Urban Forest: Meet Ivy-Covered Traffic Pole

traffic pole covered in Boston Ivy

A new kind of urban tree?

This is one way to add more greenery to the urban landscape. When ivy wants to climb, let it climb, even if it wants to climb onto traffic poles and light standards. This one has been carefully trimmed to clearly display the rather lengthy traffic rules it proclaims. This natural vegetative exuberance gives us a little taste of what might happen if people disappeared and nature took over our cities. From Discover Magazine:

We might sometimes wonder what our planet would be like if humans suddenly disappeared. Would the seas again fill with fish? Would our concrete cities crumble to dust from the force of tree roots, water, and weeds? How long would it take for our traces to vanish? And if we could answer such questions, would we be more in awe of the changes we have wrought, or of nature’s resilience?

I’m always happy to see the resilience of nature. (Except when it comes to invasive plants.) Imagine a nature initiative that would convert all of the city’s concrete light standards into ivy-covered columns. Now, there may be practical reasons why we couldn’t do it; I can imagine council arguing about lightbulb access. But maybe ivy covered streetlights could solve another problem: streetlights are too bright and much of the light escapes upward. How about training the ivy into biophilic lamp shades directing the light downwards where it’s needed rather than contributing to atmospheric light pollution.

Pondering the ways that humans have desecrated the planet makes you wonder what the earth would be like with no humans. A documentary on the History Channel “Life After People” explores just that. Not for the faint of heart, and, while the film veers a bit into disaster pic tropes, its a worthwhile thought experiment. With valuable contributions from biologists, engineers and ecologists it demonstrates how the planet’s flora and fauna would recover and thrive without human interference. (Warning: there’s a section on abandoned pet dogs that is a little disturbing.) Part of the lesson looks at the Ukraine city of Pripyat, which was evacuated after the Chenobyl nuclear disaster—a real life example of an urban area that “went from a population of 50,000 to a ghost town overnight. The nuclear devastation killed the vegetation and wildlife but the area after 20 years has bounced back. And it still remains people-free. There is a resurgence of wildlife growth and animal species like red deer and wild boar. A former soccer field is returning to a mixed deciduous forest. Nature reclaims a part of the planet, unhindered by any human activity.

While it’s comforting to know that nature triumphs in the face of human-caused disaster, it’s of course preferable that we remain in balance with the natural world. It’s our only option. And if nature gets the edge sometimes, like on our traffic poles, I see that as only a good thing.

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