Gotham: A Climate Success Story

Gotham was once a blight upon the American landscape. With the highest crime rate in the country (dubbed the ‘Gun Death Capital’ by some), near overwhelming poverty resulting in the largest homeless population of any major US city, and frequent scandals involving deep rooted corruption amongst public figures as well as the Police Department, the Twilight City was emblematic of everything wrong with American society at the time. That was until five years ago, when business magnate and billionaire investor Bruce Wayne was killed in a violent altercation between himself and Botanist Pamela Isley who performed her Spore Dispersal experiment at the top of Wayne tower. Wayne’s very public demise revealed him to have been the man behind the vigilante known as ‘Batman’ who had drawn so much attention to the ‘Crime Capital’ of the USA over the years. Wayne’s death and the success of Dr Isely’s experiment were the first dominoes to fall creating a trophic cascade that not only transformed the city physically but turned it into what scientists have dubbed the ‘Climate Capital’ of the world.

To walk down Main Street 6 years ago, when it was the centre of the Financial District of Gotham, you might have marvelled at the gothic architecture, the surging crowds of tourists or visited one of the many expensive attractions that littered the long, straight road. Today it is a wholly different affair. You might still marvel at its majesty but now, for different reasons. Every inch is covered in greenery. Grass and wildflowers have torn through the concrete and tarmac, while vines and tropical trees have totally coated, if not wholly absorbed, entire skyscrapers. Gotham, in the space of one night, went from concrete jungle to just plain jungle.

“I would never have been able to do this ten years ago”

It’s humid outside Mister Singh’s restaurant but delightfully cool inside. “It’s like magic insulation,” he tells me. “Cool in the summer, warm in the winter.” He refers to the dense foliage that, like everywhere else in the city (and even parts of the suburbs too now), covers the whole building. The plant life absorbs the sun and reflects the heat, while its root systems keep the interiors of the buildings nice and cool. While in the winter, as leaves shed and the mulch and soil harden outside, only a little heat is required to keep a space the size of Singh’s Fine Dining at a comfortable temperature. “Just having the oven on in the winter is enough to heat the whole place. It’s positively cosy!” Like a majority of residents in Gotham today Singh is new to the area. “I would never have been able to do this ten years ago,” he says. A statement that proves the incredible change in the city. Singh’s is packed for his lunchtime rush when I arrive. Families, people on break from work, City Maintenance Engineers, everyone is here. Do you have to turn people away? I ask. “All the time! But that’s okay. Renny’s is only over the road. They do a great roast.” Are you not losing business then? “What do I need more business for?” He seems genuinely bewildered by the question. “I own three. My family is provided for, I want for nothing. Now I make sure no one else does either.” And that’s the Utopian sentiment shared by everyone you meet here in Gotham. That they don’t just have everything they need, they have everything they want too.

Following Wayne’s death, his culpability for massive levels of corruption, insider trading and violent assault were revealed. With no heirs to inherit, his family company went into administration, while at the same time the wealthy elite fled the city and surrounding area following Isley’s ‘attack’. Subsequently property prices plummeted, where the properties themselves weren’t outright abandoned. Quickly though, it was the long term Gotham residents who had nowhere to run to, who were forced to stay as the wild growth took over the city, that realised the sudden benefits. The office blocks that had stood empty for decades were now essentially free housing. Overnight the homeless crisis was solved but instead of creating ghettos as naysayers predicted, those who were homeless lived alongside everyone else, willingly, even cheerfully, accepted into the new communities that emerged in what was once one of the most expensive areas to live in the world. Main Street prior to the Wilding boasted zero permanent residents, now every apartment is occupied and the ground floors are filled with a variety of shops, restaurants, events spaces, communal areas and more. Parks aren’t necessary anymore as everywhere is a green space. The roads were churned up making car travel impossible, while the Metro and train network — after a little pruning — were still in perfect working order. The power grid remained intact but less was required due to all buildings now requiring less heating or cooling, consequently allowing renewable energy sources to be installed which more than meet the power needs of the city. The micro climate created by the diverse plant-life meant rainfall was frequent and infrastructure was quickly installed to catch it, meaning fresh water was suddenly abundant. New lakes and ponds formed too as a consequence, while the banks of Gotham River were hardened by root systems, controlling the floods that had become a frequent occurrence since Edward Nigma’s destruction of the levees a few years prior. Fruits and legumes grew in abundance, drawing wildlife directly into the city centre. With no vehicles to threaten them on the roads you are just as likely to see bears and deer walking the streets as an ice cream cart. All of this contributed to a precipitous drop in food scarcity. With readily available edible plant life, everyone has something to eat at all times, that is, if they can’t afford to eat at Singh’s that day. Which brings us to jobs. While the federal statistics of ‘employment’ has not technically risen since the Wilding, everyone has work. Whether it’s in somewhere like Singh’s, Transport for Gotham, City Maintenance engineering, or as a performer in one of the many new theatres and arts spaces that have been created, everyone is contributing.

“The last thing anyone wants is a return to where we were before”

The two major employers in the city now are Gotham Harbour and City Maintenance. The CM was created by locals as a method of keeping the wildlife from creating a health risk but — equally — preventing people from damaging the wildlife. Affectionately referred to as ‘The Gardeners’, the CM engineers prune invasive limbs, clear rotten or damaged plants, redirect wandering predatory animals to safer spaces and overall maintaining what has become a harmonious ecosystem. The Harbour is the real secret to the city’s success, however. As the main distribution point for most overseas imports on the Eastern seaboard, the loss of control of the city was seen as a national disaster. Far from it, it turned out. With boats and their cargo still coming into port as the Wilding happened, the city was quick to act, employing 25% of the remaining city population and installing new equipment developed by Victor Fries with assistance from the power house Solomon Grundy who was able to move containers faster than any of the cranes available. The port doubled its turnover in a little over a year and is now the main thoroughfare for imports to the United States. “It keeps the government off our backs”, Lucius Fox tells me. A former employee of Wayne Enterprises, Fox is now a leading member of the city council. “I see it as making amends for what I did.” ‘What he did’, as he puts it, was aiding and assisting Bruce Wayne in his violent and militant one man policing of the city. “A big proportion of Wayne Tech was weapons development. I can never atone for my work on such awful devices that were built under Mister Wayne’s direction but I hope to build a better world from here on out.” And he seems to be accomplishing that desire. As someone with experience in dealing with corporate America (and the world), he has so far managed to keep the figurative wolves from the door while letting the literal ones in. “Operating as a ‘free’ state was seen as unthinkable and a return to Civil War-era, separatist thinking but as soon as we proved how vital we were to US commerce the Government has largely left us alone. The last thing anyone wants is a return to where we were before…”

The ‘before’ Mister Fox mentions is the near police state Gotham had become. The entire population existed in a state of constant terror, fearing reprisals from the mythical boogeymen locked away in clearly insecure and poor conditions, as well as from the brutal policing of “Gotham’s Finest” and a man dressed in armour and Bat ears. “I wouldn’t leave the house at night,” one resident told me. “It was like a curfew. Get home before the signal lit up.” The ‘Bat Signal’ as it was called was a warning flag, not to the so-called supervillains but to residents. Poverty stricken, starving and homeless they were frequently set upon by the “Dark Knight” leaving them with life-threatening or life-changing injuries, none of which people had insurance to be able to afford treatment for. Despite being one of the wealthiest cities in the US thanks to it being the base of operations for Wayne Enterprises, its abundant financial district and the tourism the city’s ‘Super’ conflicts drew in, nothing in Gotham was improving for residents and, as it turned out, that was because of Wayne, not in spite of him.

The break up of Wayne Enterprises is well documented but what it reveals is Wayne’s near Empirical control of the city, owning most properties, many of which stood empty, and his contributions to only a specific set of charities. Combine that with the corruption he brought to the police force — Lieutenant Gordon’s very public trial continues — and his removal from the city is seen as untethering a lot of the economic forces that were violently repressing the population along with the literal and physical forces doing the same. More shocking, after the closure of BlackGate Prison and the now notorious Arkham Asylum, was the revelation of who the many purported ‘Super Villains’ actually were. Without exception most of these individuals were victims of industrial accidents, corporate negligence, medical malpractice and a total lack of government care. And those, like the Joker, a homicidal maniac no question, were also the victim of domestic abuse and resultant poverty. Most of these ‘villains’ were shown to be people ignored or forgotten by the system, results of a rotten hatchery rather than simply bad apples. Our cover girl for that very point is, of course, Pamela Isley, now in charge of the government ReWilding Initiative, an initiative now being taken up by the whole world after the visible success of Gotham since the Wilding. “Batman … Bruce, was desperate to keep things the same,” Pamela told me over the phone. “They all are, the billionaires. Any change means a dent in profits. He dressed it up in ‘justice’ what he did but what he really wanted was stagnation, because that meant profit.” After Bruce’s death, the corruption at the heart of the GPD was revealed and most of the officers were themselves arrested or discharged, functionally causing the collapse of the city’s police department. Riots and the unravelling of society were predicted in the city but instead, it flourished. With most people’s needs able to be met, crime plummeted and those held in the squalid conditions of Black Gate and Arkham were offered rehabilitation. Garfield Lynns, once called ‘Firefly’, now helps the CM with controlled burns that prevent forest fires and promote new growth in the city wildlife. Floyd ‘Deadshot’ Lawton helps control the population of certain animals in the city, also providing food for anyone who needs it. Bane spends his life deep in kayfabe, as one of the most popular stars of the independent wrestling circuit. Oswald Cobblepot has found a new lease of life as a leading conservationist in the south pole, reintroducing many near extinct species, specialising — of course — in Penguins. Meanwhile the viciously scarred former District Attorney Harvey Dent has taken up the role of mediator between local and state government and State Police bodies in order to prevent essentially an invasion of State forces and corporations trying to ‘reclaim’ the city now it has proved to be doing so well. “We only succeed without interference,” Pamela is keen to stress. “That doesn’t mean we don’t want more people coming here, the more the merrier, but Gotham has always done things our own way, without interference. The difference is, before the Wilding that was profitable to the usual business heads and billionaires. Now it’s profitable for everyone. We aim to keep it that way.” An aim that is proving difficult to maintain.

“…an Anarcho-Communist settlement operating within the United States”

Gotham’s success is not popular with everyone. “You functionally have an Anarcho-Communist settlement operating within the United States,” claims billionaire industrialist and former colleague of Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor. Speaking on the phone from his Metropolis Penthouse, Luthor made it clear his home city would not be going the same way. “The Eco-Terrorist Pamela Isley and her experiments are not welcome here.” Many business leaders and politicians share his sentiment. “They enjoy all the benefits of being within the Union but don’t abide by our laws,” Governor Creel of California said in a recent interview about ReWilding projects in his State. What about the massive amounts of (taxed) money the city now generates? Or the contributions to the national grid from the reduction in consumption and various unique renewable energy projects developed by Fries and Isley? “It asks the question are you part of this country or are you not?” Says Luthor. “Perhaps Gotham contributes materially but it has made it clear it is set apart from the rest of the country. It sets a damaging precedent for a city to do whatever it likes without government oversight or involvement. We are a democracy and a Union, whether Gotham likes it or not, and that means you are either working with us or against us.” Many academics, former ‘super villains’ and city residents have argued that cities like Metropolis and formerly Gotham seemed less like Democracies and more like Corporate Autocracies and Police States respectively, whereas New Gotham operates an elected city council with locally sourced and elected leaders per district. “The wildlife was only able to propagate and the city to flourish due to existing infrastructure that was illegally requisitioned by residents. It is nothing more than a squatter’s paradise,” say Luthor. And yet local and national police, along with city officials and business owners were all swift to flee the city once Batman was gone, offering the remaining residents no assistance or evacuation plan. How else were they supposed to respond? They turned a negative into an overwhelming positive through hard work. Isn’t that the American Dream? “A city created and maintained through domestic terrorism. Individuals operating outside of the law of the land have essentially created their own State, removed from the whole.” Is that not how Metropolis operates? With its own superbeing (some say super weapon) and respective ‘villains’ operating without bowing to State or civilian oversight? And Luthor Corp (much like Wayne Enterprises) invests billions in government lobbying and election campaigns. “And I also spend a considerable amount of my assets in resisting the Overman’s(sic) rule of might over my city to prevent what has happened in Gotham happening here.” And yet it was the departure of Gotham’s ‘Watchful Protector’ that created the shift allowing it to prosper today. “It’s because we, myself and others like Fries and Cobblepot, are agents of change,” responds Isley. “With all their sci-fi futurism and accelerationist solutionism, individuals like Luthor, Wayne and even the Super Man do not represent change, nor a viable future for most people. They are archaic remnants of a white supremacist past. A past the world would do well to distance itself from.”

“I want to publicise the joy at the heart of the city.”

But, the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Gotham thrives. With a carbon footprint that has passed zero and is now into minus figures, acting as a carbon sink both economically and geologically, a tourist boom, low to no crime, a total eradication of homelessness, all without an active police force (the GPD building is now a museum, its main exhibit a warning against ‘Superism’ run by former actor Basil Karlo), a transparent local governance that publishes finances yearly with public consultation and votes on all projects and municipal changes, along with a bustling, thriving, diverse community at the city’s heart, critics of the city new lease of life are generally ignored. Central City and Star City have both adopted Isley’s ReWilding policies since Gotham’s transformation — though at a slower rate — and have seen similar results already. The thing that is hardest to argue with, however, is just how happy the people are here.

Speaking to local reporter Vicky Vale (who penned the cover story interview with Isley) I am struck by just how much better I am told it is to live here now. “As the most devoted of Batman fans in the past it seems strange to say, but since Bruce left… I actually like living here again.” Vale’s much publicised relationship with the local vigilante does mirror my own relationship with a certain ‘super hero’ so I empathise deeply. “It was a bit like being indoctrinated. The late nights, fast cars, the danger and excitement, it was a thrill. Until you realise how damaging it has all been. The man rescuing me was as controlling as that deluded incel in clown makeup who kept kidnapping me.” Vale still works as a reporter, despite calls for her to become editor of the Gotham Gazette and sees her job as a duty to report on the truth, not the smears, about Gotham today. “I always thought my job was to investigate the corruption at the heart of the city but now that’s gone. Now I want to publicise the joy at the heart of the city.” And it doesn’t take x-ray vision to see what she means.

Walking any street, day or night, reveals an abundance of that joy. During the day you can see herds of deer graze while children swing from vines across the street from the post office. At night the stars glow, unchoked by light pollution as the cries of birds of paradise replace the cacophony of car horns that once reverberated from the concrete walls. Where once it was bundled up bodies of people hanging by a thread lying in the street, locals now lounge in the soft mossy earth beside the former Wayne tower, picking the lush fruit from trees nearby. Street markets bustle with tourists and locals, while rooftop festivals enjoy shade from over-hanging branches, the dense undergrowth creating a sound insulation meaning noise is rarely an intrusion to residents nearby. Sure Gotham has its problems, larger predators roaming the streets test their luck, infrastructure suffers at the hand of nature here and there, and constant harrying from national government and purported ‘Heroes’ continually attempting to ‘save’ the locals, all have an impact on day to day life but no one here seems to mind much. “Where I never saw a happy face in the city, now I never see a sad one,” says Singh, waving to another regular as she leaves. “And if I do, it means I was too slow with their desert.”

Gotham Thrives

And that’s Gotham. Where once it was a brutally repressed, dark, gloomy and fearful city of stagnation and urban rot, it is now a revolution of energy, colour and joy. Far from needing ‘one man’ to save it continually (ignorant of how much he contributed to its need for ‘saving’) Gotham just needed the opportunity to save itself. Gotham has always been an example, but now, for the first time, it is a good example and not a warning. A city is only as good as its people and Gotham’s people are a wonderful, characterful bunch. Such a revolution is infectious. Returning to Metropolis now feels bleak. A hangover from the Nuclear Age of the fifties with its drab deco concrete architecture, three piece suits and regimented streets and walkways. A far cry from the lush and vibrant chaos of Gotham. By comparison Metropolis feels stilted, bloodless. Somehow, less… super.

Lois Lane

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Leo Cookman

Leo Cookman

Peripatetic Writer. “Time’s Lie” out now from Zero Books.