Friday, February 25, 2011
DAZZLED BY VERY real achievements of material technology, design has the problem of succumbing to a focus on parts. It is not unlike the fable of erroneously describing the elephant and misunderstanding it by focusing on its parts and never looking for the whole. And in an ecological context, “looking for the whole” when looking at the city requires looking even further than the fable goes, to include the city’s integration with other events beyond it that shape it. For example, new concepts such as the “ecological footprint” dramatically demonstrate urbanization’s huge consumption of external resources that threaten the internal urban landscape by diminishing the external landscape.
Recently, there has been a constructive shift in urban environmental concerns, moving from “livability” to “sustainability” due specifically to degrading environmental feedback that is global in scale and compromising global public human health. With sustainability in mind, environmental quality has become a more visible priority. “Sustainability” implies a growing concern that environmental dilemmas not only limit the quality of life but also have become a threat if resources are not available.
Positively, sustainability fits with the crucial shift that is occurring in cities, that of migration toward the city as a place of residency. Sustainability is a natural concern of residents rather than pioneers. Negatively, sustainability does not envision the city itself as ecologically adaptive. “Sustainability” continues to be viewed as an essential environmental action, but it is envisioned as limiting human development due to costs of retrofitting infrastructure. “Sustainability” in urban design is nearly synonymous with green technology. In the intentional eco-vill, sustainability is viewed differently than in traditional urban planning and design. There, traditional and alternative technology offer important adaptations, but they are secondary to a large objective, that of thriving in an organic habitat.
Positively, sustainability challenges the city to be environmentally sensitive, but it does not challenge the city to be “living,” only less damaging. Sensitivity to the environment identifies the environment as separate, rather than including human life and seeing human life as a natural expression of the Earth ecosystem as in a view of the city as ecological. Excising the “disease of excess use” without a larger goal of thriving as a living system may lead to a redirection of consumption and often to increased consumption rather than reduced consumption. In the name of sustainability, for example, “green” architectures are promoted as more energy-efficient but that still use more energy because they are often larger structures.
As a major beginning point, thriving focuses on optimizing health while sustainability tends to focus on the problem. We are good at identifying problems but we are very poor when it comes to identifying health. We become so focused on problems that there is always the danger of seeing everything as a problem. We do this with cities and miss their health—their adaptability—that offers us an opportunity. We presume health to be the absence of problems when this is not the case. We tend to settle for surviving and compensating and define this as “sustaining.” But there is no real optimal future in this approach. Events can sustain for a time on life support, but not thrive and be healthy and endure.
Design for the living city needs to shift dramatically to reach beyond traditional problem solving if it is to move from being environmentally sensitive to be authentically ecological. While design and planning can be beneficial in any human settlement, thriving cannot be designed because design can never account for all the variables, and may overlook important ones by focusing on a problem such as increasing energy efficiency. In the uncertain context of any contemporary “conurbation,” aspiring to solve problems presumes a degree of certainty that is both not present and not the way that a city-form ultimately develops. Such design misses the inherent forces that have contrived the city and continue to design it in response to the changing conditions of existence.
Contemporary urban design tends to be problem solving or “solution-based.” Design for thriving is design for uncertainty because it aspires to create options rather than solve a problem. Designing-for-thriving tends to begin by “un-designing” or by exploring what we overlook. Shifting from problems to opportunities requires a shift to explore existing inherent health and to then enhance it. For example, to create satisfying housing in global urbanism, we might end up doing something radically different than creating comprehensive human-scale communities if we were to first explore what is happening in urban living that seems satisfying to inhabitants.
Thriving aspires to exceed rather than reduce, to increase our options. It aspires to look at the city from different and/or broader perspectives. Thriving requires expansive thinking “out of the box—“thinking like a mountain” [i]—or in a “new key” to overcome the way that we overlook or even proscribe experiences that are not yet reflected in language[ii] to optimize perception. Thriving is a natural perceptual orientation as conditions of living change and inhabitants look to new ways of adapting. Degrading global environmental feedback begins to draw attention to creatural dimensions of human life. And it is primarily occurring without intentional design or in spite of urban design.
We aspire to see a species such as eagle thrive rather than just survive or sustain as a species, or else the eagle really wouldn’t be fully alive. We would not design a landscape for an eagle. We would see what the eagle chooses and then try to optimize “an ecology of thriving.” Were we to design an optimal landscape for urban inhabitants, we would begin by trying to describe an inherent urban health and develop literacy with regard to the components of a healthy city. We would explore optimal, satisfying human activity patterns that are already operant that soften the grid as well as reframe the city as the living system rather than as a machine to see what this perspective might reveal.
Wildness in any species is focused on survivability rather than livability or sustainability. And “survivability” really involves a focus on subtle thriving and optimizing rather than maintenance of the status quo. Thoreau’s “Wildness is the preservation of the World” remains the prime directive for any species, and preservation is fundamentally a process of keeping alert to change, and an emphasis upon a strategy of integration rather than a strategy of exclusion/separation or a strategy that aspires to achieve permanent stasis.
A major problem with the term “sustainability” is the problem that nothing really sustains. That which predictably sustains across the long run of events is change. Events are always in a process of succession in any landscape whether it is built or not. In For the Time Being, Annie Dillard writes,
New York City’s street level rises every century. The rate at which dirt buries us varies. The Mexico City in which Cortez walked is now thirty feet underground. It would be farther underground except Mexico City itself has started sinking. Digging a subway line, workers found a temple. Debris lifts land an average 4.7 feet per century….
Scratching under a suburb of St. Louis, archaeologists recently found thirteen settlements, one on top of the other, some of which lasted longer than St. Louis has. [iii]
If the city is organic and not mechanical, an authentic sustainability in the city can be different from sustainability in a rainforest or desert, but not an opposite. Like “designing for a rainforest,” urban design should not be “easy.” The city, like the rainforest, is multi-influenced and a complex process of succession. Interesting, urban designers might visit designed rainforest environments in zoos to develop an appreciation of the difficulty of intentional design and its failure in those attempts. In such zoo environments, most species are contained in small enclosures hidden by the design of a vast open ceiling, leading visitors on pathways through elaborate unwalled cages. The rainforest design is primarily a display rather than anything approaching even a meager sustainable ecosystem.
In a discussion of the dynamics of the city, such accretions of human culture as described by Annie Dillard might be suggested as evidence that culture is both well developed and sustainable by building on top of the existing human habitation, and so deep in time so as to have become primarily cultural and no longer natural. What tends to be missed is the enduring dynamic of change as the key design element, as well as human accommodation to the change rather than an unchanging human settlement through time.
[i] For example, Aldo Leopold, “Thinking like a mountain,” A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There. New York: Oxford University Press, 1949, pp. 129-132 .
[ii] Susan Langer, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957 [1942).
[iii] Annie Dillard, For the Time Being, pp. 123 and 124 respectively.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The urban landscape offers a listening point for a new naturalist—an urbanologist—where heretofore there was a hard inorganic wall.
IN MODERN LIFE, we have two cities in each city—the one we perceive based on our beliefs and the one in which we might dwell. We have the separable city that we believe in, and we have the ecological habitat in which we concretely live. It is remarkable that we find it difficult to envision the city as an ecological event. Our illusion of “two cities” is like the Zen admonition stating that we see two moons, with our image of the moon veiling the living moon. Immersed within an oceanus of nature, we have become astonishingly capable of believing that we look out at nature.
To authentically design especially in the face of global environmental dilemmas, we need to see where we are before taking a step. As we did not imagine air as a substance until very recently, we need to look at the city “impossibly,” to encounter what is it that we proscribe from our awareness. As Thoreau did on Mt. Katahdin when he came to the realization that human life was “not the highest thing in nature, but merely one—admittedly important—part of it,”[i] we are beginning to ask, “Where am I at?” Then a gate begins to open that produces a renascent leap in human development.
Imagining post-industrial life as continuing to be an expression of the ongoing development of the Earth can seem to be the epitome of Romanticism. It can also be criticized as a dangerous white-washing of the ecological destruction to fragile unsettled ecosystems that are in need of our attention and protection. And yet, the absence of identity with the larger Earth ecosystem might perpetuate and even accelerate human activity that is destructive to both the unsettled landscape and public health. In the face of very real scientific measures, maintaining a vision of post-industrial life as apart from nature may be the epitome of Romanticism.
To shift from what we believe to that which is, we need to enter the dynamics of the the city. What we need to do is be curious, and wonder about, and listen for grace in the city instead of approach it as a known and over-old phenomenon. We find wildness, for example, in a river because we go looking for it there and anticipate its presence there. Whether we resist it or not, our still-young experience of ecology has begun to tatter the veil we hold before the city. When we begin to approach the city as we might approach a river, we begin to approach the city as if it has something fresh to offer us rather than as something completely known. In the city, we stand to discover natural process at its core in a way that is not unlike our revision of unsettled landscapes from inactive wastelands to creative ecosystems.
We might approach the city as we now approach a field of wild grass, creatively and more open-ended and without presumption that we know and understand it. As we have tried to be naturalists in unsettled terrains, we might go now as new form of naturalist—as an urbanologist, a term that is still open and not restricted to planners or to something that is only cultural or psychosocial. As urbanologists, we might begin to do something new, to include the human life in our subsequent accounts of the “natural history of the city” rather than simply describe the nonhuman events—flora and fauna, climate and geology.
We cannot authentically design for an “eco-city” by attempting to solve a technological puzzle that is in need of our invention. While it is natural and essential to be inventive, the city-form is already an eco-city in its most built form that is alive and responsive. We can realistically go as natural species sapiens, which is to say, as that which we inherently and enduringly are, as “Earth tasters” [Homo, from the Indo-European root of ghom, from ghthm, a reference to Earth, earthling, and sapiens, a derivative of the Indo-European root of sab, a reference to taste].
We have responded environmentally to the city as if it were static and even more negatively as if it was a necropolis—a city of death—when environmental feedback now immediately and persistently presses back on us, saying urban space is habitat, Habitat, HABITAT. In imagining the term “city,” we might begin to associate it with the term “habitat.” In the negative environmental feedback provoked by our consumption, we directly taste our inseparability in a way that we never did in the early industrial city when the world seemed to be an open frontier. Our natural and very curious migration into now-diminishing vast physical frontiers can turn our curiosity toward a new frontier opening all around us. Encountering this new frontier, there are positive adaptive features in urbanization, ranging from general features such as a reduction in the rate of population growth to personal experiences of human activity “softening” the hard infrastructural grid. We would then begin to talk from the vision of continuums of habitats ranging from uninhabited to settled, rather than mutually-exclusive opposites of unsettled habitats and settled non-habitats. Shifting to explore the city-form as a habitat would reveal a richer diversity of non-human urban habitat that would be expanded as well as challenging us to begin to look at human habitation as being on a continuum.
As if entering a river ecosystem or prairie ecosystem, we aspire to explore the inherent, automatic, spontaneous design that is occurring in the city-form. We begin to look for a process that is diversifying and softening urban space, and to consider enhancing this rather than impose a design on the city. And we also explore the adaptations of nonhuman flora and fauna to urban space. In their “Airoots” blog, Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove explore creative ways of beginning to experience the city and uncover automatic design. They describe the “grid” of the city as the master plan and the “gutter” pushing against the lines of the grid. They write of “the primal quality of New York. …It is this quality that seeps through its grid all the time and treats it for what it is—a convenience—not the maker of its identity.”[ii]
Srivastava and Matias describe an approach to “experience” Tokyo--“the largest urban agglomeration” and “also the deepest”—by “diving” into its “depth” that is comprised of population and architectural density, signs, information, culture and history. They describe Tokyo as dense and intense, yet quick and fluid.[iii] They describe a functional process of automatic urban design in Tokyo as a “default model” that occurs globally and that is especially evident in developing countries, and that developed outside the planned center. For example, urban planning in Tokyo developed the city center and provided transportation and water supply beyond the city center where it “defaulted” to local self-reliance.[iv] Along with “diving,” there is the description of the draining of the city that refers to going under the city into the archaeology and topology/geology that is described as “driving” the city.
A growing number of internet “blogospheres” devoted to urbanism and urban architecture explore in a more effusive, naturalist sense of the “edges” or architecture and urbanism. They also aspire to coordinate conferences to revision urbanization, and interface with specific planning and architectural websites or are produced as exploratory websites of academic programs. Whether biased or even inaccurate at times, the critical eye of this new widespread “urbanology” is to be something sought out as we encounter this new global urbanism and aspire to expand our urban eco-literacy.
[i] Robert Richardson, Henry Thoreau: A Life of the Mind. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986, p. 183.
[iv] Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove, “The Tokyo Default Model,” November 17, 2007 [www.airoots.org].
Monday, February 14, 2011
WE HAVE THOUGHT of the city-form as being artificial, or essentially as being a hard, mechanistic form that is above nature and that can invent its own conditions for existence. Therefore, we have presumed that we could design a new “machine” or modify parts of the machine, and that this is what we would do to update the city to optimize it. But the “star-architectural” philosophers and urban planner/thinkers tell us that it is not that simple.
The city is chance-like—a “culture of congestion” suggests architect Rem Koolhaas. We cannot control the effects of our “solutions.” Like all living processes, Constantinos Doxiadis suggests that the city-form is an “entopia,” building from the bottom up to fit with the conditions of the immanent landscape rather than building uniformly from the top down as if external to the local place. It may be illusory to imagine that the city can become be a “perfected ecotopia” designed from the top down.
Appearing almost over-old, the city has barely appeared in the history of the Earth. Further, the majority of its citizens might be living in a community built in the last fifty years. Being this new, the city is both incomparable and incomprehensible in the sense of being completely knowable and predictable or reducible or designable. And beyond being new, the inhabitants do not operate like cogs in a machine, nor is the inflow and outflow of resources uniform, which quickly becomes apparent in applied urban design.
The city is essentially dynamic rather than static, so that what is detailed today is quickly modified by myriad factors. Change continues to happen accidentally as well as from a variety of intentions that are neither uniform nor even competitive. Accordingly, efforts to describe any model for a city are sensed to always fall short, due to the natural complexity of the city. Due to complexity, efforts to describe a prairie or woodland also fall short, but the city amplifies the difficulty of prediction since it is far too young to have the stability of an established climactic, “residential” ecosystem.
While essential, “urban planning and regional planning” are, in a very real way, oxymorons. Restrictions and opportunities and design can be set, but a comprehensive end-goal design cannot be attained. Looking at architectural and planning theory, there is a broadly shared sense of the city’s deep complexity that naturally modifies design across time. This can be both a problem and an opportunity. It is a problem of control, but it is an opportunity to optimize a rich, borad-based spontaneous design process. The absence of uniformity in urban dynamics is also mirrored in professional urban design, where there is argument over the directives to be taken in design objectives and goals.
In testy metaphors, Rem Koolhaas suggests that the city-form is nature out of control. This perhaps implies an opportunity for freedom, but perhaps more of a sense of threat. Looking more explicitly, the “nature” that Koolhaus describes is, paradoxically, an “addictive machine from which there is no escape.” And looking even more closely behind the metaphor, Koolhaus is really to describing the addictive draw of cultural comfort and stimulation rather than an infrastructure or machine. In later writing, Koolhaas has described the unpredictability of a city as being caused by the degradation of once-functional subsystems into “orphaned” subsystems that function without relationship to each other. This has resulted in modern space becoming “junk-space” that has taken on a life of its own with a primary drive to mindlessly expand “like a web without a spider.”
Koolhaas seems to be describing the dominance of the machine that is disconnected, not participatory, and unnatural. It is anarchical and has a sort of freedom but that is ultimately a tomb because it isolates and separates rather than integrates. Life in this junk-space is delusional in the sense of being a landscape where “a TV is a substitute for a window” and where “cyberspace becomes the great outdoors.”[i] The concepts of “urban sprawl” and “megalopolis” and “urban blight” are older terms that wear Koolhaus’ new clothing. They draw attention to what is wrong rather than any sense of health being expressed in these “problems,” as well as divert attention toward “diving” into the vital life of the city-form.
Koolhaas appears to find the chaos in urban life as having become largely dysfunctional. However, Koolhaas does describe a conurbation such as Lagos as something perhaps less modern where the “chaos” is powerful and inspiring and brutal in the positive sense of being perhaps cleansing—more natural and less machine—rather than dysfunctional.[ii] Many urban designers/planners have come to accept the idea of the city-form as still in creation—emergent—rather than being a set structure like a machine. And it is almost a design commandment, as Koolhaas suggests, to first deal with places as they are, rather than operate from a set of identifiable goals that aspire to know what a city is and then design it.
Perhaps more explicitly and more controversial, Koolhaas seems to reach a point in his architectural philosophy that does not identify any inherent process that naturally regulates urbanism either within or outside planning and control that might sustain the future city. Koolhaas stresses not focusing on a big scale intervention because of this lack of pattern.[iii]
In contrast, Andres Duany suggests that we attend to the largeness in urban design. Critical of Koolhaas’ sense of the city as nearly beyond design, Andres Duany considers largeness as a fact of urbanization and one that makes urban planning essential. However, rather than aspire to completely design the city, Duany explores creating “elements” or programs that create personal participation within largeness.[iv] Duany suggests that because of largeness as a dynamic of the city-form, we have not yet transformed quantity into quality. In fact, he suggests the need to also look at an even larger landscape than the vast mega-city and recognize the influences and forces impinging upon the city from beyond the city.
Duany challenges the vision of chaos that Koolhaas describes as illusory. Duany describes interlocking practices of marketing and engineering and codes and financing that are both precise and controlling, and that this control becomes evident when actions deviate from the established practices. And yet, he acknowledges that building codes that can limit design can also stimulate out-of-control spontaneous design.[v] In finding pattern in the city-form, Duany feels that there is a range of activity that is non-professional and that has occurred throughout the ages. And rather than being destructive, he sees it as a dynamic that can make “great places,” but that is typically dismissed as unimportant in design. He feels that this quality is captured professionally by a sense of the New Urbanism orientation where, for example, the street and the front porch of proposed “new towns” are envisioned as capable of promoting “community” rather than being a barrier, as well as effective large public space that promotes a personal affectionate experience of civic pride. While New Urbanism aspires to recover the humane, it has been strongly planned design that fairly large-scale, costly, unsuccessful as a model, and increasingly outdated as a post-industrial model of urban habitation.
In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs writes that the city is complex and not completely knowable and therefore not a simple linear problem for planners. But rather than presume that urban design must repair failure, Jacobs suggests that there is a deep organized complexity in the city-form that is successful, from which we can learn and with which we can work. This challenges a sense that a radical new professional design must be invented.[vi] Interestingly, she emphasizes identifying positive elements rather than focusing primarily on problems, with a particular focus on human-scale as positive and a key focus for urban design, specifically in the form of the interactive “new urbanism” neighborhoods. In looking at the ecological potential of the city, Jacobs suggests that the city of the future will assume the role of producer of resources rather than be only the consumer of resources.[vii] While considering environmental dilemmas, her focus is primarily an architectural emphasis rather than an ecological one.
Looking from the perspective of a “living city,” Ian McHarg pioneered a vision of urbanization as occurring within nature. His design philosophy challenged the popular sense of urbanization as anti-nature. Further, he suggested that design should be primarily design for the nature of the planet and not just for human habitation. Frederick Steiner writes that McHarg “sought means for peacefully inhabiting the planet by greening and healing it.”[viii] McHarg admonished design to utilize Western arts and sciences in a residential form of “ecological determinism”[ix] to challenge the predominant pioneering morphology of economic determinism that he felt aspired “to multiply and subdue” nature.
With environmental dynamics having become public health issues, there been a shift in urban design to prioritize attention to nature in the city. This has taken the form of a discussion of “livable cities” and sustainability. But this change aspires to address environmental degradation without looking at the city as a natural process. Michael Hough argues the “task is one of integrating the concept of urbanism into nature.”[x] In designing cities, Hough writes, “…traditional design values have contributed little to their environmental health, or to their success as civilizing, enriching places to live in.” [xi] Again, we become our words, and Hough suggests that there is “the alienation of urban society from environmental values and cultural connections with the land”[xii] and so in design, “little attention has been paid to understanding the natural processes… .[xiii] This results in the very real, negative consequences of the city placing “unsustainable pressures on environmentally sensitive landscapes,” and becoming “sterile landscapes replacing complex environments,” and creating “pollution loads” by not capitalizing on the value of water, energy and nutrient by-products.[xiv] Hough notes that urban soil is sterile and non-productive despite the enormous concentrations of nutrient energy.
In Gray World, Green Heart, Robert Thayer shares the observation that urban design involves many different pieces rather than an aspiration to develop one whole design. Focusing more on environmental planning than on general urban planning, he suggests that it is not enough to focus on pieces of technology that address organic, wind, solar, recycling and wildlife issues because a greater transformation is required. He encourages attention to enhancing natural process in the city, and encourages attention to an attitudinal shift to “topofilia” or enhancement of an existing public affection for nature.[xv]
Similar to Thayer, Susannah Hagan stress the need for a new contract between architecture and nature, suggesting that such a contract is not a sentimental position that is anti-urban or opposed to advanced technology. She suggests that rather than eco-sentimentality or a response by efficiency experts, “…environmentalism is a vast new intellectual project, nothing less than the redirection of material culture…”.[xvi] Still, the emphasis is primarily upon alignment with nonhuman nature to explore, for example, non-linear forms, with less emphasis upon urban human activity as being inherently natural.
Efforts to create “new town” human-scale communities to address the dehumanizing aspects of both central city and suburbia have declined.[xvii] Similarly, comprehensive city designs such as Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti that involve city designs for 100,000 or 1,000,000 persons covering only tens or hundreds of acres are simply not pursued, even when argued that the costs would be dramatically cheaper than other approaches. Looking at how Arcosanti would function as well as fail can be helpful, since it aspires to produce virtually no pollution, to recycle wastes as new resources, and to save solar and waste heat energy as well.[xviii]
Integrating human-scale and “topofilia” and large-scale infrastructure are very valuable directions to explore. However, what has not been nearly absent from urban design is attention to an inherent “automatic” design that occurs broadly in cities. Overall, urban design for the living city acknowledges an inherent or “automatic” design process that occurs without any intentional planning. However, this automatic process is often envisioned as something that undermines design efforts. It might be described as anti-design or chaos or as urban blight and urban dysfunction. And yet, the emergence of cities is likely due to the wild, automatic process of inhabitants’ efforts to adapt to the conditions of existence that are changing and enduringly “chaotic.”
While always a secondary movement, architects and planners have explored the city as a living organism. For example, looking more specifically at architects, Kisho Kurakawa, who co-founded the Metabolist Architectural Movement in 1960, described the city-form as a living organism. And in Kurakawa’s urban organism, the automatic design that emerges from inhabitants’ activity was emphasized. This orientation was derived from observing the self-reliance of inhabitants designing their local environments. Kurakawa envisioned the city as being built from the bottom up on its own terms by “multivalent, heterogeneous elements” that both involved the “noise” or “messiness” and the more artistic ne or “music” rather than top down. Kurakawa described a process of recycling and “metabolism” that creates mixed use habitats of dwelling, commerce and industry. The “messiness” of the city and the ne is the overlooked authentic life of the city under its “hard skin.”[xix] However, Kurakawa described the aliveness or naturalness primarily as cultural interplay between the local and the whole, with secondary attention to environmental sustainability or as a process of ecological adaptation.
Kurakawa’s Metabolist view of urbanization is a minor view with the generalized activities of urban inhabitants typically envisioned as not only messy but chaotic and dysfunctional. The negative view of “automatic” design is due in part to the fact that urban issues have been articulated by urban planners rather than by inhabitants themselves who intuitively rather than intentionally design. And these intuitive actions have only recently began to be articulated due largely to the emergence of an internet “blogosphere” that explores urbanization in new ways.
The global electronic “World-Wide Web” has expanded professional interdisciplinary and general public discussion and has created a new phenomenon, an “urbanologist.” The urbanologist is somewhat like a naturalist of old, inhabiting and exploring the urban landscape as an avocation rather than as a specific profession. The exploration is more of an intuitive process rather than a rigorous process guided by longstanding concepts. This “urbanology” is driven by a sense that major aspects of the urban ecosystem that are important for the future directions of the city have been overlooked and proscribed. It can be anticipated that urbanologists will emerge from a broad variety of experiences, from urban planners to non-professional urban inhabitants who are drawn to a new unanticipated vision, perhaps somewhat like divinity-trained Charles Darwin. This new “urban naturalism” aspires to develop an open approach to the city that encourages an unfocused, blurred, peripheral vision[xx] to explore and to identify and overcome biases.
From Koolhaus to Kurakawa, urban design clearly identifies the presence of significant unpredictable, not completely knowable or controllable dynamics inherent in cities of which urban design is admonished to be cognizant. However, these dynamics are generally “built around” rather than explored and engaged as primary design elements, or, in the case of urban sprawl, minimally “channeled” to favor growth to expand in a preferred direction. These dynamics are approached as costly to the point of diverting resources that could be used for human development, maladaptive rather than adaptive and healthful, and something to constrain as much has possible. In a very real way, urban design aspires to counter “natural” inherent dynamics rather than optimize them, even though these dynamics might be the very living heart of urbanization that “softens” the hard urban grid to become more adaptive.
The absence of attention to this “automatic,” inherent urban design is remarkable because it can be argued that this inherent design process may be the primary design force that is creating the city. Inherent design is consistently acknowledged by starchitects and urban planners as a critical process to address in planning, primarily through observation and public feedback. However, the planning may then take on a life of its own that is typically far beyond being participatory, and that may reflect the designer’s interests more than the communities. Design tends to be driven by culture more than by nature, even though the “automatic, inherent design may be more “creatural” than cultural, in response to changing natural conditions.
It can be argued that this automatic design is the living process of urban human life that occurs intuitively in reaction to the conditions of existence and brings cities together. Further, it can be argued that this inherent process might be generally adaptive rather than oppositional and destructive or only chaos that is a consequence of the artificiality of the city. It may be that intentional design efforts can be dysfunctional rather than always corrective because they are guided by beliefs that describe culture and nature as separate and the city as a machine, or by serving the longstanding strategy of exploitation and extraction of resources. Inherent, automatic design aspires to challenge the designed “grid” to “soften” and be humane and, as such, is to be explored for its functions rather than proscribed as dysfunction.
[i] Rem Koolhaas’ cynical vision of modernism having deteriorated to “junk-space” is derived from a variety of sources related to googling the term “junkspace.”
[ii] Deyan Sudjic, “He likes brutality and shopping. He’s going to be the next big thing.”
[article on Rem Koolhaas], The Observer, Sunday, November 26, 2000.
[iii] Rem Koohaas [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rem_Koolhaas].
[iv] Andres Duany [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9s_Duany]. [See also, Michael Mchaffy, “A conversation with Andres Duany,” www.katarxis3.com/Duany.htm], and Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk & Robert Alminana, The New Civic Art: Elements of Town Planning. New York Rizzoli Publications, 2003.
[v] See Benjamin Aranda’s and Chris Lasch’s presentation at “Postopolis!” in summertuning.wordpress.com/2007/06/07/postopolis/.
[vi] Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Vintage Books, 1992 (Random House,1961).
[vii] Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities. New York: Vintage Books/Random House, 1970.
[viii] Ian McHarg and Frederick Steiner, Eds. To Heal The Earth: Selected Writings of Iaqn L. McHarg. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1998, p. 3.
[ix] Ian McHarg, “Ecological determinism.” In E. Fraser Darling and John P. Milton, eds. Future Environments In North America. Garden Ctiy, New York: The Natural History Press, 1966, pp. 526-538.
[x] Michael Hough, City Form And Natural Process: Towards a New Urban Vernacular. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1984, p. 6.
[xi] Michael Hough, 1984, p. 1.
[xii] Hough, 1984, p. 1.
[xiii] Hough, 1984, p. 1.
[xiv] Hough, 1984, p. 2.
[xv] Robert Thayer, Gray World, Green Heart. New York: Wiley, 1994.
[xvi] “An interview with Susannah Hagan, author of Taking Shape,” [http://books.elsevier.com]. See also, Susannah Hagan, “Five reasons to adopt environmental design,” in Building Nature’s Ruin?, Number 18, Spring/Summer 2003 [www.gsd.harvarad.edu/research/publication/hdm/back/18_hagan.html] and Susannah Hagan, Taking Shape: A New Contract Between Architecture And Nature. Oxford; Boston: Architectural Press, 2001.
[xvii] Michael Hough, 1984, p. 3.
[xviii] Paolo Soleri, Arcosanti: The City in the Image of Man. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1969.
[xix] See Kisho Kurokawa [www.kisho.co.jp/] and Rahul Srivastava and Matias Echanove, “The metabolic city,” 10/17/2007, [www. airoots.org].
[xx] See the philosophy of Finish architectural theorist, Jahani Pallasmaa, The Eye of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chichester, West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2005/1996.
Friday, February 11, 2011
THE CITY-FORM is a beginning point of departure into a wide-open destiny and not an end-point or climax in human development. It is a new seed. Our never-ending objective is to remain alert to the changing conditions of existence. The goal is to optimize adaptations that are already occurring. The dilemmas posed by urbanization offer a gift. The problem will come if we do not see the gift.
Copernicus began to imagine that the sun did not revolve around the Earth and our subsequent actions took a qualitative leap. Similarly, we are clearly beginning to imagine that the Earth does not revolve around the city-as-island. What is yet to occur is an eco-literacy that imagines the city as an expression of Earth and as a phase in the Earth’s ongoing evolution.
It is difficult to say what the city might become and it is impossible to know. Any city is a living entity that is very dynamic and far from stasis. In the vast context of the cosmos, cities are more like forests and deserts than different, and all landscapes are “attitude containers” or “design containers.” All landscapes look the way that they do because they express an attitude or “design.” For example, prairie “design” favors roots over seed production for sustainability. And when we disrupt the prairie in agribusiness, we create a container that favors a “weed ecosystem” that favors seed production (which we exploit in grain production). If we believe ourselves to be separate and above the non-human landscape, our urban design will reflect an attitude of apartness that we commonly term “artificiality” and “domestication/tameness.” And if we believe ourselves to be integral to Earth, our cities will reflect an attitude of “naturalness” and “wildness.”
Regardless of whether we intentionally modify our current vision of the city or not, the city will naturally transform across time. And yet, if our attitude aspires toward separation, we will compromise our optimization and, as many speculate, risk our own survival.
To intentionally express a living city “design attitude” in urban actions will be a challenge. To reach the moon, we had to challenge the belief that we were Earth-bound. We could do this because we had a new language of the universe rather than a sense of a ceiling of stars. To affect the city, we have to challenge the belief that we are culture-bound. We have to look beyond the belief that we are looking out at nature and look from the very real perspective of deep immersion in a vast wilderness. To aid us, we have this new landscape of the universe and a new language of ecology and we are just barely beginning to delineate. The new language of the universe expands the frame that we place upon wildness. And our overall sense of ecology that monitors environmental feedback expands the reach of optimal human life to include more than human beings. Increasingly and spontaneously and intuitively, we respond from a sense of inclusion in the Earth rather than from a sense of relationship to it, and landscape begins to transform to become the longer inseparable reach of self rather than as a background or a stage-set.
Since the city immerses us, we do not have the objectivity provided by distance. With our still-young ecology, we are somewhat like a fish not seeing the river that designs it. To transform the city, we have to break through the veil of familiarity. We can “dive” into the activity of the city like we might explore an estuary. And this exploration will not be alien to us. Human beings have lived in unbuilt terrains throughout most of their still-new development, and we carry this enduring ember of wildness that knows how to be alert to the conditions of existence. As journalist and naturalist Henry Beston suggested in The Outermost House,[i] we hunger for the elemental before our senses. We respond to natural process because we have developed within it and it has shaped us physically and emotionally, and we continue to express it. This is what is driving a global spontaneous, adaptive turn toward a strategy of residency.
Our hunger for wildness and our longstanding development within the unbuilt landscape is likely already informing our response to modern environmental dilemmas. If we could begin to catch up both rationally and intuitively with our rapid physical migration to urbanization, we know how to begin to respond. Interestingly, our now-global cybernetic communication may offer a quantum leap in expanding our new language of ecology. Interested in natural succession but not graced by the modern vision of ecology and astrophysics, Thoreau perceived wildness within modern man that can carry us forward. After an inspiring visit to a nearby wetland, Thoreau makes a lengthy entry in his journal on August 30, 1856, where he concludes,
It is vain to dream of a wildness distant from ourselves. There is none such. It is the bog in our brains and bowels, the primitive vigor of nature in us, that inspires that dream. I shall never find in the wilds of Labrador a greater wildness than in some recess in Concord, i.e., than I import into it. A little more manhood or virtue will make the surface of the globe anywhere thrillingly novel and wild. That alone will provide and pay the fiddler;…[ii]
But Thoreau sees this inherent wildness or naturalness needing to intentionally integrate with the nonhuman landscape to be optimized. In the last part of the sentence, he writes, “…it will convert the district road into an untrodden cranberry bog, for it restores all things to their original primitive flourishing and promising state.”
Thursday, February 10, 2011
RESTRICTING HUMAN ACTIVITY for environmental gains is ineffective, primarily because it does the opposite; it increases consumption. Limiting human activity to “save the environment” pushes human life toward isolation in culture. The mall becomes of central importance. Portraying people as intruders reinforces a false belief in human life as being outside nature. More fundamentally, and never discussed because it revisions human life as natural rather than as separate and above nature, restricting human activity restricts the rights and wildness of the human species while trying to not restrict the rights of nonhuman life. As a wild event, human life has not only the right but the obligation to optimize human survival. As a species, we have a right to unimpeded self-realization.
Were we to focus on optimizing human life rather than restricting it, we begin to accomplish that which we are unsuccessful in doing through restriction. We begin to improve the quality of nonhuman life as well as human life. This is because we begin to include human life in nature rather than define human life out of nature. To optimize human life as a species, we begin to value actions that integrate human life into the Earth ecosystem. And we find that these actions improve the quality of human life.
When we really begin to be people-positive rather than be people-limiting, we become Earth-positive rather than either Earth-centric or anthropocentric. We are just beginning to move from actions based on beliefs to actions based on direct experience. For example, environmental degradation in the form of degrading feedback requires encouragement for non-human events as aspects of the longer reach of ourselves if we are to optimize both our comfort and our survival.
Now, instead of facing an external environmental problem, we begin to act out of our own deep self-interest to improve the quality of life. The emphasis on people-positive design in Curitiba, Brazil illustrates how we can begin to be both people-positive and Earth positive in an urban setting without being either anthropocentric or Earth-centric. We can be socio-cultural, psychological and creatural because this is what our experience is saying, and we begin to attend to our direct experience or to the changing conditions of existence to first survive and then to optimize. And we begin to attend to our direct experience in the contemporary moment more than ever before because we can no longer live on now-depleted, once vast stored capital in the natural resources of the Earth that let us overlook feedback in a less-peopled Earth.
Habitat is a right for any species. And driven by global urbanization more than by an environmental ethic, urban habitation no longer defines quality as synonymous with comfort. A sense of symbiosis that is both social and ecological offers a durability that is coming to be judged as more comforting because of its sustainability and improved environmental quality than heretofore “comforting” consumption. And “modern” human life is still young in the Earth, is still natural and even wild, and continues to express a sense of “topofilia” or “biofilia” or affection for nature.
In Ecology and Ekistics, Constantinos Doxiadis suggest that urban inhabitants continue to have affection for nature and landscape, and these inhabitants find that cities are not satisfactory for people, and so there is an incentive to amplify rather than diminish local nonhuman events.[i] Doxiadis has suggested that uniformity in urban design may produce a lower quality of life.[ii] And a strong part of this uniformity is the degradation and absence of nonhuman life and landscape. In the face of global urbanization, environmental concerns cannot be addressed by focusing primarily on enhancing unsettled nonhuman landscapes. Curtis White suggests that design must first meet the damage done to the human community, and he suggests further that threats to the human and nonhuman are the same one.[iii] Focus on the declining biodiversity by protecting unsettled landscapes is critical, but it will not be altered without focusing equally on the degrading environmental quality of settled landscapes.
Enhancement of the built environment for urban inhabitants needs to attend strongly to the existing “automatic” intuitive actions of urban inhabitants, or natural wildness of urban life. In the post-industrial city, the optimal urban living space may involved into a porous network of dwelling and activity that creates metaphorically a different city for each inhabitant. And where planning has sought to support this fluid living space rather than design the space, affection for the urban landscape has dramatically increased. What has been lacking in new efforts to support the natural activities of urban inhabitants is a sense of urban space as a natural ecosystem. Sustainability design continues to focus on energy restriction, which is an essential element, but lacks awareness of automatic energy restriction that occurs in the most highly urbanized spaces as inhabitants live in smaller dwellings and reduce transportation to gain quality. There is a natural process of gain rather than restriction and loss that is veiled by a sense of separation from nature and, more importantly, by a misperception of an inability for “civilization” to participate in nature.
The inherent wild process in contemporary life resists uniform built environment approaches whether then be human-scale pods as in “new towns” or multi-level mass housing. Transforming cities to self-contained communities and neighborhoods and townships as is often proposed as optimal because it prioritizes “human scale.” Meanwhile, urban dwellers, especially in larger cities, create invisible webs of home and resources and social contact that includes human scale and grand scale space.
While it would seem obvious that human scale is crucial in urban dwellings and activity, grand scale efforts also provides a vitality and openness that is important, and this, paradoxically, is an unanticipated positive element of each person’s fluid urban living space. It might be posited that there is a “natural scale” that is a continuum, that continues to be a creatural expression of human life. It is an automatic affection for both the safety of the “hearth” and the “vista” that soothes our distance-seeking eyes. And individuals also vary in their sense of comfort regarding the structure of their space rather than uniformly seek the same living space. The amount of desired dwelling space varies so that diversity of dwelling space in a diversity of city-space (downtown/center, midtown, edge city or exurbia) should be enhanced rather than uniformity. Diversity needs to address habitat needs for age differences (young adults, empty nesters, retirement, family, children).
Overall, living city design attends to residency and therefore promotes inclusion, and inclusion does not exclude nonhuman events. An emphasis on residency drives the use of terms such as integration and relatedness in design. These terms eventually outspread to affiliation with nonhuman processes both within and surrounding the city. This affiliation eventually extends legal standing to nonhuman events in increasing steps out of a growing sense of fundamental economic gain or positive environmental feedback rather than simply out of affection.[iv]
Residency requires a shift in strategy to be less driven toward production as “development” or “progress” and as optimal life. It attends to the “roots” or foundations, not to reduce opportunities but to enhance opportunities. It begins to approach all human life as indigenous to nature, and increasingly in a peopled Earth, indigenous to a local landscape, that will be for the foreseeable future, an urban landscape. Highlighting the new urban phenomenon of residency may explore a sense of becoming indigenous and relating to the immanent landform and surrounding bioregion and existing nonhuman habitat. With the exception of very remote places, human development has been more of a process of migration than of living long term in one place. Cultures replaced by contemporary societies that have been popularly described as indigenous and displaced violently by Western societies often have oral histories that describe violent land acquisition from other societies in an ongoing process of migration, rather than being original to the local place.
The city of the future will move in a variety of directions that blur artificiality and fittedness and that may appear to move away from ecological emphases, but the future city cannot override this fundamental requirement for long-run sustainability. For example, the “ubiquitous city” is emerging as an outgrowth of cybernetic technology. In this cyburbia city-form (e.g., Songdo, South Korea), residential and medical and business and governmental information systems are linked and a “smart card” house key could be used for transactions.[v] Again, “artificiality” that serves residency and integration rather than exploitation is not unrelated from patterns described as natural in primal societies. In a peopled Earth where the predominant human habitation will be urban, the ecological dimension is not overridden and may even be enhanced through these technologically integrative events. The key to optimal eco-design will involve an underlying philosophy that aspires to enhance residency.
A contemporary people-positive focus that is also Earth-positive focus will be a renascent step forward. It represents a transformation from a centric orientation where people and Earth are mutually exclusive events to an integrative orientation where people are an expression of the Earth.
[i] Constantinos Doxiadis, Ecology and Ekistics. [Gerald Dix, Ed.] London: Elek, 1977.
[ii] “entopia,”Constantinos Doxiadis noted in Rene Dubos, The Wooing of Earth, p.118. See also Constantinos Doxiadis, Building Entopia. New York: Norton, 1975.
[iii] Curtis White, The Ecology of Work,” Orion, May/June, 2007. [www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/article/267].
[iv] See, for example, an early argument for legal standing of nonhuman events in Christopher Stone, Should Trees Have Standing?: Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, Calif.: William Kauffman, Inc., 1974.
[v] “ubiquitous city” [http://en.wikipedia/wiki/Ubiquitous_city].
This presentation is a very brief selection from three lengthy appendices
exploring traditional definitions of wildness as biased and counterproductive for designing for the integration of human life into the larger Earth ecosystem.
IN THE GREAT WORK, Thomas Berry offers a dramatic shift in perspective. It is one that enlarges the context in which we define our terms. It is a perspective that challenges our longstanding beliefs by looking at phenomena from the very real current state of our knowledge. Thomas Berry looks at the contemporary moment from the broad perspective of the universe. And from this perspective, the “great work” of the contemporary moment involves the integration of post-modern life into the larger Earth ecosystem.
From our longstanding tradition, we look at wildness diminishing down to remnants while Berry finds the universe to be a wild context. The universe tends to be imagined as too distant to be influential in daily life. And yet, in a very real way, every event in our experience is a direct expression of the universe. Still, it is a perspective that can seem impossible to fit to everyday life.
Whatever perspective we choose sets the fundamental stage for our actions. Finding the over-old universe to still be in creation, we suddenly find post-industrial life to be emergent and fresh, lost and not central, and inside an ongoing creation. Finding ourselves orbiting a dust speck sun in an obscure arm of an obscure galaxy, we begin to face our distorted sense of being at center-point and above nature and apart. Lost in vast wildness, it becomes increasingly difficult to continue to believe that we are not wild. All life on Earth can be seen as a fragile expression in the outer rim of a star. In the context of the history of the Earth, we find the city to be infantile rather than “established,” and just beginning in an ongoing creation.
Creativity can be seen to be the ongoing key dynamic of the universe. And creativity demands the primary element in wildness, that of remaining alert to the changing conditions of existence. With this universal perspective, Thomas Berry defines “wild” as
that which is uncontrolled by human dominance[i]
and “wildness” as
the ultimate creative modality of any form of earthly being.[ii]
Wildness we might consider as the root of the authentic spontaneity of any being. It is that wellspring of creativity whence come the instinctive activities that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young; to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea. This is the same inner tendency that evokes the insight of the poet, the skill of the artist, and the power of the shaman.[iii]
At first, “that which is uncontrolled by human dominance” can seem to reinforce
a traditional sense of wildness as present only in those events that are separate from human control. However, in both our degrading environmental feedback and even within our human actions, we begin to understand that much of our experience is either separate from our control or not well controlled. And now with a still rather new awareness of profoundly vaster context of the space-time—the universe and the dramatic shifts of the conditions of existence as evidenced in geological timeframes, we begin to understand that we are an expression of a still emergent, creative universe and subject to it, and deep within it rather than looking out at it. There is a new sense that there is something inherent in human life that is never subject to human dominance, and that is creatural rather than cultural. And there is a sense of cultural expression as capable of being a natural adaptive response that expresses the creatural rather than something largely separate.
But the heart of Berry’s definition looks at wildness as the creative mode of any earthly being inside a vast ongoing creative context. Wildness is a flow of change or ongoing creation. Nothing in the biosphere is preserved across the long run. Human life in any era is creatural, and culture is an expression of the creatural—as a response to the changing conditions of existence--rather than a departure from it. Like an eagle or a sparrow, we focus on our immanent needs rather than on the needs of other events or on total alertness to our landscape. But our immanent needs cannot ignore changing conditions such as depletion of material resources. And so in the contemporary moment, there is a shift toward global urbanization as residency that begins intuitively, while continuing to consciously attend to immediate needs. And human beings, we have an additional wild capacity to become aware of our immanent everyday reality as having very real, non-ordinary longer reach in which our activity extends into events beyond ourselves. This gives us at chance at optimizing rather than either subsisting or disappearing.
Optimizing wildness requires intentional attentiveness or alertness to a larger identity. Wildness is fundamentally optimal, because as Thomas Berry notes, authentic spontaneity, which is at the heart of wildness, needs to be optimal to sharpen our ability to adapt. Optimal health will always involve an expanded circle of attentiveness and identity to allow us to recognize resources. Our new eco-literacy is not simply a cultural product. It is a consequence of our experience of changing conditions of existence that demand integration rather than exploitation. This new eco-literacy is brings this process of integration to consciousness to allow us to optimize activities that favor integration to intentionally replace our once successful exploitation that no longer optimizes our experience in a peopled Earth and can be self-destructive and clearly non-optimal.
While we seem to live largely inside culture, we remain fundamentally more creatural than cultural, which is to say that we are an aspect of a vast wildness. Try to stop respiration and digestion. We are so much wilder than we have allowed ourselves to imagine. Our most contemporary culture serves larger processes such as species continuation and cooperation to access basic needs that we tend to not acknowledge. And like other species, we aspire to flourish and not simply exist or survive. We aspire toward influencing the places that we inhabit to be optimal. Berry’s sense of relating wildness to all living beings is captured in Michael Hough’s design orientation to build habitats that aspire to create “conditions that permit a species to survive and flourish.”[iv] Hough suggests that the same rules apply everywhere, but the habitats will vary in expression.
In Islands, The Universe, Home, Gretel Ehrlich offers a broader vision of wildness than we tend to use. Her description is lyrical and metaphorical and not as concrete or as specified as we are used to seeking, but this is its grace, and this grace is its strength in the way that it is opening and expansive. Ehrlich describes wildness as a dynamic action when she writes that it is “all present tense,” [v] rather than a specific set of fixed conditions. She suggests that perception of wildness requires us “to see the open dimensions of form—to move through, not against.”[vi] Aspiring to move through the appearance of an object such as a tree, for example, we might encounter “the flickering universe of a cottonwood tree.” [vii] Gretel Ehrlich almost “un-defines” wildness when she writes,
Wildness has no conditions, no sure route, no peaks or goals, no source that is not instantly becoming something more than itself, then letting go of that, always becoming. It cannot be stripped to its complexity by CAT scan or telescope. Rather, it is a many-pointed truth, almost bluntness, a sudden essence like the wild strawberries strung on scarlet runners under my feet.[viii]
Berry’s definition of wildness has Gretel Ehrlich’s sense of wildness being an inescapable dynamic that is creatively open. This openness is not bounded, so that each event is more an event or current than an object. We, for example, are currents of metabolism rather than separable objects, and we are connected moment by moment to hydrologic and atmospheric and material substance and radiant energy. Every activity in the universe is both intimately interpenetrating the other and authentically wild. And wildness is the central or “heart path” for all events in the universe. Berry’s definition is in congruence with Thoreau’s sense that “ In Wildness is the preservation of the World.” While wildness tends to be so open and creative as to be undisciplined and therefore crude, Berry notes that wildness involves creative and destructive aspects that ultimately conform to “a discipline that holds the energies of the universe in the creative pattern of their activities.” [ix] This discipline of the universe is not a crude process but rather a subtlety beyond our capacity to either imagine or replicate.
In The Universe as a Green Dragon, Brian Swimme explores the perspective of Thomas Berry. He begins with the perspective of the universe rather than the Earth or the local place, and describes humanity as a creation of the universe.[x] He concentrates on the essential unit of focus as the Earth “community” as a whole.[xi] He suggests that language, including presumably the written word that seems to separate modern human life from wildness, belongs to the Earth as the Cascade Mountains belong to the Earth.[xii]
In North America, Swimme sees a collision between European (science, technology, masculine and individual orientation) and Native American perspectives (ecological, animistic, feminine, communal—spiritual) and no effort by European traditions to blend perspectives of this new landscape.[xiii] However, this values conflict has been an ongoing one within Western culture between the rational and Romantic traditions as highlighted by Robert Bly in News of the Universe. The new eco-literacy is bringing a sense of enduring wildness and naturalness to awareness in an important new way. It is no longer a clash between economy and aesthetics, but rather it is now an economic necessity and an economic opportunity that can also be optimized to increase the quality of human life.
In successful societies, whether they are primal First Societies or a post-industrial megalopolis, values change as population increases place new demands on the society.
Societal success in the form of population growth has favored pioneering exploitation for all societies, including primal “first societies.” The success of “modern life” has dramatically improved survivability and favored pioneering to sustain the rapidly expanding population. However, in post-industrial life, the value of a strategy exploitation decreases, but it opens a new opportunity. In a peopled Earth the continuing population pressures favor something new—that of integration rather than exploitation—because of the absence of material resources.
In Biophilia, biologist Edmund O. Wilson envisions reality as a “chaotic richness.” He suggests that human experience imposes a selection of biases upon reality . [xiv] Wilson sees modern life as having flawed biases that lead us to act destructively toward both the non-human and ourselves. While Wilson sees habitats such as cities as superficial when compared to the complexity of a forest, he sees human life as a species that has an urge to affiliate with other forms of life, and he terms this drive toward affiliation, biophilia.[xv] He suggests that while an absence of contact with the non-human such as occurs in the city can seem real or all that we believe we require, it masks an enduring natural essence. He writes,
People can grow up with the outward appearance of normality in an environment largely stripped of plants and animals, in the same way that passable monkeys can be raised in laboratory cages and cattle can be fattened in feeding bins. Asked if they were happy, these people would probably say yes. Yet something vitally important would be missing, not merely the knowledge and pleasure that can be imagined and might have been, but a wide array of experiences that the human brain is peculiarly equipped to receive.[xvi]
Berry’s description of wildness allows us to address Edward O. Wilson’s cultural biases by
· looking at wildness from a broader scale, from a posture of inclusion rather than separation, that inescapably includes human life and makes wildness the key operational dynamic of the universe that every activity in the universe must express to be authentic rather than a secondary dynamic, and
· sensing wildness as a sublime state with on going creative and destructive elements that challenge our more facile [i.e., too easy] descriptors of wildness rather than wildness as an archaic stage that can be well-described.
Wildness can describe human life rather than be something describing that which we are not. It is remarkable that we have come to imagine contemporary human life as separate from wildness when we are so deeply lost in the cosmos. Contemporary human life is destructive to nature to such a degree that human actions seem superficial rather than fundamental because of the way that they overlook dramatically changing conditions of existence—in particular, diminishing material resources in a peopled Earth. This superficial response can still be a natural one, but a response that is no longer successful. It is natural in that it is more like that of a new species that is unfitted to its landscape. Global urbanization is a new response that is environmentally adaptive in the sense of trying to provide habitation for a human population of billions. And while the longstanding belief of separation from wildness continues as a dominant conscious belief, the conditions for life in a peopled Earth are driving intuitive adaptive responses in global urbanization such as a reduction in the rate of population growth. Gradually, degrading environmental quality is challenging a sense of boundary between culture and nature. There is an emerging sense of culture and nature being described in terms of differences rather than mutually exclusive opposites, as well as events that occur on a continuum.
When all human activity falls inside wildness, wildness moves from being a dialect opposite to being a point on a continuum, and wildness opens and expands. When wildness includes human life, the intrinsic value of complex unsettled landscapes is amplified rather than diminished, because they are experienced as no longer distanced and as inherently optimizing health and, therefore, essential to our optimal health as they are.
Thomas Berry’s “authentic spontaneity of any being” provokes an expansion of wildness to all species—a general condition of living and of being alive. Making this leap provokes a more profound leap in defining wildness that is present yet understated in efforts to define wildness. Wildness is the universal response to changing conditions of existence by all phenomena, including not only biota, but also processes such as weathers, stellar evolution. Wildness can be deconstructive or integrative. Thoreau’s “preservation of the world” is, paradoxically, a process of response, transformation, succession, and change.
To see everything as wild would seem both to diffuse the meaning of the term “wildness” to the point of being meaningless as well as to absolve human activity that results in severe ecological destruction. And yet, to not see everything as wild ultimately distorts natural process. As with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, there is a simple, integrative and practical eloquence in the observation of a universal wildness that is not separate from any human activity regardless of how tame or domestic or artificial he activity or product may appear to be.
To not see the city as wild with both deconstructive and integrative expressions misses real, concrete processes that are essential for integration into the larger Earth ecosystem. To see the city as wild opens a threshold to cross over from a disordering problem to an opportunity for health, and to amplify processes that are already more effective than “green” technological designing for a machine.
[i] Thomas Berry, The Great Work. p. 48.
[ii] Thomas Berry, The Great Work. p. 48.
[iii] Thomas Berry, The Great Work. p. 51.
[iv] Michael Hough, City Form and Natural Process: Towards A New Urban Vernacular. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1984, p. 24.
[v] Gretel Ehrlich, Islands, the Universe, Home. New York: Viking Penguin, 1991, p. 37.
[vi] Gretel Ehrlich, 1991, p. 55.
[vii] Gretel Ehrlich, 1991, p. 71.
[viii] Gretel Ehrlich, 1991, p. 30.
[ix] Thomas Berry, The Great Work. p. 51..
[x] Brian Swimme, The Universe as a Green Dragon: a Cosmic Creation Story. Santa Fe: Bear & Company, 1984, p. 35.
[xi] Brian Swimme, p. 34.
[xii] Brian Swimme, p. 166.
[xiii] Brian Swimme, p. 159.
[xiv] Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984, p. 101.
[xv] E. O. Wilson, p. 85.
[xvi] E. O. Wilson, p. 118