Why We Need Design Guidelines for Urban Non-Humans -Beyond the Selfie

Are we really so self centred that we think we need only design for ourselves – yes to seems we are – so when we design urban futures,  we are supposed to consult with its occupants – so who will speak for the birds, foxes and coyotes?

Paul Downton in a post on the Nature of Cities  contend we need rules that include natural systems as having their own needs and we  must take into account  and should have their own rights

‘Alive rather than inert’, Christie Walk in Adelaide, South Australia is a downtown ecocity development in which ‘a profusion of sprouting, breathing, photosynthesising, living things surround and entwine human dwellings’. Image: Paul Downton

Design Table.xlsxBeyond the selfie

Cities are quintessentially human constructions, so it’s hardly surprising that reasons given for having ‘more nature in cities’ are almost invariably anthropocentric (think ‘nature-deficit disorder’ or biophilia). These reasons are typically to do with improving the quality of life for people, or even just their real estate values, but the bottom line for promoting urban nature is more profound; it is about human survival—without healthy natural environments our species cannot survive and cities make or break the natural environment. If cities fail to embrace nature in a demonstrably positive and sustaining way there can be little hope for the environment outside the city walls. Our reasons for valuing nature in cities needs to move beyond the ‘selfie’ view that puts a bit of greenery in the frame of urban portraiture and beyond the very reasonable proposition that integrating nature in our cities is good for livability, resilience, sustainability and human life generally. We need to simply accept that nature has needs of its own, and those needs may or may not be of benefit to human strands in the web of life.

This partly parallels ways of seeing the world found in a number of cultural forms, like Buddhism and Animism; it is close to the Daoist tradition in its acceptance of the natural world as ‘a self-generating, complex arrangement of elements that are continuously changing and interacting’ in which humans are a crucial component but one that should ‘follow the flow of nature’s rhythms’. It is specifically not about an enchanted view of nature and it is not about the worship of nature, not least because we are ultimately part of nature and any degree of self-reverence is dangerous.

No, it’s simply accepting that for natural systems to function certain requirements have to be met and understanding that conditions and pre-conditions for the successful operation of biological processes are set by the nature of the systems and not by the predilections of the human animal. Where human activities affect those systems there are identifiable areas of contact and interaction where we need clear indications as to how to allow or support natural system (ecosystem) function.

Responsive it may be, but Nature does not negotiate

Nature is fractal. Each part of it is a microcosm of the larger whole. An urbanism that gave priority to the needs of nature and the requirements of non-human species would itself need to be fractal and support and nurture the essential functions of natural systems. To some degree it would need to be codified, just as we codify the expectations we have of our artificial human habitat, and that means establishing appropriate design guidelines, rules and regulations. If this agenda is to be taken seriously (and why shouldn’t it?), every city and town on Earth will need to develop such guidelines—to be acted upon as a result of both sensible persuasion (through the political process) and as a response to non-negotiable demands (of ecological necessity). Nature may be astonishingly responsive and receptive, but it does not negotiate

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