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  • The Caterpillar and the Butterfly

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    October 28, 2014

    Lesley Lokko

    ‘There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.’
            —Buckminster Fuller

    Architecture | Education | Landscape | Nature

    It’s been six months since Sweet by Nature was penned and released into the ether and in less than a week’s time, my students at the University of Johannesburg (whose work was featured in the article) will submit their Masters projects for external examination. In that time, I’ve not only come to understand better what it is I’m supposed to be teaching them, but also where the potential gaps in the overall structure of architectural education—particularly in Africa—may lie.

    One such gap has to do with ‘nature’ and specifically what we mean by ‘nature’ when we teach architecture. It may seem like an obvious point but education, even in the context of a semi-vocational/professional course like architecture, isn’t just about the delivery of an ‘approved’ curriculum, it’s also (perhaps more deeply) concerned with the transmission of values. In the context of Africa where the very idea of shared cultural values that transcend the specificities of place, language, history and even ‘race’ remains an elusive pipedream, the question of how we might teach an approach to ‘nature’ and by extension ‘landscape’ remains equally elusive.

    By and large, African schools of architecture follow curricula handed down/derived or adapted from one colonial context or another—British, French or Portuguese. South Africa’s eight schools have an added Dutch/Afrikaans layer of cultural complexity to contend with, but I believe it’s fair to argue that African schools have yet to attempt the profoundly complex translation of indigenous, pre-European built environment beliefs, rituals and ways of seeing into a functioning modern architectural curriculum. Given the explosive nature (no pun intended) of urbanisation, the question of how we define, explore, protect … Continue Reading

  • Connective Tissue Matters in the Nature of Cities

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    October 20, 2014

    Mary Rowe

    The TNOC Roundtable for October 2014 focused on green corridors in cities to support nature, and the ‘natural’ ecology that resides in the city.  I am focused on the ecology of the city.  The aim of ecologists and scientists to strengthen the capacity of the city to connect nature within and across it, is the same instinct that those of us who focus on the physical shape and function of city have: to enable connectivity than enhances the overall function of the whole.

    I wrote in a previous post on this site about how cities are fundamentally natural—they are of a piece with nature, created by the interaction of people and place, and not artificial constructs, fated to  always-at-odds-with-the-natural.

    The contributors to the green corridor roundtable reinforced this for me.  They’re eager for ways to enable connection, build and exchange natural capital, explore how linear spaces and corridors can encourage biotic movement, dispersal, address the challenges of predators and invasive species, and encourage ‘biotic connectivity’.

    Look at how similar the challenges are for building the physical city for its human inhabitants, and how similarly people actually behave, with the other species with whom they share their urban home, in their use of it.  We face various kinds of predators: over-heated real estate markets fueled by speculation; growing mono-cultures of single land-uses; sprawling residential development that bulldozes down diversities of all kinds.

    The ways the physical city and its built environment can be created, in more authentic and organic ways, is a wonderful illustration of ‘biomimicry’: how human processes mimic natural ones.

    I first came across this term when its conceiver, author and natural scientist Janine Benyus, came to Toronto in 1997 to speak at a conference on cities convened to celebrate the work of Jane … Continue Reading

  • Urban Protected Areas: Important for Urban People, Important for Nature Conservation Globally

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    October 8, 2014

    Ted Trzyna

    The international conservation movement traditionally has concentrated on protecting large, remote areas that have relatively intact natural ecosystems. It has given a lot less attention to urban places and urban people. About ten years ago, four of us long involved in IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, set out to correct this.

    IUCN is the global umbrella organization of nature conservation. Its 1,200 members in 172 countries include national governments as well as governmental agencies and nongovernmental organizations. IUCN advises UNESCO, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and other intergovernmental organizations, as well as governments, especially in developing countries. Although it has a staff of over 1,000, much of IUCN’s work is done by six commissions composed of professionals who volunteer or raise money to cover their time.

    The four of us were Jeff McNeely, longtime IUCN Chief Scientist and author of numerous scientific publications on nature conservation; Adrian Phillips, a former chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and IUCN Program Director; the late John Davidson, co-founder of Britain’s pioneering Groundwork urban regeneration program; and me, a political scientist and former U.S. career diplomat and chair of the then IUCN Commission on Environmental Strategy and Planning.

    We decided to focus our attention on urban nature reserves, especially those fitting IUCN’s definition of “protected areas,” which is also used by the UN: “a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated, and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.”

    The most important product of our efforts to date is a new IUCN book, Urban Protected Areas: Profiles and Best Practice Guidelines, by Ted Trzyna in collaboration with Joseph T. Edmiston, Glen Hyman, Jeffrey A. McNeely, Pedro da Cunha e Menezes, Brett Myrdal, and Adrian … Continue Reading

  • Neighborhood Planning for Resilient and Livable Cities, Part 1 of 3: Why Do Neighborhoods Matter and Where Are We Going Wrong?

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    September 28, 2014

    Jayne Engle

    Jane Jacobs said: ‘Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.’ To embrace this idea that everyone has to be involved in creating cities is to recognize the vitality of neighborhoods as the scale at which most people relate to the city in their daily lives. Neighborhoods are, in effect, the places where we live and where we tend to spend most of our time, even if much of that is within our private dwellings. They are the places we know best, where we come home to, and where, as the urbanist Lewis Mumford (1954: 269) said, we can ‘recover the sense of intimacy and innerness that has been disrupted by the increased scale of the city’.

    Although Mumford and Jacobs sparred often, their thinking can be seen to converge on the question of how neighborhoods matter for city-building. Urban residents are concerned with their neighborhoods because what happens at this geographic scale affects their everyday experience and quality of life. People tend to be invested in and relate to the ‘local’ scale of the neighborhood in a more direct way than cities or metropolitan regions as a whole. In short, the neighborhood is an ideal scale for engaging citizens and undertaking community-based planning, design, and development, and if we co-produce them in new and innovative ways with civil society, our neighborhoods can transform our cities.

    In this first of three blog entries on the topic, we present a case for renewing neighborhood planning for more resilient and livable cities. The paradox is that ‘good’ neighborhood planning—as it was done in the past—can be to the detriment of the overall nature of cities for people. It can be divisive both spatially, by setting clear geographic ‘limits’ that signal exclusion … Continue Reading

  • The UN’s Biodiversity Targets Cannot Be Achieved Without Cities. Here’s Why…

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    September 24, 2014

    Andre Mader

    In 2010, the 193 national governments that were then party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopted a decision to endorse the “Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020”—to guide their actions towards stemming the biodiversity crisis over the following 10 years. Within the Strategic Plan are contained 20 specific “Aichi Biodiversity Targets”, dealing with each area that requires attention in order to achieve the original objectives of the Convention: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. The Strategic Plan has become well known now and forms the basis of much of the reporting and planning conducted by the Parties.

    The same meeting that produced the Strategic Plan also produced a decision endorsing a “Plan of Action on Subnational Governments, Cities and Other Local Authorities for Biodiversity (2011-2020)”. This Plan of Action outlines ways in which national governments can support their local and subnational counterparts’ contributions to achieving the goals and targets of the Strategic Plan.

    Despite mirroring the Strategic Plan, however, ongoing efforts are required to build awareness of the Plan of Action’s importance in achieving it. At the same time, every single one of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets relies at least partly on cities for its achievement. The fact is that cities contain the majority of the world’s population; are responsible for a disproportionate majority of its production and consumption; are growing at an unprecedented rate in terms of population and area. So the targets the Parties are pursuing at the national level rely on the contribution and cooperation of the world’s cities and citizens.

    Here follows a target-by-target account of why cities are so relevant to the targets, and why Parties … Continue Reading

  • Born to be Wild (Sort of)

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    September 17, 2014

    Paul Downton

    “Civilisation; it’s all about knives and forks.” —David Byrne

    As a child I was not nature-deprived. I lived in small towns and villages in rural Somerset in England, and enjoyed nature study in primary school but I know that I’ve never seen or experienced anything truly wild. I never will, and as a civilised ape I’m really grateful for that.

    Left to our own devices most of us couldn’t survive in the wilderness, not even in what passes for wilderness in its degraded form. Yet we need the wild, we evolved there, and as we can’t experience it for real anymore we make do with controlled, vicarious ‘wildness’, most of which involves getting scared in some way—roller-coasters, horror movies, going face-to-face with tigers in a zoo…

    For those with nihilistic tendencies it isn’t hard to argue that there is no longer any such thing as wilderness. If you define wilderness as natural environment untainted by human intervention and manipulation, then there isn’t any because the damaging reach of industrial civilisation is literally global—DDT contaminates Antarctic penguins and the PCB contamination of oceanic particulate matter in Antarctic waters is similar to the level of contamination in the North Sea .

    Real forests are wild. They are places where one can both be lost and wish to escape from. But are ‘urban forests’ truly wild? For all the talk of ‘wild’, the wildlife experience is no longer defined by lived experience, because the definition of ‘wild’ has escaped into the thickets of a wholly urban civilisation. ‘Wild’ is behind bars, ‘wild’ is on a screen, ‘wild’ is not something that most of the human race ever experiences any more. ‘Wild’ is vicarious. It’s seductive and dangerous—but not in the way that wild used to be, it’s dangerous because it’s … Continue Reading