As important as infrastructure is to public works pros like us, most of the world doesn’t give the undercarriage of your average city a moment’s thought. However, the manhole covers, storm drains, sewer grates, and other massive pieces of metal that protect and give access to our underground assets are all too popular with thieves. Calcutta, India, loses upward of 20,000 manhole covers annually. And losses total about 24,000 in Beijing, China, every year.

The U.S. isn’t immune. New York City officials estimate that about 20,000 of their covers disappear each year.

The reason for such frequent manhole cover theft is most likely the desire to make a few bucks selling them for scrap. Maybe some of those thieves, however, simply appreciate works of art.

—Jenni Spinner is a Chicago-based freelancer and former associate editor of Public Works.