The Ecotopia 2121 project looks at the urban futures of 100 cities around the world. This month, we will try to foretell the future of the city of Wolverhampton, England.
Mordor, the hellish deeply industrialized mining zone of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels is inspired by a real place: Wolverhampton, a city in the Midlands of England.
Wolverhampton was the first city of the Industrial Revolution. It was in Wolverhampton in the late eighteenth century that the steam engine was first put to industrial use, clearing mines of water. This is also where coal pits were first hacked into the city grounds to produce coal to serve the ever-growing ironworks and steelworks nearby.
All these mines and factories sent dirty soot into the air and over the cityscape, earning Wolverhampton the unflattering nickname of the “Black Country”— which, incidentally, was also what the elves of The Lord of the Rings called Mordor.
Literary reflections of Wolverhampton were never very complimentary. Charles Dickens wrote
that Wolverhampton’s factories “poured out their plague of smoke, obscured the light, and made foul the melancholy air.”
Even Queen Victoria, usually a paragon of polite expression, couldn’t hide her feelings when she wrote in her diary of Wolverhampton as “a large and dirty town.”
Despite this bad press, many Wulfrunians are proud of their heritage, and they long for a time when the city can reassert itself as an industrial center. So, in 2121, Wolverhampton’s factories rise again, but this time via eco-facturing.
In Wolverhampton 2121, blue-collar workers have been transformed into green-collar workers, and they have zero tolerance for air pollution. If any factory produces any form of smog, smoke, sooty cloud, greenhouse gas, or unsavory airborne smell, the factory is immediately shut down. For centuries, on cloudless days in the Wolverhampton of yesteryear, the sun shone to street level only through a fuzzy, reddish haze, such was the thickness of the dark smog. But in Wolverhampton 2121, the sunshine is bright and the air is finally clear.
Wolverhampton 2121 by Dr. Alan Marshall
For sure, this path to ecotopia is one-dimensional, for it singles out one particular physical factor and works to create an economy that revolves around that. However, the residents of Wolverhampton 2121 have argued and debated endlessly about possible paths toward 'Greening' their city, from garden city plans to radical environmental education. Instead, they finally settle on a total clean-up of the one thing that just about all living beings depend upon minute by minute: the air that we breathe. Everything else can take care of itself.