i am legend grass
I Am Legend's Junk Science: Hollywood Sci-Fi
BY ERIN MCCARTHY
In the new blockbuster
I Am Legend
virologist Robert Neville (Will Smith) is the
sole survivor of a man-made plague that has
wiped out all of humankind--and turned those
who didn't die into creepy, vampire-like
mutants. Between a highly regimented
schedule hunting deer in Times Square with
his dog, Sam, and swinging a five-iron from
atop a naval cruiser, Neville tries to find a way
to reverse the virus using his own immune
blood even as the Infected are closing in,
setting traps and hunting him. But how much
of this sure-to-be blockbuster Hollywood film
(based on a famous sci-fi novel) is fact, and
how much is fiction? We consult experts in the
fields of structural engineering, virology and
wildlife to determine what could happen--and
what certainly won't.
The Urban Jungle
paints post-apocalyptic New York City
as an urban jungle being replaced by actual
jungle, with plants sprouting up through cracks in the sidewalks and a veritable field of waist-high
grass in Times Square. So is this what would really happen if civilization ended? According to Alan
Weisman, author of
The World Without Us
, which analyzes how long man-made structures would
survive if humans were to one day vanish from the face of the Earth, the answer is both yes and no.
"You'd certainly have a lot of plants growing up through cracks in the sidewalk," Weisman says.
"After three years, you might see some weeds that have made it waist-high in abandoned lots up in
the Bronx, but if they're showing a waist-high field of grass in Times Square, that's a bit of a stretch."
So what would we see after three years of no activity in New York? Gutters clogged by leaf litter,
formerly cleared by the city's maintenance staff, would be a breeding ground for weeds and trees,
Weisman says, and streets would flood because, after each rain, the sewers would be clogged with
natural matter and plastic bags. Subway tunnels would flood in just two days and, in the absence of
firemen, lightning strikes and gas line explosions would cause fires, leaving some buildings charred.
Buildings three years into a post-automotive New York would also look substantially greener. "With