Walking in the centre of Birmingham yesterday I was stirred by the sheer scale of redevelopment going on. They’re building a new tram system, cutting through the old roads and streets to route a much cleaner transport system into and through the city. It’s partly working already, and just for fun we caught a tram that took us on a long loop through the centre, dividing the gathering numbers of commuters on their way home from work. It’s everything to like about bold planning. The trams were cheap, clean, efficient and quiet and already cover the twenty miles between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. Our tram was quickly full – people only adopt new ways of doing things when they work well. Of the hundreds of passengers I suspect very few had the climate crisis in mind but we could sense the future. Public transport in the city is already highly efficient.
But as we were walking we passed areas where they were still digging for the tracks. Down through heaven knows how much overburden of old roads and houses and factories , how many tangles of cable, lines of old drains and sewers and down into the rock and clay; how many buried secrets? The noise and smell of the excavators and drills was overwhelming; construction workers in hi-viz jackets swarmed over the scar and I felt guiltily excited at the sheer ambition of the scheme. This old and worked over earth is long lost to nature in its idyllic coffee table book sense; but still offers its plasticity to human ingenuity. This is what reaching out the technological way will look like. The choice is stark: do we scale back dramatically – rewind the clock? or do we use technology to achieve sustainability?
Reading the morning with our son’s cat attacking my glasses – she was as attracted to them as a jackdaw might be – I came across this passage from the essay ‘Larger than a wolf, smaller than an elk’:
As for towns and cities – they are (to those who can see) old tree trunks, riverbed gravels, oil seeps,landslide scrapes, blowdowns and burns, the leavings after floods, coral colonies, paper wasp nests, beehives, rotting logs, watercourses, rock cleavage lines, ledge strata layers, guano heaps, feeding frenzies, courting and strutting bowers, lookout rocks, and ground squirrel apartments. And for a few people they are also palaces.
Gary Snyder – from Blue Mountains Constantly Walking – in “The practice of the Wild”