I’ve recently discovered where I live – in the countryside in the heart of Birmingham.
For around the past thirty years, I’ve been aware that I live in a city, the second largest metropolis in the UK to be precise.
I thought I was surrounded by buildings (mainly ugly ones), a spaghetti of junctions and a blast of cars. I just saw miles and miles of hideous sprawl wherever I happened to be.
But in recent years, my perception has changed. I haven’t moved city. I haven’t even moved house. But now I feel that I live amongst fields, trees, wildlife and glorious sky.
Last week the BBC published an article: How much of your area is built on?
It was reporting on the Co-ordination of Information on the Environment (Corine) project initiated by the European Commission in 1985 which found only six per cent of the UK is actually built on.
A whopping 21 per cent of Birmingham is classed as ‘green urban’ – namely parks, gardens and sports fields. The map shows that where I live is indeed very green.
The point made by journalist Mark Easton in his blog Five mind-blowing facts about what the UK looks like, is that our perception of our nations is at odds with the reality – a mere 0.1 per cent of the UK is classed as ‘continuous urban fabric’.
My sense of where I live has evolved gradually over the years through small changes in my practice. I walk through parks to get to church rather than catch the bus. And I’ve discovered the secret fields of Birmingham through taking my son to football matches.
I’ve also cultivated the habit of looking at the sky. When I walk down the street, I choose to look up, notice the sun or the moon and remember I’m standing on a beautiful sphere that’s circling other spheres. It’s an awareness that’s always available but helped just by glancing skyward.
Now when I’m out and about in my city, instead of being conscious of buildings (mainly ugly), cars and roads, I see myself in a field with trees, birds, flowers, gardens and an ever-changing sky. It just so happens that my little bit is paved. That’s all.