January 29, 2011: Cool It, lady

So today I was invited on a tour of possible locations for  T stations when the extension to the existing Green Line subway comes through Somerville. What an enormous project! Standing on a couple of different bridges spanning the existing commuter rail lines—the light rail subway will eventually run alongside these tracks—everything covered with a couple of feet of snow, the enormity of the project, the complexity of meeting the needs of so many different and worthwhile groups and concerns seemed overwhelming.

I was there because, as a member of Somerville Climate Action, I’m supposed to raise the “What about. . . ?” questions re sustainability, open space, permeability, planning from a permaculture point of view. (Other partners on this ambitious Green Line Extension project include, for example, Somerville anti-poverty agencies who are looking at issues like gentrification: what happens to existing, low-income neighborhoods when, ohmygod, suddenly they become enormously attractive due to easy access to public transportation?)

Frankly, before this tour, I honestly didn’t think I knew enough to be able to put my 2 cents in. But I am slowly being schooled to think of systems, of patterns, of visioning what the world’s going to be like when we can’t simply hop into our cars anymore. I’m slowly thinking about linkage and neighborhoods and, this is my favorite, about the fact that this planning needs to take into consideration living things besides ourselves.

For example: Here’s this densely populated city, 79% paved over, and, from its earliest, earliest days, a city swayed by the needs of developers and business owners. (Translation: almost NO open space.)  But, as I recently learned, Somerville has a secret wilderness! It’s the neglected, no-man’s land alongside the two commuter rail lines running through our fair city. All kinds of wildlife live there.

So, on our tour, I mentioned that. In fact, I couldn’t shut up! I talked about construction along those tracks not happening when birds are nesting (Oy. ) And, mindful that post-cheap-oil, we need to be rethinking transportation BIG TIME,  I reminded my tour-mates that, indeed, a river does run through Somerville: the Mystic River. Why aren’t we also thinking about linkage with a really, really easy way to get from Somerville to downtown Boston? By boat! (Frankly, I think my ritual of reading a Dickens novel every winter is really helping me vision. There’s nothing like early 19th century England-—including industrialized, coal-burning, nightmarish London—to clarify the mind.)

As I sit here, I realize  there was so much more I could have been wondering aloud about: like where will the energy for these shiny new subway trains come from? Nuclear power? Coal?

“Hose that woman down,” my tour mates probably thought from time to time. (It’s been said before.) And I wouldn’t blame them.

But I am also deeply committed to the concept of synergy. So although I am way too effusive and mouthy, sometimes, I’m going to trust that the energy I’m bringing to a laudable project like this Green Line extension is easily matched by other passionate folks and that, together, we’re going to create something freakin’ awesome!

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