Starving Cities

 Are city-dwelling people being starved? Not physical starvation but being denied something essential for all living beings. Tall, glimmering citadels keep watch as everyone goes about their daily operations, tasks, rituals. Cold, grey concrete boarders the glistening black pavement, acting as a guide for pedestrians who are too caught up in their routines to notice that they have been denied any freedoms that non-city dwellers enjoy every day of their lives. Nature is almost exiled from being a part of city life. Of course one could argue that the city makes exceptions for nature with their parks and occasional tree here and there, you could even argue that the Zoos within the city fulfill that need to commune with nature that all humans need.  Cities attempt to recreate or synthesize certain elements of nature but rather than fulfill a need they merely manage to curb the craving, or take the edge off the want for contact with the world around us.

     The lack of nature in urban environments is mentioned briefly in Walter Benjamin’s The Arcade Project as one of the problems faced by living a life within the city. He uses repetition within his text to illustrate how the citizens have expressed their desire to experience nature every day. Flagstone walls, sandstone tables, artificial rain are only a few elements that city dwellers attempt to incorporate in their everyday lives to express their desire for nature in their lives.  One could argue that even the sun has a difficult time reaching the skin of citizens through the weaving forest of skyscrapers that cast never-ending shadows upon the city floor. Could tanning beds (synthesized sunshine) be one answer to this problem? Sure, but even ready-made sunshine isn’t a complete answer to this issue.

 

      I believe that the gardens, parks, and the occasional potted plant adorning a storefront are a means of retaining sanity. Without that link to the world outside the city, it would be very much like being imprisoned in a cold, lifeless, concrete prison. City planners are keen to this and want their cities to be pleasant. If it weren’t for the gardens and intricately places elements of nature, the ever growing concrete and asphalt floor of the city would have completely banished all forms of nature from the city by now.

     Some cities, like New York, are beginning to see how this lifestyle is affecting the ecological world around them and address the issue. The City University in New York City has implemented an initiative called “Exploring the Nature of New York…” This initiative has been created to raise interest in nature. The initiative also keeps New Yorkers informed about ecological issues the city is facing which, in-turn, generates concern about the environment among citizens. As cities continue to grow nature will continue to shrink, it’s inevitable. However, having an organization create an initiative such as the one created by the students at City University shows how at least some citizens harbor the need to protect the remnants of nature within the city.

 

Sources:

Benjamin, Walter The Arcades Project. Burgess, Soja. The Global City: Introducing a Concept, Saskia Sassen. 2. Pondicherry: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

“Exploring the Nature of New York….” The CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise. The City Universtity of New York , 2004. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.ive.cuny.edu/nynn/home.htm&gt;.

 

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2 Comments

Filed under City Cultures

2 responses to “Starving Cities

  1. You’re right, the natural world is an important part of urban planning. One of my favorite examples of this is the High Line. The designers made a real effort to use local, wild plants as a part of the landscaping. There’s some information about their choices here: http://www.thehighline.org/design/planting.

  2. This is an interesting topic and something that is probably taken for granted. Someone told me once that when living in the city, it’s really easy to stay home and essentially isolate yourself from the rest of the world, especially during the winter months. It seems it would be much different if there was something alive and refreshing to admire outdoors…aka nature. Many cities try in other ways to get in touch with nature. The most popular way is probably through the “go green” movement. There are plenty of cities trying to be as eco-friendly as possible (for example, Charleston, South Carolina): http://www.gogreencharleston.org/.
    It’s extremely thoughtful to design cities in a way that embraces the natural world, even if it’s not very much. It sounds like urban planners are really onto something when they consider “the elements” of life. 🙂

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