2017-04-11

Messing with habitat


The founder of our settlement provided a general idea of how the future city was supposed to look like. An architect came up with a few models one of which imitated the shape of a galaxy. Based on that, a layout for the city, the so-called masterplan has been drawn by our town planning group. Population development in the surrounding villages and land speculation are now massively interfering with said plan, but also an increasingly bold environmental movement within our community itself is making the realization of infrastructure according to the masterplan more difficult. Currently under discussion is, imposing a government-approved land use plan through the application of authority, but --
"There's an issue which almost nobody writes about or talks about, and yet it's perhaps more fundamental than any other issue at all, which is soil. Soil is the basis of human civilization. Soil is the basis of human existence. We do not exist without soil. Everything we eat, everything which contributes to our body mass comes from soil. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation we have 60 years of harvest left at current rates of soil loss and degradation. And this is a marginal issue. It doesn't feature in politics, it doesn't feature in debate, it's not on the news. No one is talking about this, yet it's the most fundamental issue of all [...] the biggest bias is the bias against relevance. Those things that are objectively most relevant to our lives are marginalised while trivia is put in their space, is put front and center as the thing we ought to obsess about." -- George Monbiot, author of "How did we get into this mess? Politics, equality, nature" in an interview with Verso

A few days ago I had the privilege of getting a glimpse of the discussion around the NTDA* for our township here. The mail exchange I saw - I hope the authors are going to share it with a wider audience as well - left absolutely no doubt that forcing the masterplan into practice is a pretty bad idea.

Without going into the details of their convincing arguments I would like to point out that our physical bodies require physical habitat for their survival, habitat which allows for the growth of food, collection of water, and regulation of body temperature. Habitat is not the supermarket shelves most of us refer to for food, not the money we possess, not the technology we use, not the good books we read, nor the inspiring ideas and visions we derive from them. Habitat consists of the landbase with its shape, its hydrology, its soil, and its living organisms and their larger cultures and communities (what we call ecosystems). Habitat is what provides us with food, water, oxygen, shelter and literally everything else that is absolutely essential for our survival. The elements herein are not interchangeable, none of them dispensible, and one cannot manipulate any of the variables without affecting the whole habitat. You mess with it -- you don't eat, period.

Much of the future city's area still looks like this.
Our founder centered the city around a banyan tree on top of a hill, and that led to massive reforestation of the local watershed, as the first settlers needed shade urgently. I don't know whether the founder was aware of it -- most pioneers certainly weren't, and the advocates of the masterplan still aren't -- but the new ecosystem came into existence in exactly the right spot for most of our basic needs to get met -- provided we respect what has developed over the last 50 years on this once barren plateau. Tremendous effort by thousands of people contributing countless hours of hard physical work went not only into the re-creation of this forest of several million wooden souls with its diverse fauna; the same is true for many of our farms as well, where committed people enabled natural processes to heal the wounds human 'development' had cut. Thanks to half a century of organic farming some places have built up not just inches but a foot and more of healthy, carbon-rich top soil.

To sacrifice these achievements in order to build paved roads, offices, factories, and houses in their place is not merely disrespecting of the creative energy of humans and non-humans alike -- what kind of spirituality is this supposed to be? -- it is highly destructive when it comes to habitat. As long as we dismiss the information and understandings painfully gained through the history of civilization we better dare not speak of higher consciousness. We cannot impose abstract visions on a real landscape and expect to have a habitat tomorrow. Global environmental degradation forbids us to trade habitat for development any longer without immediately endangering our very existence up here. The city on the hill would become home to the fool on the hill... a dead fool, for that matter.

It is our duty to act according to our best knowledge and our highest consciousness as a species. Knowing what we know about watersheds, climate change, aquifers, ecosystems and their degradation, and so forth, a new vision for our township is urgently needed, a vision that does not speak of imposition of structure -- dead geometrical objects -- upon a living ecosystem with its human and non-human community. What we need is the (re-) enactment of an understanding how to (re-) integrate the human sphere into the community of life. The brackets point out that historical precedence for non-separation does exist.

The galaxy model was never meant to constitute the ultimate word on the settlement's shape. Our founder did not say, Repeat after me. Instead, we have been called to take advantage of new developments and pieces of knowledge as we proceed. We are supposed to work out the functioning of our society as we are walking forward -- on the go, so to speak -- and that certainly includes the physical manifestation of "the city at the service of truth". Barring a direct lie, you cannot strive farther from truth than dwelling in architectural dreams that are denying the significance of habitat and that have no connection with what-is: ground reality, empirical reality, the reality of the land.

No comments:

Post a Comment