Or would they just rise up from beneath our feet and destroy us for our crimes against their people?
The pavement manifesto would probably make an interesting document. The rhetoric of the oppressed would have less a less metaphorical turn if the oppressed in question was literally underfoot.
What would be the life span of a cement organism? How interconnected are we talking? All the pavements aren’t actually connected for a start. Are the individual bits of powder and sand and similar that constitute the raw ingredients part of the process. Are all of our building materials actually staring at us? What about the sand on the beach? The pebbles that haven’t yet been dashed onto rear walls? At what point is a paving slab birthed in its own right?
Is each individual slab like an ant in a colony, or like an organ in a body? Is each block, and the circling pavement an individual? Do they engage with the people on the other side of the road? Do they have any contact beyond that? How do you build a community when you’re immovable? Do they have the internet? Can they not share their wifi with us?
The truth is, that humanity hasn’t historically given (and doesn’t presently give) a shit about the welfare of sentient creatures and the biosphere we’re part of. There are exceptions for the cute ones (mostly those domesticated and bred to be such, and ‘cute’ is an odd conceptual structure) and increasingly people do give a shit, but in general, there’s a history of oppression of animal life when it suits us. We currently put billions of cattle, sheep and poultry through hell to keep our fridges stocked. Would we really stop treading on the pavements if we knew it hurt them? It would probably depend how vocal they were. If we could keep the suffering and pain at a big enough removal (maybe sending indiviudal slabs to cement abattoirs to be slaughtered before they went into the streets, leaving only their corpses underfeet) we wouldn’t notice, and we’d probably just carry on.
I prefer the other version. Where we build bridges across our pavements and onto the tarmac, and we get rid of the cars, to make room in the centre of the roads for the people. Pavements and people and a slower pace of life, going hand in hand into the future. You can tell I’m a hippy, right?
It really would depend on circumstance, and its unlikely to lead directly to my standard infrastructural day dream of greened streets we all walked hand in hand down. If pavements were sentient, would we ever know? How does a pavement talk? Can a slab of cement find a way to communicate its experience to us? Can we empathise with something we could never understand? Crossing the barrier from organism to organism is hard enough, but to a mineral based building material?
For all we know, we’re walking along, unaware of the silent agonies underfoot.
Illustration by Helen