Task: Find and take a picture of the nearest FedEx or UPS or DHL sorting facility (where packages are sorted for different destinations, not collected, i.e. NOT Kinko's). What happens here, and which cities are directly connected to this location?
Part I: I drove to the closest sorting UPS sorting facility on campus, the facility located north of campus at 2807 North Lincoln Avenue. The facility was a large warehouse with 30-40 UPS tractor trailers parked at loading bays. Unlike smaller UPS stores that focus on providing service to customers who are mailing packages, the sorting facility dedicated a very small portion to customer service and a much larger portion to industrial machines that sorted packages.
Although I was not allowed to go behind the service desk to see how the sorting happened I found that the packages are sorted with minimal human labor. The boxes are carried by conveyor belts, scanned and then sorted according to their zip code. The Urbana sorting facility is the final stop after the national sorting facility in Louisville and then the regional sorting facility in Chicago. After a package reaches the Urbana facility it is then driven locally to the surrounding Champaign-Urbana communities by UPS delivery men and women.
Part II: The UPS sorting facility in Urbana is a great example of infrastructure because it shares at least three features of infrastructure. It is normally invisible, durable and path dependent.
The sorting facilities that UPS builds are expensive and have a lot of heavy machinery that helps sort the large volume of packages that are sent to Urbana. So like other forms of infrastructure, the sorting facility is durable. It is expensive and will last for a very long time. This is not a temporary structure, it is a very big building with service roads, loading bays and machinery to help UPS deliver packages. All things that took a long time to build and will take a long time to be replaced.
UPS also chose to make the sorting facility relatively invisible to the public. Not too many people travel to the sorting facility to pick up or drop off their own packages. Instead local delivery men in brown trucks deliver packages and small customer service UPS stores are placed closer to downtowns to allow people to drop off packages to be shipped. When people think of the functioning aspects of UPS they think of the small brown trucks, not the big sorting facilities. It is a hidden aspect of UPS shipping that we take for granted.
Finally, the UPS facility is path dependent because it is built on an existing technology. It depends on roads and automobiles to service it. It could have potentially been a large train yard or even a shipping yard if a body of water was located near it, but it decided to cater to the existing system of roads. Remember that the facility was filled with tractor trailers and loading docks that could only serve trucks. The entire facility was dependent on roads and automobiles.