Clive Thompson writes about rewilding cities, in a new extension of his “rewilding your attention” concept. In the piece, he profiles cities that have ripped up roads made for cars in favor of rivers and public spaces. He compares the way cities have been built around the automobile to monocropping.
Indeed, one thing we learned from the 20th century is that monocropping is freaking dangerous. Whenever we ploughed over fields and regions to plant a single crop, the land got weaker over time, because it lost that dense, gnarly, diverse spectrum of life. Farmers for centuries knew this, which is why they rotated crops and had a network of animal life interpenetrating small farms. But with big industrial farming, we monocropped, and created — decades down the line — crappier soil, entire regions susceptible to a single pest, and unexpected knock-on effects. (Like how industrial farming destroyed roadside milkweed, helping to decimate Monarch butterfly populations.)
It’s an interesting concept that begs the questions of whether the cities that have “rewilded,” to some extent, are healthier for their inhabitants and in what ways that could be measured.
In his book The Life We’re Looking For, Andy Crouch examines how we are increasingly building our environments around machines.
The great urbanist Jane Jacobs masterfully outlined, in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the elements of an urban environment that make it a healthy place for human habitation: mixed-use buildings, plenty of chances for street-level interaction, limited traffic, priority for pedestrians. It is not much exaggeration to say that these are precisely the conditions that are worst for autonomous vehicles. The closer an environment is to being genuinely good for human beings, the worse it is for a self-driving car.
He writes of humans creating “attenuated cultural environments that treat persons like machines.” The effort to rewild cities is a pushback against this trend, and maybe even a necessary one if people are to flourish.
→ Rewilding Cities
📷 Image source: Utrecht, Holland from Wikimedia Commons