The first town we passed was strikingly different from places I have been in the US. We drove by street after street of 15 story apartments; the tallest buildings in sight, and many large, broken buildings. They looked as if construction had been stopped mid way or else a feeble attempt at repairs had left the remains of scaffolds and tarps hanging like the untidy wrappings of half healed wound. It brought me back to the poor neighborhoods of Argentina where growth, brought by a flourishing economy came to a screeching halt when the economy crashed horribly, leaving similar skeletons of buildings. We passed a stream lined with small run down houses and shacks, some with laundry drying on lines, some with piles of trash in the front yard and spread into the forest behind. I wonder if they just have bigger problems to worry about then properly disposing of trash, but it made me think about how hard it would be to get people in developing countries to invest any extra time or energy in living sustainably. I fell asleep as we sped by agricultural fields and a small herd of deer.
When I awoke we were climbing up a pass. We traveled though patches of forest of tall evergreens intermittent by hillsides that had recently been clear-cut. A few lonely trees still stood like sentinels above their fallen fellows. Even the few remaining were stripped of branches except for scraggly clusters at the tops. I found out later that the fallen trees had been cleared after a massive windstorm decimated the forest in November of 2004. According to the little tourist guide booklet that I got from the information desk titled “The Educational Trail Strbske Pleso”, wind gusts of more then 125 miles per hour uprooted and snapped 2.5 million cubic meters of forest. The forest has taken another blow in the form of a beetle infestation similar to the one that we are experiencing in the US. Although this region of Slovakia does not seem particularly at risk when it comes to heat storms, this type of extreme weather may be a prolog for what the people here can expect to happen more frequently. It would be interesting to see if Slovakia has connected these events to global warming in any way.
Another interesting aspect of the communities here are the density of housing. We noticed while riding the train that there were very few houses and lots of cute little 4 or 5 story apartments in the tiny villages that we passed through. In the larger towns there many low high rise apartments like I had seen in the first town that we went through and again, very few house. Tyna (our attaché) confirmed this. She said that people really only lived in houses if they were wealthy or their family has owned the house for many generations. In many ways this is a much more energy efficient way to live. Not only are more people housed with less building materials, heating costs, and smaller building footprint, dense housing allows for communities to be more closely knit which cuts down on the need for transportation. There are more people living within a close proximity to schools, grocery stores exc. Although it is easy to say that it is more efficient to live in a city like structure, the idea of living so close to so many people sounds terrible to me.