In addition to this week’s grad seminar discussion regarding suburban form, we will also be addressing the topic of production in the city. The word “production” is most frequently used in reference to the economic exchange of goods and services in a capitalist society. With consumption at the other end, it is linear and implies progress. But production also refers to the way that organic compounds move through ecological systems, which is a cyclical process. The distinction between these two meanings, like the distinction between the city and nature, was crystallized in the West by the Industrial Revolution. In our attempts to re-think the relationship between mechanical, social and biological systems, we must first engage the conflicting definitions of production in the social and biological spheres.
Contemporary discourse on the future of urbanism and the environment frequently employs words and phrases like “crisis” and “impending doom” to illicit panic and progress. Acting from a position of assumed scarcity, we brace ourselves for the worst. When ecological problems are tackled with the logic of capitalist production and consumption, we find only 2 options: we can put ourselves on a strict resource diet, or we can invent new technology that allows us to continue our habits of ever increasing consumption. Felix Guattari, in his 1989 essay “The Three Ecologies,” warned that although the techno-sciences are crucial for the survival of the planet, they will not suffice without “recomposing the formation of capitalist powers.” Architects have been particularly susceptible to the technological fix, envisioning new green utopias with limited connection to the reality of the contemporary city.
The potential of ecological urbanism as a discourse lies not in its ability to inspire new nature/city utopian synergy per se, but in its ability to re-define the relationship between nature and economic life: to view “production” as a cyclical process rather than a linear one, and to re-orient towards a position of abundance rather than scarcity. As Sanford Kwinter states, “Among the basic issues of which we must not lose sight over the next decades is that what is required to give birth to a true ecological ‘praxis’ for our cities and our civilization cannot be found or resolved within the scope of sustainability workshops, environmentalisms, policy reforms, and technological and scientific research and their applications. The ecological question is, by its very definition, much larger and more comprehensive.”
This week’s readings come from the book Ecological Urbanism published last spring by the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. They are:
“Why Ecological Urbanism? Why Now” by Mohsen Mostafavi
“Insurgent Ecologies: (Re)Claiming Ground in Landscape and Urbanism” by Nina-Marie Lister
Also, if you are interested, here is the link to a lecture given last spring by Charles Waldheim at UNC Charlotte. He discusses the history and future of what he calls “landscape urbanism.” http://vimeo.com/12992244