Capturing the magnanimous and beautiful presence of the Moreton Bay Fig that still houses some small creatures in its folds and crevices. Image source: Anandini
Cities are ecosystems. Built upon the scientific framework of ecosystems as the network of interrelating and interdependent organisms in a natural system, ecological urbanism is the “theory and practice of city design and planning, as a means of adaptation.” (Spirn, 1998, pg. 26) Spirn argues that this theory is a critical framework for future city designing in the face of threats against humanity, health, safety and the environment. In workshopping the city design through the excursion to Blackwattle Bay today, we were able to notice in our design groups how nature is so resilient to the many forces of urban development. Particularly observing the Moreton Bay Figs, the beautiful buttressed roots which are so old, yet so sturdy, I was reminded of my grandmother. Old, yet sturdy. An ageless beauty valued, cherished and respected. Capable of motherly comfort and providing respite in the crevices of her strong embrace. Despite the many urban forces such as residential development, infrastructure and such have led to the cutting of many Moreton Bay Figs, the trees have a cultural and national significance, and are naturally resilient structures of nature. While these forces have changed the way the Figs support the natural ecology, it still houses many organisms (image-above) and also provides respite and aesthetic value to the locality.
Spirn discusses the foundational knowledge of ecological urbanism and its benefits, where Alberti warns “For so great is Nature’s strength that, although…some huge obstacle may obstruct her, or some barrier divert her, she will always overcome and destroy any opposition or impediment.” Although challenging, we must acknowledge and recognise that the city is a part of nature that a whole that embraces us all. And as part of that ecosystem, it is the role of us as designers and inhabitants of future cities. And hence, cities are ecosystems. The term ecology and ecosystem are often used in contexts beyond the natural, as we conclude that nature is the whole that embraces us and all living organisms, each interacting within their own and with other environments. And hence, understanding the ecosystem can help us extend the concept as a metaphor for understanding urban environment. Through this framework, we can observe the effect of human activities and their interrelationships.
Cities should be resilient. Sprin aptly poses that “cities are part of the natural world; cities are habitats.” It is the role of designers to create resilient cities that adapt to changing forces, needs and conditions. The role of design as discussed in class can be direct or indirect. Direct design responses can be demonstrated by the examples of spatial constructions such as habitat bridges that hope to create a seamless coexistence of urban and natural landscape through a concept of biocentrcism that denotes an ethical awareness that all living things have an inherent value and right to exists. Here I can touch on the temporal aspects of Natalie Jeremijenko’s project ‘The Phenology Clock’ that combines art, technology and ecosystem frameworks to communicate the collective relationships we have to natural systems and to create “socially conscious experiences for direct and indirect change.” Opposed to the almost parasitic modes of urban existence we witness at present (of which I observed through the cuttings of the Moreton Figs to make way for light rails), where cities are designed to serve humans needs at the expense of other species, designers can use the understanding of urban ecology concepts and current ecological interactions to inform design possibilities.
Spirn, A.W. 2011, ‘Ecological Urbanism: A framework for the design of resilient cities,’ Resilience in Ecology and Urban Design, Springer Verlag, USA.
Jeremijenko, N, 2015, ‘The Phenology Clock,’ Tega Brain http://tegabrain.com/The-Phenology-Clock accessed 8 April 2018