The New Jerusalem
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic Mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear!O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my charriot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.
William Blake (1804)
When Blake wrote The New Jerusalem (1804), the industrial revolution in England was well advanced. Energy use per capita was twice that of mainland Europe. Coal was the chief source of energy and was carried by sea from Newcastle to Blake’s native London.
With more than a million inhabitants, London was Europe’s largest city and largest port, a place of docks and warehouses, of shipyards, foundries and factories, of tanneries and textile mills.
|Back-to-back houses, without a yard. Source|
In London and other industrial cities, workers lived in tiny houses, usually built back-to-back without yards, close to the factory or mill where they worked, which meant that the first great industrial cities, though hideous, were compact.
|Workers’ housing: Liverpool, England|
Travel was limited. Blacktop had yet to be invented. The best roads were the ancient, deeply rutted Roman highways. Intercity travel by coach was slow, costly and dangerous. Working people lived close to their place of employment, commuting no more than a mile or two. They rarely traveled except by shanks pony. Many never in their lives traveled more than five or ten miles from their place of birth.
Thus, in Blake’s day, despite the great “wen” of London and other teeming industrializing cities, the mines, the “dark satanic mills,” much in England was yet both green and pleasant.
With a total population of 8.6 million according to the census of 1801, the average population density was only 65 per square kilometer, or about 3.5 acres per person. But the rural population density was much less, and, as millions migrated to the industrial cities, the countryside became even more sparsely populated.
But first the railway and then the automobile, combined with rising incomes, changed all that.
British cities were, for the most part, so hideously ugly and dangerously unhealthy that as soon as they could afford it, almost everyone wanted a country castle, mansion, villa, or cottage, or at least a semi-det brick box on a 150 square meter plot on one of those meaningless crescents, winding avenues, or closes that have engulfed thousands of square miles of once beautiful countryside around once beautiful market towns and cathedral cities.
The flight to the suburbs and beyond has generated road congestion, traffic deaths, smog, noise, and an ever expanding zone of traffic-jammed motorways, bypasses, overpasses and underpasses that have transformed much once habitable urban space into an version of hell beyond the phantasmagoric imagination of Hieronymous Bosch.
Such development is autocatalytic. It creates its own demand. By defiling the place where people need to be, i.e., the city, it forces them to move to ever more remote and tedious greenfield suburbs, which are the last places on earth where any creature could hope for emotional fulfillment.
|Suburban sprawl. Image source|
So to what extent can the horrors of urbanization and suburbanization and of sprawling rural exurbification, with their attendant transportation infrastructure, noise, energy consumption and pollution, both visual and atmospheric, wrought by two hundred years of construction, destruction and dereliction, accompanied by a six-fold increase in population and a 100-fold increase in national energy use, be today contained or reversed?
Without substantially reducing the already falling standard of living, the extent to which a return to a green and pleasant land is possible depends on three things:
Doing as much or more with less energy.
Doing as much or more with less travel.
Living as well or better in more compact settlements.
Looked at in that way, the challenge does not seem insuperable.
Massive increases in energy-use efficiency are, in theory, a simple matter.
The light bulb, 3% efficient, the LED 20% efficient. There is still room for considerable improvement of LED lighting in spectral quality, in efficiency and in price, but all these improvements are a near certainty within a decade.
|Anthropogenic climate warming. Image source|
Home heating has an efficiency of essentially zero. Every unit of energy that is put into it eventually goes to heat the outdoors. The question then is not how to heat homes more efficiently but how to eliminate the need to heat them at all.
The challenge of building a house that is warmed by body heat and waste heat from domestic appliances is not great, but the replacement or transformation of the existing housing stock will occur on a generational time scale.
Energy consumed in travel and the transportation of materials can be greatly reduced, not only by increasing the overall efficiency of motor vehicles from around 15% for those powered by internal combustion engines to around 50 or 60% for electric vehicles, but by eliminating the need for most travel and movement of materials.
In England, the average worker commutes 8.5 miles each way, usually by car. Since most commuters travel from one point in a city to another point in the same city, work-related travel would be greatly reduced by increasing population density from around 3000 per square kilometer, which is typical for English cities, to 15 to 30 or 40 thousand per square kilometer, as is typical of Asian cities.
London and Birmingham aside, England has no cities with more than half a million inhabitants. The largest 175 cities after the first two average just over 100,000 inhabitants. So what would a city of 120, 000 with a moderately high population density of 15,000 per square kilometer be like?
|Jaques Fresco: Circular city|
At a population density of 15,000 rather than 3000 per square kilometer, the area of a city of 120,000 souls is reduced from 40 square kilometers to eight. Assuming a circular perimeter, the city radius would be reduced from 3.7 kilometers to 1.6, thus reducing the longest straight line commute by more than 50 % from 7.4 kilometers to 3.2 kilometers and the average straight line commute, assuming a random distribution of homes and work places, to only 1.6 kilometers, or a brisk 15 minute walk.
Allowing 33 square meters per person in living space plus an equal floor space for commercial and public buildings, a population density of 15,000 would mean a floor to ground space area ratio of almost one to one. With an average building height of six stories, 15% of the ground area would be covered by buildings leaving another 30% for landscaping around buildings, 15% for roads and the remaining 40% for parks, sports grounds, lakes and rivers.
|Self-balancing monocycles: Source|
With buildings averaging 12 stories in the core area(s) covering a third of the city, building heights in the remaining areas could range from six to only one or two stories.
In a city so densely populated, streets should be free of the noise, pollution and hazard of motor traffic. Those with cars would need to garage them at the city boundary. In town, there would be lightweight electric buggies, scooters, computer controlled and speed-regulated, obtaining energy by induction from the road bed. These might be city owned and coin-operated. In addition, there would be one-wheelers, “wearable mobility,” and perhaps a system of moving walkways, as first used at the Paris Exposition of 1900.
In the absence of cars within the city boundary, residential streets would be designed primarily for the pleasure and convenience of pedestrians. Driveways and garages will no longer take up space or shape the residential landscape. The city will be quieter, the air will be free of ozone, photochemical smog, rubber dust and particulates from diesel exhaust.
|Service tunnel. Image source|
But a new high density city should innovate in many things beside the transportation infrastructure. Every street should be built above a service tunnel:
Water — two supplies, a highly purified and remineralized drinking water supply, plus a gray water supply for irrigation, flushing and industrial use.
Sewers — Three systems, a storm-water sewer carrying rainwater runoff to the water purification plant, a sanitary sewer delivering waste water to a mineral nutrient extraction plant producing agricultural fertilizers, and an industrial sewer, for delivery of various types of waste water for safe disposal or recycling — every sewer connection being equipped with chemical sensors to detect and identify the source of illegal discharges of toxic waste.
In addition, the tunnels would provide easy access to underground power lines, telephone and cable data lines, and would house an automated, door-to-door parcel delivery system, delivering goods between road and rail depots at the city’s edge and every commercial and private address.
|Street canopy. Image source|
Many pedestrian thoroughfares and some parkland areas would have a glass canopy providing a temperate, controlled environment year round.
Would William Blake have considered this the New Jerusalem? Probably not. He was taking about spiritual and moral regeneration, surely. But at least it might raise England’s quality of life from the lowest in Europe to the point that most of the population would not want to leave. And a greener and pleasanter land might well be conducive to moral improvement.
|London nursery school: The lowest quality of life in Europe|
|Seeking the New Jerusalem? (Source)|
See also: England’s Ungreen and Unpleasant Land