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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, November 04, 2005
    There is an udder way
    Operate Google Earth and you get to feel like a god: spinning the world at will, keeping an eye on all and any places, zooming in to check what's happening at ground level, deep into the rock and soil. Google Earth doesn't come Mac-compatible as yet - they're obviously saving the best till last - so tonight, round at Rachel's, was my first prolonged play on that fascinating program.

    Gods'-eye view: funny how it always seems to move rapidly from the big picture down to the detail. Spinning the globe is fine but there's far more fascination in zooming in, down deep into the detail. Perhaps not so strange, because it's in the detail, on the ground, that real life takes place, and real life is endlessly fascinating.

    So imagine my facination when Rachel, Jonny and Mark told me about a project that took place on the wasteland next to St Gabriel's, my old stamping ground, this summer. A project called The Udder Way, an experiment in making creative use of abandoned urban land, involved five cows and five calves, three stockmen and a small support team with a milking parlour, setting up home on the tangled waste ground beside the church for nine days.

    What a risky idea - placing a herd of expensive Devon show cows on a brick-strewn inner city field which (I know first-hand) can be a violent place, and is always a bleak place. The idea came from a group of architects working on the Shrinking Cities project, looking for imaginative ways to address the fact that our cities are getting smaller and large gaps are appearing especially in places like Liverpool 8, a formerly overpopulated working-class dockland area increasingly abandoned as the city's population has shrunk and gentrified.

    But what a brilliant idea too. Because in their risk assessment the architects and farmers had evidently predicted that the people of Toxteth would be welcoming, intrigued, supportive and fully engaged with the whole idea when they saw it land in their midst; which, indeed, they were. Much more here.