.

Here’s the thing about condos: People buy them partly because they want hassle-free housing. Do not mow grass. No garden tools required. You pay for the apartment and you pay a monthly fee for the maintenance of the common areas and some employees, and you’re done. If you want to go on vacation, just lock the door behind you and walk away. Someone else is taking care of the landscaping and the roof and plumbing. And you, the lucky apartment owner, can spend your time doing fun things instead of mowing the lawn and hiring your own plumber. It’s so much easier than owning your own family home.

There is only one little thing that people overlook. It’s in the fine print, of course, but most of us try not to think about it: you’re no longer responsible for a house of your own, but you co-own with a bunch of other people a much larger and more complex building that’s in potentially has all the problems any building could have, just on a larger scale. And you and all those other people need to figure out what to do about these problems. together. You all. All these people you don’t even know and may have nothing in common with, except that you are all the owners of this building.

How do you react when you get a letter saying that the engineering firm you hired to evaluate the building says it needs 15 million in repairs? Not good? Shouldn’t this be a hassle-free life? Shouldn’t this all be sorted out? Didn’t I sell my suburban house to avoid nasty surprises and go to the hardware store for weekends?

I think we Americans are a bit like angry apartment owners. We have inherited a country. It is much bigger and more complex than any apartment. And we were told that we could pursue our happiness and follow our bliss and chase our dreams. But if we read the fine print, we actually co-own, with every other American citizen, this large, complex country. And we keep getting letters in our mailbox that this thing needs serious maintenance. The infrastructure is old. The environment is in bad shape. The thing threatens to burn itself. There are problems with management. And the residents are at each other’s throats.

Wait a second. I thought I would spend my time following my dreams, taking care of myself and my family, going to a baseball game and coming home after a hard day’s work and drinking a beer. And now you send me letters telling me to deal with all these difficult problems? What if I don’t want that? I was never told that the cost of owning this land would be so high in time, money and effort. And besides, I have nothing in common with most co-owners. I don’t even like these people.

There seems to be a deep and abiding resentment that this land we inherited along with all these other people is in such a mess. We don’t want to deal with it. Life is short. We don’t want to spend it working on a creaky old land when we’re supposed to be chasing our own happiness. We never begrudge a contribution to the rescue squad, but ask us to make real sacrifices, register it as unfair. And it drives us crazy.

Is this part of what’s going on in the United States? Are we angry that the problems exist? Even if we had a hand in making it? Do we realize that the whole thing could collapse if we just sit on our hands and refuse to address the structural problems that are obvious. If someone says the concrete is failing and the reinforcement is deteriorating, do we delay the repairs, push them off on someone else, or do we get the job done?

The people who died in the Florida condominium collapse had no idea their plight was so dire. They wouldn’t have been in the building had they known. What happened to them was unspeakably tragic. But their terrible loss should be a clear warning to all of us and to this nation.

America’s problems are not impossible. We could really handle them. It’s just going to take a lot of time, money, maturity, expertise and hard work. We have been notified. Or we can sit here and wait for it to collapse. It’s up to us.

— Write Staunton columnist Patricia Hunt at

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