Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Living City: An Overview

THERE ARE TWO major changes that are profoundly transforming contemporary human life.  First, the city has become the predominant global human habitat and global urbanization continues to increase.  And second, the most urbanized person now experiences direct feedback of increasing environmental degradation to the point of being a public health concern rather than as something that is only degrading distant, uninhabited landscapes.  At first glance, increasing urbanization and increasing environmental degradation can make the city appear to be at the vanguard of the destruction of the Earth ecosystem and be self-destructive as well.  However, there is an emerging sense that the “problem” of global urbanization is at the vanguard of nature, and that it is creating an opportunity for integration with the larger Earth ecosystem. 

While urbanization is accepted to be occurring within a natural universe, cities are envisioned as artificial intrusions that have become irrevocably separated from wildness.  However, our most rational scientific measures find human life deeply lost in infinities of wildness, making it increasingly difficult to describe human life as separate from wildness.  And looking with the lens of geological time, there is an emerging sense of the city as being still very young in the history of the Earth rather than over-old and mature.  And in everyday urban life, direct experience of environmental degradation revisions nature as coming inside the city rather than being described as an increasingly distant, shrinking process. 

There is a very new sense of the city as being natural and even wild, not unlike like a young river ecosystem that can seem more deconstructive than integrative.  And perhaps most surprising, there is a new sense that an ecologically adaptive living city is already operant within the ecologically destructive “separable” city.  In fact, there is a new sense of the city-form as being an inherent ecological adaptation to integrate a global human population of billions into the larger Earth ecosystem.

Degrading environmental quality that is provoked by global consumption and waste can appear to distance us from nature.  Increasingly, it is doing just the opposite.  Now in a “peopled Earth,” “nature” in the form of environmental quality is no longer “out there.”  It comes inside the city as it has always done, but it is no longer masked by the capacity of once vast distant frontiers to absorb degradation or at least displace degradation. 

Surprisingly, the degrading environmental quality that seems amplified in the city is not the city-form.  There is a process that is inherent in cities that always “softens the grid” that is environmentally adaptive.  The authentic environmental problem is a longstanding strategy rather than a structure or a place.  Components of this pioneering strategy, such as “separation from nature” and “exploitation/extraction,” now create a global public health problem that is already life threatening for billions of people and that is rapidly degrading the Earth ecosystem.  Pioneering has been a process of natural adaptation, exploiting vast physical frontiers brimming with stored material resources. This longstanding strategy of pioneering that has been successful as measured by population growth and increased lifespan.  But the successful “peopling of the Earth” requires a transformative, renascent shift in strategy to optimize health.

Urbanization has been erroneously envisioned as an expression of this strategy.  However, the global drive toward the city is an intuitive, natural response to meet the changing conditions of a “peopled” Earth.  Urbanization offers a way to absorb the global human population of billions, to then reduce this population and to use resources more efficiently as population density increases.  In fact, urbanization overrides the exploitive strategy and has begun to accomplish functional environmental changes that intentional efforts such as legislation, education and the environmental movement have failed to match.  For example, urbanization reduces the rate of population growth to such a degree that the global human population may be less that it currently is by the end of the 21st Century.  And the city-form can potentially reduce consumption though efficiency as well as effectively recycle waste in ways that are valued by its inhabitants and that optimize human life. 

Combined with an exploitive strategy, the rapid rate of global urbanization, rather than urbanization itself, does amplify global environmental destruction.  Global urbanization is also producing movement toward a new strategy of residency that favors integration with the larger Earth ecosystem rather than it’s exploitation.  Without planning, the everyday actions of urban migrants soften the hard urban grid to reveal an ecologically adaptive process that can be enhanced.  Across time, it is possible that cities might become ecological “arks” rather than separable fortresses that are integrated into the larger Earth ecosystem, that produce rather than consume resources, and that optimize global biodiversity.

Environmental degradation is now accepted to be a priority problem to be addressed in contemporary life.  Increasing priority is directed toward “green” technological solutions to lower the high metabolism of cities to create environmentally sensitive livable and sustainable communities.  This seems rational and appropriate, but it reflects a strategy remains primarily a strategy of separation from nature.  Cities can be environmentally sensitive, but when they are envisioned as artificial intrusions, they are deemed to be incapable of being a natural ecosystem.  Rather than integrate with the larger Earth ecosystem, the solution remains largely an internal technological one.  Cities are sensed to be finite machines created by technology.

Approaching the city as a machine that can be technologically fine-tuned is being challenged.  To “green” architecture and transportation and recycle, and to continue to exploit as if separate will not be enough.  “Green” technological responses will certainly need to continue, but they need to serve a more appropriate strategy.  An exclusive technological response to fine tune an urban machine may look like it is doing something but it can only compensate for degrading quality and may even threaten sustainability across the long run.

Environmentally sensitive communities are not the same as ecologically integrated communities.  Rather than a finite machine, the city is being explored as having always been and continuing to be an infinite process that is natural and that already has ecologically adaptive features that can be enhanced.  The city is being explored as a natural process and, more specifically, as an ecosystem because this is what both our direct daily experiences and scientific measures are saying.  We experience immediate eco-feedback when we either support or destroy.  And in just beginning to come face-to-face with the environment, we have begun to see some of our own actions as important adaptive responses.  And we begin to discover that the city-form is not primarily architecture, but rather is a process of habitation that essentially designs cities far more than our intentional efforts, and that might be enhanced.

Facing the decline of vast material resources, we begin to open a new natural “frontier” in the process of global urbanization that we have believed to be the antithesis of nature.  We have to invent very little.  We have myriad green technologies that we can tweak and improve.  Our greatest physical technological dilemma involves finding a way to get the technology into the expanding infrastructure in the near future to match the rapid pace of urbanization.  But our greatest design dilemma involves developing our emotional technology that uncovers the longstanding nature of human nature and its contemporary adaptation—the city-form—that has been masked by vast resources now depleted.

The conditions of existence of a peopled Earth transform the fundamental strategy from extraction of material resources to integration with the larger Earth ecosystem.  In our efforts to integrate into the larger Earth ecosystem, we have nothing to recover, nor do we have to return to a previous stage of development.  Throughout human evolution, there have been transformational leaps in our vision and actions when we have uncovered an enduring reality that has been proscribed by our beliefs.

An ecological renaissance is just beginning that aspires toward integration into the Earth ecosystem.  And because it is so profoundly transformational throughout the culture, a renaissance requires time.  The word ecology is still very fresh, and our conscious eco-literacy only barely begins to include human life.  Perhaps the greatest discovery is that people are nature.  Because of beliefs that have centralized human life in nature or even separated human life from nature, the spontaneous migration of human life toward the city has worn the mask of being a flight from nature.  But a dramatic shift in human migration toward the city is itself creating enough pressure to part the veil of our ignorance to reveal this migration to be an infolding of nature, a natural and even wild process.  The city is beginning to transform from fortress to habitat.  While the rate of urbanization grows and global population continues to grow, the rate of population growth is beginning to decline.  Like a wild young, destructive river, the city is maturing very slowly but functionally toward a dream of fittedness.  In the contemporary moment, all human activity is enduringly wild and young.  While difficult to gasp, a sense that cybernetics, plastics, aircraft, industry are wild will reflect an advancement in human perception rather than a backward step. 

Paradoxically, to resolve our environmental problem we need to identify that which is not a problem.  We need to explore the city as we might explore a forest.  We need to look for that which is not wrong in the city—“diving” with a new openness into that which is already ecologically adaptive—and aspire to enhance it.  We shift from a disease or disorder or problem orientation to a health orientation.  We are very good at defining problems, but very limited by our biases when it comes to describing our health.  We will discover that we have the same health goal as the Earth ecosystem—optimization—and that we are an ongoing, inseparable, wild expression of the development of the Earth.

The Living City is an exploration of the beginning of a renaissance in our view of human nature.  It is a vision of
·      urban life as inside a vast biospheric and interstellar wilderness process where wildness is the primary creative dynamic rather than inside a global landscape where wildness is reduced to fading remnants; 
·      urbanization an expression of this wilderness process rather than as separate and artificial intrusion upon nature; 
·      an enduring human wildness as continuing to be the primary design force even in the post-modern era where it has seemed to be impossible;  
·      a people-positive habitat that optimizes human life by integrating with the larger Earth community rather than an Earth-centric model that aspires to restrict human activity as disorder; and
·       an optimal health orientation rather than a political or ideological movement of a special interest.

Hard-edged and listening only to words, the city-form wears the appearance of a glass and steel machine.  And yet, its essence is a fluid softness and vital aliveness rather than a hard grid.  Whatever its ultimate fate, the city flies forward as an expression of the Earth rather than as an artifice.  Beneath its hard appearance, the contemporary city-form offers an opportunity for eco-adaptation.  Integration with the larger Earth community will be a measure of our expanding intelligence and wisdom to uncover an enduring authentic wild state rather than a step back to recover a lost Romantic pastoral.

So come now and step inside the living city, one of the youngest and wildest events on Earth, and relax, and allow yourself to open a gateway where there had not appeared to be one, in a renascent view both of the city and human nature.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Did Cities Come To Be

WEARING THE APPEARANCE of artificiality and environmental decimation, the city is not separable from the rest of the Earth; it is an expression of the development of the Earth.  In fact, the city remains more ethological in nature—a process of natural behavior with evolutionary explanations—than sociological.  Culture, society and personality can appear to be separate and above the Earth ecosystem.  And yet, they exist as expressions of larger ecological themes of land use, resource production and consumption, and reproduction.  In a very real way, the human species continues to be an agent of the grasses, deforesting the Earth, maximizing seed production of grass species, and favoring temperate and structural characteristics of grasslands in the built environment. 

Seemingly domestic and artificial, the function of a city is essentially as a natural, ecological process—specifically, to adapt a global population of billions to the larger Earth ecosystem.  If it doesn’t appear to be adaptive, it is because human emergence is still very new in the history of the Earth and very wild rather than tame and domestic.  Global ecological decimation is not due to global urbanization per se, but rather is both a consequence of the rapid rate of urbanization that cannot yet keep up with its infrastructure and, more importantly, a consequence of a once successful exploitive strategy of pioneering that no longer fits in a now-peopled Earth with no vast physical frontiers.

The contemporary process of global urbanization is provoking spontaneous ecologically adaptive features that intentional environmental advocacy has failed to achieve.  The hard grid of the city reflects the longstanding pioneering strategies, while global urbanization is fundamentally a softening of the grid and reflects a drive toward a new residential strategy.  Perhaps the most notable example of relatively new adaptive features is a reduction in the rate of population growth that might result in a global population at the end of the century that is less than the current global population. 

Overall, there is a new emerging sense that cities come into being as natural and adaptive responses; that they an ongoing development in the evolution of the Earth rather than a separate event that is an intrusion in the larger Earth ecosystem, and that urbanization is an adaptive ecological process that is transforming more exploitive strategies.  Migration that is now toward cities rather than outward to exploit unsettled landscapes reflects spontaneous, intuitive efforts by people toward fittedness with the larger Earth ecosystem.  In a now peopled Earth with no vast physical frontiers, global urbanization reflects a transformative shift from an exploitive pioneering strategy to a strategy of residency that requires integration into the larger Earth ecosystem for sustainability.  The provocation for this change is not driven by a nostalgic desire “to return to the Earth.”  It is an issue of survival, and practical and economic.  And the evidence for this transformation is coming from our most rational measures of population and environmental degradation that begin to describe adaptive features resulting from increasing urbanization.  The implications of this new view suggest that given the intensity of environmental dilemmas that have risen to global issues of public health, it is critical to “get on board” to optimize these adaptive features in our environmental advocacy and legislation rather than try to erroneously treat the city as the poster child for the environmental enemy.  That which appears to be the environmental problem is, in fact, an ecological opportunity.

What cities will become is unknowable.  They are extremely young in the history of the Earth.  As natural processes, the city-form/urbanization is not completely controllable or intentionally designable.  The essence of a city is softness rather than its hard grid.  Dynamically, the city-form is natural and intuitive, and ultimately is more patterned randomness, but structured more like chaos theory than chaotic. 
[overview of longer article of same name]


See Grimm, Nancy B. et al.  “Global change and the ecology of cities,” Science, 319, Number 5864, (8 Feb 2008), pp. 756-760:
Urban areas as hot spots that drive environmental change at multiple scales;
            Urban areas integrate natural and social sciences.

See Ash, Caroline, et al. “Reimagining cities,” Science, 319, Number 5864, (Feb 2008), p739:
            ½ world’s 6.6 billion people now live in cities;
            By 2030: 5 billion people in cities;
            Responsible for 75% energy consumption/ 80% greenhouse gas emissions;
            Positive: closer proximity to health;
            Negative: burgeoning urban slums [but compare with rural poverty];
            Pos/Neg: “sprawl” is also “resilient pattern.”
Future: urban areas produce own crops/ hybrid cars/ super energy of super-conductors and hydrogen energy;
Overall: a need for radical rethink of our concept of cities and their place in the global environment.

See Adam Kissell [on looking at the work of Brian Mcgrath], “On the origin of cities: Adaptive urbanism,” Australian Design/Review: Architecture and Interiors, 6/7/2009:
                        Approach the city as a dynamic urban ecology:
Urban ecology more than nature outside the city or natural pockets within—a complex system dynamics--and
Cities as “vessels of ecology;”

Design should lead to optimization;
Design beyond a single client—a broader multi-stakeholder;
Design that recirculates;
Design that looks at archaeology or city-thru-time—urban archaeology;
Design analysis that looks at “enclaves”—built and natural environments;
Design that sees “rapid flow”—pedestrian, goods, vehicles and how they flow together;
Design that expands “habitat”—both human and non-human;
Design that identifies “blockages” or impediment of flow; and
Design that looks at Darwin as well as Le Corbusier.

After “adaptive reuse” in UrbanOmnibus, some general terms come to mind:
                        Participatory architecture,
                        Reconciliation ecology,
                        Reforesting cities, and
                        Urban “living rooms”

            Odds and Ends:
[Related to reconciliation ecology]: K. L. Evans, et al. “Independent colonization of multiple urban areas by formerly forest specialized bird species,” Proc RSoc, 276, (2009), pp. 2403-2410.

Green Technology: A Student Project

GREEN TECHNOLOGY is exploding.  From the birth of ecology as a social movement perhaps now forty years past, it can seem like we have made a few gains.  But when we begin to explore, we have made far more than a few gains.  Green technology has exploded and is almost beyond our capacity to keep up with the actual and the possible.  Go to the internet and search a term, and we suddenly have a website or blog with many other links, and each of those with many other links promoting the achieved technology or envisioning the possible.  We find that we have many new working applications and myriad ideas to apply.  As will be evident shortly, we have breathable buildings and the capability for vertical urban gardens and on and on, almost ad infinitum.

Developing categories of search words and specific links can get a better handle on what is occurring, and it can be a group student project.  A few possible categories might include: architecture, infrastructure, micro-architecture [house and work environment], transportation, agriculture (related to urbanization), personal, eccentric innovation, and “links.”  A project offers a document for others to use to access information and to begin to increase eco-literacy with an expanding list of terms that relate specifically to green technology.  It may also give focus to students looking for environmental vocations, such as developing “vertical urban gardens” that they may not have considered as a possibility.  And it may offer “seed ideas” that lead students to eventually produce new applications, and to find themselves in a broad community of others.  Very basically, it simply begins to reveal how many projects and ideas are out there.  I offer the following sample that I did a few years past as an example of what is out there, and it was almost endless then.  This sample also offers a simple format to which groups everywhere can add. 


Breathable buildings [search “living city”]
Carbon neutral construction
“Clean” or filter air surrounding buildings rather than only inside buildings
Construction materials: recycling slag in concrete
Daylight panels to regulate heat
Design philosophy:
building for fifty years [Europe] vs. 12 months [USA]; building as naturally organic and so optimizing this dynamic; current buildings produce 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 65% of landfill waste, and consume 70% of electricity produced; city center producing ¼ CO2 of suburb [Lincoln Institute of Land Policy]; Germans using ½ energy of Americans; urban rationalization and modernization orientation threatens local networks; USA 4.6% consume 25% of world resources [, from design e2 DVD]; real sustainability and not just “lipstick” rain gardens or trees as “building parsley.” USA 5% of global pop using 22% of greenhouse gas emissions [32% CO@ due to transportation, 40% CO2 due to construction/ building operation (See Richard Moe on “preservation”)
Grass roofs
Green building standards; plus innovative standards:
e.g., required solar power in Barcelona for 60% of hot water
Green technology as profit vs. extra cost [Battery Park Design]
Integrated buildings, sharing resources
Lighting: motion sensors
Low income design for global projects
Solar panels; solar roofs [Austin Texas panels reducing the equivalent of 200,000 cars];
            Renting roofs for solar [Duke Energy]
Solar, passive
Solar plastics: “powerfilm”
Solar surfaces
Solar Wi-Fi Streetlight:
Solar windows [each producing 80-250 watts: “RSI Solar”]
Steel container rooms: “SG Blocks,” “Quick Build,” *“Greentainer”
Water reuse; groundwater/rainwater reuse; LID; retention


Appliances: efficiency; solar; turn off “sleeping” electronics; “energy star” heating and
cooling efficiency
Faucet heads, weather stripping, wrapping water heater, refrig. temperature, water temperature, etc.
Gardening: windows, “victory gardens,” micro greens,
Insulation: attic, insulated drapes
Lawn: landscape for wildlife certification; passive paths, cluster gardens, rain gardens;
Paint, eco
Paper: use recycled paper; copy both sides of paper; mugs vs. paper cups;
Paperless office
Printing: “Ecofont”—20% less ink
Passive solar
Passive house: air tight/ passive solar gain, people, electric heat
Preservation/ reuse: an “embodied energy” (in existing architecture) 65 years for a green,
energy efficient new office building to recover the energy lost form demolishing an existing building [Richard Moe, president, National Trust for Historic Preservation; in Christopher Hawthorne, “Green to the people, Low income housing and sustainable architectural materials” []; 35-50 years for new energy efficiency of home to recover the carbon expended during construction: Richard Moe, “Preserving building helps preserve the planet.” Planetizen []
Rainwater collection
Radiant heating
Recycled furniture
Solar roof tiles: “Solar PV”;  Sole Power
Sugarcane charcoal [save trees]:
Toilets: efficiency


Bike pedal charger [e.g., cell phone from empty to full in 90 mins]
Bike trail systems
Bike sharing: Paris “Velib”; Washington “SmartBike”: Barcelona
Car sharing: Washington D.C.
Electric motorcycles: “Enertia” and “Empulse” [faster] at
Free bus passes for public/corporate employees [Des Moines, public]
Hybrid vehicles
Hydrogen fuel
Hydrogen fueled bus
Light rail systems [Denver, by sales tax of 4 cents (?) per $10]
No idling policy for public vehicles
Priority parking for hybrids
Roads, energy generating[ Innowatted (Israel)]
Smart cars: e.g., Zenn [25-35 mp charge]; Fortwo,
Walking:  50% of all trips are less than three miles; 28% less than one mile

AGRICULTURE [related to urban]

Environmentally-friendly landscape design [David McDonald, Seattle]
 “Landscape ecology” [Harvard U Grad School of Design]
Lawn revision: till to absorb rain, “rain garden” of native flora, National Wildlife
Federation—certified wildlife habitat yard; 50,000 nationally
Food scrap recycling for free compost
Genetically-Altered Species:  More food: crops, salmon doubled in size; Less pollution: enviropigs—manure that doesn’t pollute as much, cattle that don’t produce methane in their flatulence; pharmaceuticals:  bananas and other plants producing vaccines [Genetically-engineered plants in 2 billion acres in 20+ countries
Micro greens [The Cook’s Garden; Thompson &Morgan Seedsman]
Organic farm/ truck farm network
Park planting of native/drought-resistant plants
Passive green space; GPR “green plot ratio”: tree 6, bush 3, grass 1
“Pockets of nature”: alleys, railroad tracks, sewage lagoons, neighborhood creeks, field edges
Rain garden in parks
Reconciliation ecology
Rural: 50 foot corridor from water; hedgerow vs. fence; “wildlife highways” [Montana];
Holistic grazing management [foraging]; Conservation Reserve Program; cellulosic vs, grain ethanol, “sinking carbon; promotion of small wind turbines on farms; Aldo Leopold Center For Sustainable Agriculture
Tree planting goals
Urban farm/ urban garden: Will Allen, Growing Power
Vegitated architecture: to mitigate urban “heat islands”
Vertical garden
 Vertical farm
Wetland oasis vs. Mitigation “trade off”
            Environmental Law Insititute/ Sustainable Use of Land Program


Biodegradable products, policies to encourage use
certified green architects/ green realtors
City pools requiring solar heating
Cold water form deep lakes for air conditioning [Toronto]
“Complete Street”—seniors/disabled/transit users/pedestrians/cars/bikes/safe school
routes—curb on one side, landscaped median on the other with planters and granite seats. (See “pedestrianism.”)
“Eco-footprint” evaluation [Wm. Reese, co-creator of term]
Energy rebates for alternative energy projects/Federal tax incentives
Entrepreneurial “Incubators” for recycled design; investment funds [e.g., E+Co], venture
philanthropy, enterprise development [e.g., “Vision Spring”]
Environmentally-damaged sites: restoration of landfill, brownfields, waterfronts
[Andrew Blum, “the long view” Nov 19, 2008, Metropolis magazine (on james Corner, landscape architect]; Hudson Yards Development Corp;
Four day work week and tele-working policies
Geothermal incentives
Greenhouse gas emission goals [e.g., 10% by 2010,  80% by 2050]
Local Governments For Sustainability software package to inventory a city’s greenhouse gas emissions
Green space requirements [e.g., 48% of subdivision]
“Landfill mining” vs. garbage /”Waste transfer faculties vs. generic landfills
sort recyclables, de-manufacture or “deconstruct” electronics/appliances to reclaim resources vs. demolish, compost organics, capture leachate and methane gas, burning trash for energy
LED bulbs in city lights/stop lights; reduce street light wattage
LID goals [low impact retention of water, “bio-retention”]
Nuclear power
Pay for trash
Pedestrianism: e.g., Jan Gehl, Denmark.
Permeable asphalt parking lot
Prohibiting bottled water
Public sustainability coordinators
Recycled construction materials: glass into sand; asphalt singles and rubber into paths
Retrofitting suburbia: big box stores, malls, corridors [transp., pedestrian, greenspace]
Sales tax exemptions for energy efficient products/installations
Solar panel bulk purchase programs for households/businesses
Voluntary water conservation programs; storm water management [enhance stream
Water recycling goals and incentives
Wind energy goals [Houston 25%, Albuquerque 20%]

PERSONAL cheap water filter
Mighty Light [cheap solar lamp]
One Laptop Per Child Project: affordable computers


Illuminated umbrellas, powered by rain
Weed gardens, veneration of weeds
Watershed educator: outside the box
“Adopt the sky”


Living city
Urban farm
Wildlife highways
Stanford University Institute of Design: “Entrepreneurial Design For Extreme
Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon
Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, Oberlin
School environment lessons
American Institute of Architects Custom Residential Design Committee
www. story of stuff”
reconciliation ecology
adaptive reuse
breathable buildings
landscape ecology
certified green architects
bike sharing/ car sharing
smart cars
solar plastics film
recyclable products
compostable products
www.freecycle [recycle]—“design e2” six-part DVD on infrastructure/building design

SPECIFIC LINKS [that, in turn, have related links]

A Daily Dose of Architecture
All About Cities
Architecture for Humanity
Arch News Now
Brooklyn Modern Center for Architecture
The Business of Green
The Center for Land Use
*City Fix [sustainable urban mobility]
*City of Sound
*Civic Nature
Core 77
Critical Cities
Critical Spatial Practice
Daily Green
Design Observer
Design Sponge
Design That Mattters
The Dirt
Down To Earth
Earth Architecture
Earth 911 [recycling centers]
Earth Island Journal
Eco Fashion World
Eco Street
Eco Worldly
Environment 360
Green For All
Green Daily
Great Green Goods
Green Line
The Green Loop [clothes]
Green Options
Green Patriot
The Green Room
Green Tech Forum
The Huffington Post
Kids Against Pollution
*Landscape + Urbanism
Life Without Buildings
Live Earth
Living Cities
The Next American City
Next Billion [sustainable business models]
OSI Baltimore
Population Counts
Putting People First
Resilience Science
The Sphere
Sundown Channe: The Green
Sustainable Design
Sustainable South Bronx
U.S. Green Building Council
UNEP [United Nations Environment Program]
The Urban Land Institute
Urban Palimpsest
Web Urbanist
Wikia Green
Wiser Earth
WRI [World Resource Institute]
Yahoo! Green
Yale Global Online

Friday, January 21, 2011

Reconciliation Ecology

Ironically, TV shows on nature that aspire to deepen our appreciation of nature can also distance nature from us, describing nature as apart and focusing on remote unsettled landscapes.  Reconciliation ecology is a rather new concept in our still birthing eco-literacy, involving “sharing our habitats with other species.”  Rather than separating human and nonhuman to optimize other species, this concept suggests that settled  landscapes, as well as unsettled landscapes, can contribute to the optimization of other species.   The following is an excerpt from a manuscript entitled The Living City: The Adaptive Features Of Urban Ecology:

Enhancing Nonhuman Urban Life

THE CITY CAN ASPIRE to become an oasis of life, both human and nonhuman, rather than aspire to be either less intrusive or more accommodating to nonhuman urban life.  And an authentic urban oasis would not be isolated like an island or fortress or oasis of human life.  Even if separation was desired, it is not possible, nor would it be optimal.  Optimal human life is integrated within the larger Earth ecosystem that provides quality resources at next to no cost, such as recycling and air and water and soil quality that are beyond our capability to either fund or design. 
Design for the “living city” emphasizes the human need for immersion in the larger Earth community.  Rather than only aspiring to enhance the unsettled landscape beyond the city, an integral design element to integrate the city into the larger Earth community involves enhancing nonhuman life within the city. 
A beginning example that provides insights for optimizing nonhuman urban life in this direction has been described in reconciliation ecology.[i]  In Win-Win Ecology, Michael Rosenberg describes reconciliation ecology as the intentional effort of “sharing our habitats with other species.”  Reconciliation ecology aspires to biologically enhance the areas of land that we use in a way that is positive, practical and backed by science.  Rosenberg writes, “Reconciliation ecology is the science of inventing, establishing and maintaining new habitats to conserve species diversity in places where people live, work or play.”[ii] 
Reconciliation ecology challenges the traditional approach to culture and nature as opposites, and aspires to focus on the settled land and land in production to support human and nonhuman species.  It is not a replacement for setting aside nonhuman habitat, but rather is a compliment where, heretofore, a “reconciliation” approach has been largely proscribed as either impossible or as intrusive interference that “artificially” imbalances a natural process.  Human imbalancing of natural landscapes is seen as obviously present not only in the city but also globally, and it is the thing to be confronted wherever it occurs.  There is this odd presumption that the influence of human activity could be stopped when it never has been, with dramatic intrusion occurring since the Stone Age. 
While it does not inherently do so, reconciliation ecology can challenge the presumption that we should not interfere with “wild” life, by encouraging nonhuman species in the urban environment—an activity that is presumed to ultimately degrade the quality of the overall Earth ecosystem.  It is argued that human activity should be restricted because it is intrusive, but the most benign act of conservation is intrusive.  While some urban projects have been described, reconciliation efforts have typically involved non-urban inhabited landscapes and/or land-in-production.  It would be rather new to suggest that as we “reinvent” cities to be more livable and sustainable for human habitation, we can also reinvent more livable and sustainable nonhuman urban habitat.
Rosenberg has challenged traditional conservation as “reservation ecology” that aspires to preserve but manages or controls efforts in small areas.  This “reservation” emphasis may limit the reach of environmental efforts.  He offers examples where conservation accelerated destruction while land in production increased wildlife success.  Conservation efforts in general are criticized as “restoration ecology” that control rather than preserve nature.  Choices are made, especially with regard to the devaluing and eradication of “exotic” species. 
These invasive rather than indigenous species express a natural process of succession that has positive functions such as seed dispersion and “nursing” depleted and disturbed land, as well as continuing to control exotics that rapidly overwhelm indigenous species.  This approach to exotic species doe not mean that no effort should be made to manage species that are completely overwhelming established species.  It is more of a recognition that we need to consider that we are managing rather than trusting wildness and imposing a value.  For example, red cedar is treated as negative exotic in a prairie ecosystem when it is a natural successor.  It is derided primarily because the prairie ecosystem has been reduced to remnants that are trying to be “preserved” from succession since they are no longer sustained naturally by fire.
While it is oriented toward preserving biodiversity, reconciliation ecology has been criticized as being “resignation ecology” that diverts attention from the tropical landscapes by suggesting that it can enhance biodiversity.[iii]   It is correctly argued that most of the world’s biotic diversity is located in tropical landscapes that are being rapidly depleted because these areas are also destabilized by human poverty and conflict that lead to both human and nonhuman exploitation.  However, criticism that writes off a focus on the city might also be criticized as a form of “resignation ecology” by giving up on the city and having done this for a long time rather than encourage natural process in the city.  Often, the traditional efforts to preserve unsettled habitat have been so adversarial as to be open to criticism for contributing to the demise unsettled landscapes.
  Reconciliation ecology can be explored as a vision that can add to global diversity rather than be an approach that diverts attention from the diversity being lost in tropical landscapes.  Urban reconciliation would not aspire to replace tropical landscapes, and it would increase a public support for the protection of tropical landscapes by increasing value for biodiversity in the centers of human activity that direct efforts toward unsettled landscapes, and that are essential to engage in moving toward a reconciled planet. 
Reconciliation ecology would demonstrate that the  “natural world” extends into the city.  This would enhance public perception of cities as inside nature.  And this expanded sense of human identity including nature would, in turn, enhance efforts in “far off” ecosystems.  It offers a planning directive for areas of human habitation to attend to the nonhuman landscape in those areas rather than continue to write them off.  Specifically, it would address at the biotic vitality of landscapes that have been written off as artificial and devoid of nonhuman life.  Urbanization frequently occurs in rich biotic habitat such as coasts and rivers and forests and fertile grasslands.
Human settlement in general, and in its most concentrated form in urban habitat, has been demonstrated as being capable of amplifying biomass and species diversity.  In some transitions from settled communities to unsettled communities, species diversity has been discovered to decrease.  Species are increasingly attracted to the city as habitat.  In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold lamented the disconnection between modern life and nature, noting that the call of geese was no longer heard in modern life.[iv]  Now, geese reside in cities.  Often now, these geese are the offspring of somewhat domesticated species that were reintroduced, and the criticism is offered that they remain near civilization because they have lost the migrating instinct.  While bird populations may be below average in urban areas, one in four urban areas may have more birds than rural areas.  Regardless of the size of nonhuman populations in cities, all nonhuman urban biota is quantitatively greater than the human population.
There has been increasing emphasis in wildlife ecology upon trying to enhance the connections of ecosystems.  Railway lines, streams and to some extent roadways offer the first point of entry into networks that link urban “patches” both internally and externally.[v]  Looking regionally, the concept of the “meta community” places emphasis upon identifying overriding network or “meta community” that is comprised of “patches” of unsettled landscapes that are connected by dispersal patterns.  The most important value for identifying meta-communities is the support for development of unsettled corridors and, more importantly, overcome the limits of focusing on trying to maintain “islands” of communities or ecosystems.[vi]  But acknowledging meta-communities reinforces the need to include increasingly prevalent urban ecosystems as an inescapable dimension of meta-communities.  Regional hydrology and nutrient systems, for example, are not divided into mutually exclusive urban and uninhabited landscapes.  As we increasingly address urban ecology as including both human and nonhuman events as natural, this orientation toward looking at meta-communities that is currently applied primarily to uninhabited landscapes ultimately applies to settled communities.  There are “human meta communities” termed a megalopolis that is a describable string of blending cities as well as more effusive conurbations that are not finally separable from nonhuman ecosystems that form meta-ecosystems.
In designing for the living city, the focus is upon actively sustaining flora and fauna in urban areas rather than passively allowing it to occur.  Intentional design can encourage enhancement of brownshed and greyshed industrial parks, as well as note the presence of biota in these landscapes rather than envisioning them only as wastelands.  There are overlooked pocket habitats, urban forests, vacant lots, cemeteries, shopping malls, canals, creeks, roadsides, underground drainage systems, railway lines, relatively new features such as bike paths, myriad ecotones or transitional spaces between ecosystems such as a woodland edge and lawn or street.  And this list of overlooked urban pocket habitats is just sample of what we will identify as our ecological literacy increases.  The urban landscape is not streamlined, but rather consists of a general “patchiness” that can promote diversity by offering different eco-niches and that can be enhanced for “mutually beneficial relationships”[vii] between human and nonhuman life.
Often the species inhabiting brownsheds are disparagingly termed “weeds,” and they occur there because they capitalize on soil disturbance.  “Disturbance” is a feature of urban ecology, not only in land disturbance but also in the rapidity of human activity.  Unintended support for nonhuman life is another feature of urbanization, for example, in protection from predation for some species as well as the availability of unintentional and intentional nutrients (e.g., bird feeding).  Migratory stops that occur within or near cities (due to urban develop along natural corridors such as streams and in woodlands) can be intentionally enhanced through land protection and nutrients.  The possibilities for support are numerous.  For example, uninhabited structures can be built as shelters for bats, owls, small mammals, birds, and reptiles and amphibians.
There is a traditional orientation that it is wrong to interfere with nonhuman populations discourage actions such as feeding the birds in cities.  This orientation can be critical of having dogs and cats because of their domestication, even though these species have been in close association throughout human development, and even owe their rapid emergence as species from this relationship.  The major concern is in interfering in a natural process that we do not understand and thereby possibly contributing to its decline by interfering with the struggle for survival that enhances a species ability to adapt.  This orientation reflects our sense of the city as artificial and discourages making nonhuman life dependent on something artificial.  And yet our conservation and preservation efforts are interference.  We describe non-interference in unsettled landscapes as preservation, when it really is management.  We artificially encourage nesting and set aside crops for population increase, and blood sport for population control.  And we tend to manage “untouched” landscapes more severely when they are reduced to remnants, and sometimes as a nostalgic response to maintain a landscape that we do not wish to see change.  The argument for non-interference reflects an important ecological effort to sustain threatened species.  But non-interference is a strategy on a continuum rather than an either-or choice to be made.  We have the ability to distinguish between the ecological values, for example, of choosing to either increase urban wetland or to feed corn to deer in urban areas.  And this eco-literacy with regard to urban ecology will continue to improve if we make it a priority.  Urban space can become an intentional ecologically enhanced oasis rather than a wasteland, and has the potential to amplify species and integrate within a larger meta-community of ecosystems.
Reconciliation efforts in settled landscapes aspire to complement traditional emphases upon efforts to protect unsettled landscapes rather than aspire to replace them.  The traditional emphasis upon the unsettled landscape beyond the city is to be encouraged because of the deep economic value to the city and to the larger Earth ecosystem.  Especially important, increasing urbanization stands to support rewilding landscapes that we no longer inhabit.  This new uninhabited land may also promote the development of corridors connecting uninhabited spaces.  We can continue “reservation ecology” in uninhabited “preserves” and “restoration ecology” and “resignation ecology” in inhabited landscapes as diversity of response or as a continuum rather than needing to choose one and prohibit the other. 
Finally, the notion of “reconciliation” challenges the predominant concept that we are separate from nature.  Reconciliation ecology expresses an authentic, enduring aspiration that reflects a drive or as Edward O. Wilson writes, an “…urge to affiliate with other forms of life…biophilia,”[viii] that also extends to events such as stone, water, and cosmos.  While human influence is global, well more than half of the Earth remains predominantly a “natural technology” that we can enhance in the areas where human technologies are dominant.  All of the “technologies” of biota can then consistently address the fundamental conditions of existence.

[i] Michael Rosenberg, Win-Win Ecology: How Earth’s Species Can Survive in the Midst of Human Enterprise. Oxford University Press, 2003.
[ii] Michael Rosenberg, [].
[iii] find critique of reconciliation ecology as “resignation ecology” by Robert Holt, “Reconciliation ecology, or resignation ecology? The challenge of living with nature,” Ecology, 85 (7), pp. 2056-2057, July, 2004 []
[iv] Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, And Sketches Here and There. London: Oxford University Press, 1968 (1949), p. 18.
[v] Marina Alberti, Advances in Urban Ecology: Integrating Human and Ecological Processes in Urban Ecosystems. New York: Springer, 2008.
[vi] Marcel Holyoak, Matthew Leibold, and Robert Holt, Metacommunities: Spatial Dynamics and Ecological Communities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.
[vii] O.L Gilbert, The Ecology of Urban Habitats. London; New York: Chapman and Hall, 1989.
[viii] Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1984.

A Gate Opens Where There Had Appeared To Be A Wall

Some “outrageous” statements to be explored in more detail in this blog:

·      Appearing to be the antithesis of nature, the city is at the vanguard of nature in the post-modern era.

·      Appearing to be at the vanguard of the decimation of the Earth, urbanization is perhaps at the vanguard of the recovery of the Earth ecosystem.

·      Appearing to be artificial, the city is a dynamic form of ecological adaptation—from a vision of intrusion to inclusion in the larger Earth ecosystem.  Urbanization as ecological adaptation rather than cultural separation from nature.

·      The city is perhaps too wild and too young in the history of the Earth rather than too tame, domestic, or artificial.

·      The city offers a way forward to a sustainable future and is not the barrier.

·      Global urbanization offers an opportunity rather than a deficit to overcome.

·      Paradoxically, the “peopling of the Earth” steps toward nature rather than away from nature.

·      The city-form comes into existence as an expression of the ongoing evolution of the Earth ecosystem rather than as an intrusion/aberration.

·      The dense urban city-form can be more environmentally efficient than other forms of human settlement for the vast contemporary global population.

·      Urbanization has become the predominant force in reducing the rate of population growth.

·      Domestication that integrates is an expression of constructive wildness.

·      The adaptability of the post-modern city has already begun and does not have to be invented, and can be enhanced.

·      Successful post-modern urban planning joins and enhances an inherent urban adaptation rather than aspires to invent it.

·      Optimal urban design prioritizes an ecological orientation toward city [as natural and wild] rather than an “environmental sensitive” technological orientation.

·      Global urbanization is just beginning to drive a dramatic renaissance in our understanding of human nature that reveals all human life—just as-it-is—to be an expression of the Earth.

The City Is Ecological, Not Artificial

Around 2000 A.D., cities became the predominant global human habitat, and this process is anticipated to dramatically increase, especially in developing nations.  By 2030, global urbanization is anticipated to become the habitat for 60% of the global human population, and increase to 70% by 2050.   Simultaneously, the global human population is anticipated to increase from the present 6.4 billion people to an estimated 8.1 billion by 2030.

Perhaps the most dramatic consequence of this transformation will involve an ongoing degradation of the Earth ecosystem.  Because of the intensity of impact, the relationship between population, urbanization and the environment will likely be the primary issue of the 21st Century.  If all cities aspire to consume resources at the current rate of cities in developed nations, both human and nonhuman life are threatened with sustainability.  For example, to continue to sustain the levels of consumption of a city such as London is estimated to require an area of productive land and aquatic ecosystems to produce resources and absorb wastes that is equivalent to the entire productive land in the United Kingdom.  The population of the United States that comprises close to 5% of global population comprises 25% of world’s consumption of resources.  If the current global population was to consume resources at the rate of the North American population, it might require the equivalent of two additional planet Earths to accommodate the ecological load.

However, the environmental problem that is provoked by global urbanization may mask the beginning of an environmental opportunity.  Appearing to be at the vanguard of global destruction, urbanization may come to be understood as being at the vanguard of the recovery of the Earth ecosystem.  While expanding population and urbanization clearly will continue to have a harsh demand upon the Earth ecosystem, urbanization offers significant new adaptive environmental features. Approaching the city as an artificial imposition on nature emphasizes the deficits of the city and offers no escape forward with the city-form.  However, approaching the city as a natural event reveals positive or functional aspects of urbanization both to the human and non-human.  We are very good at noting problems but have a much more limited vocabulary to describe wellness or health, and this is especially true with regard to post-industrial life and nature. 

While attention to the adaptive features of urban ecology will expand the number of features, there are at least seven adaptive features that are the result of global urbanization, including
·      reducing the rate of population growth that environmental activism had failed to do  (It is even possible to imagine that by the end of the century, the global human population will be less than it is currently.);
·      freeing up landscape by increasing population density which opens an opportunity to rewild once-inhabited landscape;
·      becoming environmentally kinder to the planet in terms of the use of resources when compared to other human habitation as a model for the global human population of billions;
·      providing an “ark” for global human life and nonhuman life by increasing the opportunity for public health and life expectancy, and by enhancing nonhuman habitat within human settlements through reconciliation ecology;
·      driving a shift from a longstanding strategy of pioneering exploitation to a strategy of residency that aspires to integrate with the larger Earth ecosystem that pressures the city to “soften” as it shifts from a commercial center to become a habitat;
·      driving an ecologically centered economy to replace a longstanding industrial economy and that can produce rather than only consume resources;
·      becoming the primary support for environmentalism rather than its opponent, as environmentalism broadens from special interest advocacy in behalf of unsettled landscapes to become an apolitical public health interest; and
·      nurturing innovation.  Urbanization concentrates and encourages technical and cultural innovation.  While innovation can appear to be an exclusive cultural process, it is an expression of diversity within the human species.  Urbanization fosters specialization [diversity] and freedom from convention.   Innovation can be an environmental problem when it only serves anthropocentric interests, but it is available to serve any interest and can be crucial in shifting to an ecological care-centered economy.  Innovation can come both in the form of material diversity that can promote alternative technology as well as ecologically-friendly intentional entrepreneurial projects and “outsider” subgroup efforts to “soften” the hard urban grid.  Innovation can challenge the lag caused by traditional regulations and cultural priorities.

Perhaps the most remarkable illustration of adaptive features is the association between increasing urbanization and a decreasing rate of population growth.  Due largely to the support that urbanization offers migrants to cities, the increasing rate of global urbanization has decreased the rate of population growth from its explosive peak rate in 1963-64 of 2.2% to the current overall rate of 1.14%.  This current rate is anticipated to decrease to .91% by 2020 and to .46 by 2050.  This offers a remarkable opportunity for the global population to plateau at 8.4 after 2030 rather than to increase to a population of 10 or 11 billion persons by the next century, with a guarded probability that the global population may be lower at the end of the century than it was at 2001.  Already, one-third of the nations of the world are at a 2.1 replacement level, with some developed nations having populations that are anticipated to decline by as much as thirty percent by 2050.

The increasing reversal in global human migration is now toward the city rather than outward toward the unsettled landscape.  A now peopled Earth with no remaining vast physical frontiers is reversing a pioneering strategy of extracting resources and over-production in favor of a strategy of residency that favors integration with the larger Earth ecosystem.  An enduring naturally adaptive process of inhabitants’ “softening” of the hard urban grid that is the unpredictable heart of any city is increased as tenants shift to residents. 

Like a falling domino, one adaptation can drive other related adaptations that can be optimized as they come into awareness.  Efficient use of resources can unintentionally increase as population density increases.  Remarkably, the “peopling of the Earth” is being offset with perhaps half of the global population residing in less than three percent of the inhabited land area.  This increases the opportunity to rewild once-settled landscapes and to connect rewilded and unsettled ecosystems by developing corridors, and drive a supportive process of “reconciliation ecology” that enhances nonhuman processes even within cities.

Beyond these seven adaptive features, the post-modern city-form offers additional adaptive features yet to be discovered.  For example, there is a new overall perspective of human nature as an ongoing expression of the Earth.  This has application by encouraging integration with the larger Earth ecosystem for optimal health rather than separation from nature.  While appearing to be exclusively cultural, urban migration itself, the explosion of green technology, and even the globalization of electronic communication may express a natural adaptive process where technology serves nature more than rises above it.

Adaptive features can come directly out of urban environmental dilemmas.  Perhaps the most surprising feature is the new vision of environmental needs as economic opportunities rather than costs.  First, urban “waste” becomes “nutrient-rich,” with the city capable of becoming a producer rather than only a consumer of resources.  And even more important, the primary economic way forward is anticipated to shift from an industrial economy to an environmentally centered economy that is being built from innovations in green technology and services.

The peopling of the Earth, increasing global urbanization and environmental pressures have created a threshold where we cross over from a misperception of increasing isolation from nature to a perception of deep inclusion.  The city can be explored a “living” ecosystem that is ecologically adaptive and that can be enhanced.  Rather than the city as an intrusion into nature, it may be an ecological adaptation to sustain a population of billions. 

Environmentalism is shifting from being an adversarial advocacy in behalf of nonhuman landscapes to become an all-inclusive global public health strategy.  Attention shifts from excising what is wrong to optimizing what is not wrong.  Nature is enfolded into the city rather than distanced.  And rather than a backward step, it offers us an escape forward and centralizes the high-end strategies of usufruct—an economy of use without damaging the base—and obeisance—respect and reverence—to replace our simony, our selling of the ground of our being that is ultimately not just survival but also our optimal life.