Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Continuum Of Eco-City Models: A Brief Introductory Sketch

When we look at environmentalism, we have a broad array of approaches that appear to cluster on a continuum that ranges from Earth-centric emphases on one end  to anthropocentric emphases on the other.  In future pieces, we will look at the components of each of the models to see what they offer to an evolving living city model, as well as get a sense of the way in which each reflects a unique philosophical orientation that can then be compared to the components and philosophy of the “living city.”

FACING VERY REAL environmental dilemmas, a variety of responses have emerged in modern life.  They range from an intimate, low technological integration into remote and rural landscapes to be as non-intrusive as possible to a separation of human habitation from non-human landscapes with little regard to the impact of human activity because of a sense that human destiny no longer has much to do with nature.  When applied to the city, these responses form a diverse continuum.  They can range from a desire to completely dissolve the city, break up the city into smaller and more “humanized” settlements, make the existing city more efficient and less consumptive, or have the city become a place where culture is separate from nature.

Beginning on one end of a continuum with an Earth-centric model and going to an anthropocentric model on the far end, these responses might be generally categorized as follows:

a feral “radical green” immersion that involves living off the land, accepting discomfort as essential for intimacy, avoiding modern technology and honoring hand-built craft, foraging and hunting and/or gathering, being nomadic, and aspiring to be politically anarchist; 

a sustainable eco-vill—off the grid, recycling everything possible, emphasizing local action, alternative technology, oriented toward a social co-op network and being food/energy-oriented;

a sustainable society—potentially urban townships, community action, cessation of specific practices such as animal agriculture and pets and feeding wildlife and industrial plant agriculture, a value for simplicity, enhanced human freedom/expression, a bioregional vision, activism to rewild landforms—emphasizing unsettled “corridors” that connect unsettled landscape and the expansion of unbuilt landscape, and hi-tech alternative engineering;

a livable city—attending to comprehensive management of resources, conservation to enhance airshed and watershed and food quality, expansion of quality green space and reduction both of brownshed (abandoned or undeveloped property) and greyshed (industrial properties), specific emphasis on “greening” both home and commercial architecture and industry to dramatically increase energy efficiency, efforts to “decongest” transportation by improving mass transit and a closer approximation between work and home through community developments such as “new urbanism,” an overriding goal of enhancing the quality of life;

a separable city—wherein uninhabited landscape is a backdrop that is considered inactive wasteland without use and existing for human use and recreation, with human destiny envisioned as now technologically-evolved beyond nature and/or even beyond Earth or spiritist, anthropocentric in the sense of all priorities being human-centered with no standing to the non-human, emphasis upon urbanization as the built environment rather than on inhabitants, resolving dilemmas through technological solutions, environmental concern as hysteria or delusional, Romantic nostalgia, with development being synonymous with comfort and culture.

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