Shane Reiner-Roth

The Inside-Out City and the Question of Nature

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In class, as well as the rest of academia, there had been a discussion of the notable obscurity in the question, “What is Nature?”. We agreed that the answer most people give to this question is as confident as it is ignorant, and that the question is not nearly as open or as clear as it seems. For many, the distinction between human – man, woman, child, athlete – and non-human is a simple substitute for the distinction between non-nature and nature, but when one recognizes that humans invented the cantaloupe, the Boston terrier, and the very idea of nature –all things we believe are nature/non-human, it is equally as clear to see that this argument is fraught with inconsistencies.

 

As of 2010, this conversation would, on a large scale, seem to be a purely trivial pursuit, unrelated to the man in the street; but forty years from now, a global challenge will be set: In April of last year, a G8 policy document warned that global food production must double by 2050 to ward off international chaos. As it stands now, the world has collectively designated a rural farming area “essentially the size of South America,” says Dr. Dickson Despommier. “That feeds seven billion people. If you include the three billion who’ll be here in 40 years, there isn’t enough land given the current way of farming to feed those people.”[1] In order to combat famine, urban farming – that is, farming within the urban city – will have to take precedence within the communal mind and at the voting booth. As a choice between Heideggerian-environmentalism and techno-environmentalism, virtually every urban farming projectionist embraces the latter methodology.

 

But while urban farming would alleviate the land issue that Despommier addressed, this radically new agricultural tactic would also gravely obscure the question, “What is Nature?” for the masses living in the city, creating a whole new conscious class.

 

Beyond introducing “nature” to the “non-natural” city, there are several worldwide stands to preserve “nature” in its “natural” state through “non-natural” means. As Geoff Manaugh writes:

 

“Delicate Arch, a fifty-two-foot-tall sandstone arch and one of Arches National Park’s most famous natural wonders, faces eventual collapse, as it is regularly threatened by rain, ice, and seismic activity. The solution was clear: the arch should be stabilized. This “minor stabilization could be done in such an unobtrusive manner as to be hardly distinguishable and would not in any manner detract from the natural appearance of the Arch.” It would not be structural, in other words, using cross-braces or encaging the arch in Gothic cathedral-like buttresses. Instead, the geological formation would be sprayed with a transparent aerosol adhesive. This fine mist of glue would then seep down in the rock’s porous sandstone surface and harden there, locking the arch in place. The arch would be preserved – geologically shellacked, if you will.”[2]

This injection of the preservational “non-natural” into the “natural” landscape, coupled with the “natural” crops we eat injected into the common man’s assuredly “non-natural” city, each event carried to their respective extremes, would mark a radically new event in philosophical history. Surrounded by these figures as an environmental reality, the common man would have to seriously question their interpretation of the term “natural,” and maybe even the term “reality.” While the answer to the question “What is Nature?” has proven obscurity prior to the concepts of urban farming and technological landscape renovation, the introduction of these concepts demands an attempt to answer this question.

 

It seems as though the only correct answers are the positive absolute and its reciprocal negative: in the extreme of these two events, both the city and its environs can be considered purely natural (given that humans are a natural species, thereby making natural things), and they can simultaneously be considered purely non-natural (given that both the city and its environs have both been altered are were not left to do what they would done “naturally”). There are theorists that project this agricultural injection into the city would have sociological advantages. As Dr. Dickson Despommier again writes, “it would then become possible for a city to behave like an ecosystem; producing its own food, driven and designed by sunlight.” Despommier imagines a more communal city in light of urban farming, where other pragmatists believe that there are ways to make a smaller sociological impact. As William Wiles writes,

“James Wood’s solution is to put farms on rooftops. Work AC’s Public Farm 1 pavilion last year demonstrated how to elevate productive space, creating a usable social area underneath it. Public Farm 1 also trialled a high-tech soil made out of compost and recycled Styrofoam that is only one-quarter the weight of normal dirt, which circumvents the usual structural problem with rooftop farming. And there are already rooftop farming systems on the market.”[3]

Whether the impact is obtrusive and socially impactful, as in Despommier’s model, or concealed and above the carpet, as in that of Wood’s, the impact on the collective urban conscious would become philosophically altered. There may never be an answer to the question “What is Nature?,” but these two projects, put into extreme effect, would stir up some answers.

-SRR


[1] ICON no. 73, The Edible City. William Wiles, Pg. 83

[2] The Bldgblog Book. Geoff Manaugh, Pg. 167

[3] Ibid

 

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Written by differance

December 24, 2010 at 10:27 AM

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