This Side of the Pond – April 11

By Sarah Pridgeon

This weekend, I discovered how disconcerting it is to find out that, during your absence, a 1000-foot skyscraper has sprung up in your former back garden. Leaving home was an adventure I undertook on the understanding that everything stay precisely as I left it, perfectly preserved until I returned for a visit. Why did nobody tell me that my country would keep evolving while I was gone?

The issue arose when BBC America aired the latest episode of Doctor Who: a British sci-fi that has recently captured America’s imagination for its mix of impossibly good writing and sheer silliness. During the episode, the characters visit an immense building called The Shard, slap bang in the center of London town.

I assumed they’d dreamed it up using CGI, because it’s not the sort of thing you’d miss while wandering the streets. Surely I couldn’t have spent a decade ignoring a skyscraper to match the Chrysler Building soaring above everything else in the city, could I?

Besides being significantly more enormous than everything around it, The Shard is an eye-catching structure that was apparently designed to resemble an iceberg emerging from the River Thames. Its architect, who was also responsible for the Parisian insanity that calls itself the Pompidou Centre, sketched the design on a restaurant menu to illustrate his contempt for your average box-shaped building.

To be fair, what he has created certainly doesn’t fall under the subheading of “boring skyscrapers.” That I first saw it on a science fiction show seems appropriate, because I can’t help thinking that it looks for all the world like the lair of a supervillian – one who discovered the secrets of time travel and decided 21st century London was the place for his nefarious schemes.

Let me put it this way: I won’t be shocked if giant lasers emerge from its spiny apex and begin targeting unwitting pedestrians. That said, it really is a marvel of modern engineering and quite beautiful to behold. I will be treating myself to the view from the top, London’s newest tourist attraction, when next I visit home.

The husband’s reason for assuming it doesn’t exist was a little different. He couldn’t make himself believe that a building outside a comic book would actually be named “The Shard” and refused to be reminded that the English are surprisingly forward-thinking and exactly the type of people who would name a building after a splinter of glass.

After all, we are also the nation that built a skyscraper resembling the base of a pineapple and decided to name it “The Gherkin.” I suppose it would have been called “The Pickle” if it had been built on this side of the pond, which is only slightly more ridiculous.

Either way, it came as a shock to realize that 1000 feet of skyscraper had appeared in the middle of my city in the two years since I moved away, utterly transforming the skyline. I’d made my peace with the addition of the Olympic Village because they saw fit to pre-warn me, but I wasn’t sent the memo about The Shard.

Each time I return home, I’m greeted by change. It’s the natural way of things and the progress of technology is nothing to bemoan, but it’s startling to be met by so many transformations at once. When you spend every day within the confines of a city, you don’t tend to notice how much it’s changing.

Since moving to Sundance, for example, I have taken for granted our steady march of progress. I’ve enjoyed the new businesses flourishing in town and followed the progress of upcoming mining projects, wondering just how different the city will seem by the time we hit the next decade mark. But only when actively considering the matter do I appreciate how far we’ve come already – how much growth we’ve enjoyed since I first set down my suitcases.

Small, constant changes make up the mandatory path of human evolution. As our technology improves, so do our homes and businesses and our lives along with them. Each time we welcome a company into our midst or approve a construction with modern advantages, we gradually improve our way of life.

It happens in every town, in every country; no community is ever completely finished because there are always upgrades that can be made. While it’s easy to believe things are perfect exactly the way they are, London’s skyline is more beautiful than ever with The Shard at its center, glittering in the sunlight.

By the time I next board a plane, there will no doubt be a myriad of new stores, schools, houses and office buildings to explore. London’s residents will be appreciating the new additions without every really pondering how much things have changed.

Perhaps progress fades into everyday life when you’re up close to it and can only be properly witnessed from a distance. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the forest for the trees – even when one of those trees looks like Dr. Evil’s giant laboratory.