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Community and Q&A

Cities…

Lucas Durand - 7A | Posted in General Questions on

Are cities more “sustainable” than other modes of living?
Martin has blogged on the subject.
I have previously linked this LBNL case study that disects energy use in Suzhou, a modern city in China.
My perception is:
From the point of view of “operational energy use”, by virtue of their density, cities are more “sustainable”.
From the point of view of total energy use (“operational” + embodied energy of all living/work spaces and supporting infrastructure) the question becomes a bit ambiguous… “it depends” might be the most appropriate answer.
From the point of view of “the human as a user” (total energy use + total embodied energy of all consumer goods – food, cars, clothes, stuff in general etc.) then the “sustainability” of cities begins to look a lot less plausible.

I think the point of view of “the human as a user” is the most realistic way to view a city. From that point of view, cities look like (possibly) relatively efficient hives that are sustainable only so long as the supporting hinterland is able to “feed” it.

So are cities sustainable?
Can a city “feed” itself or is it’s existance dependant on it’s hinterland?

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Replies

  1. Riversong | | #1

    I think your question answers itself.

    But, just as with "green" building we need to get outside the simplistic box of energy use even including embodied, sustainability of habitat has to do primarily with the supply of "food", the disposition of "waste" and the steady-state regenerative capacity of the environment.

    As I've stated numerous times, a city is a large-scale concentrated human habitation which drastically exceeds the carrying capacity of its local environment, thus requiring the exploitation and importation of resources from somewhere else.

    A "hive" is sustainable only as long as its residents don't deplete the local carrying capacity.

    While, as you suggest, a city may cost less operating energy per resident than a less dense population area, but more embodied infrastructure - the crux is that it cannot either feed itself or recycle its wastes within its own geographic limits.

    We know now, or will know very soon, that transporting food and other resources using more solar energy than our bodies can supply on their own, or with the help of other bodies such as draft animals, is inherently unsustainable. Cities that rely on large surrounding rural areas are not sustainable. Cities that rely on global supply routes are certainly not sustainable. Cities that rely on "just-in-time" global supply systems are completely unsustainable.

    The only human habitation that can be considered truly sustainable is one in which all throughputs - food in and wastes out (ideally all recycled or composted) - are sourced from a half day's bodily locomotion travel, with a small percentage coming from a few day's animal travel. This requires quite low population density - on the scale of small rural villages and surrounding countryside. That scale allows life to flow within the seasonal solar energy supply.

    Beyond that scale and ecological deterioration is inevitable, as well as warfare for scarce resources and landbase.

  2. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #2

    A hinterland, in this sense, is where most of the stuff city folks use comes from.
    Traditionaly it is thought of as the rural landscape surrounding a city - farms, forests, etc.
    In the modern world, a city's "hinterland" may extend onto other continents in other parts of the world via the global economy.
    The city/hinterland connection relies on networks of fossil-fuel powered transportation to move that stuff into the city.
    In the case study I linked above, 59% of the test city's energy footprint is related to human consumption.

  3. Roy Harmon | | #3

    When the blizzard hits hard and things are halted for less than 1 week the store shelves are quickly bare. Without bringing it in, where would it all come from. If the truckers strike where do the prices go. What determines who gets what?

  4. ROY HARMON | | #4

    Not sure that I understand hinterland?
    no to sustain itself
    yes to the hinterland

  5. Riversong | | #5

    Just one example of the supply problem:

    Some airports that were able to clear the snow today from all their runways still had to cancel flights because the trucks weren't able to bring in the airplane deicer required to send them safely upwards.

  6. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #6

    I think your question answers itself.

    Robert, I thought you'd say that ;-)
    I must admit that the question is rhetorical as far as I'm concerned.
    Timmy O'Daniels got me thinking it might be fun to debate the question again though.

  7. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #7

    Roy, if you want an idea of how supply problems play out in the modern world read this:
    Remember, remember the 5th of September, 2000

  8. TJ Elder | | #8

    Lucas,

    I have in the last several weeks become involved with a group called Food Not Bombs, which is an interesting urban phenomenon. A handful of volunteers collect surplus food from farmers markets, bakeries and a few other sources, then prepare and serve free hot food in a park (there's a large covered pavilion). The food is primarily vegan and organic, and actually some of the highest quality food (in terms of sustaining health) that you could find. Volunteers use bike trailers to haul things around, and most of the recipients also travel by bike. This project is possible only because of the nature of cities and also food selling businesses, which tend to err on the side of oversupply. A piece of fruit or a vegetable with a blemish gets discarded even when 90% is still good, and that food gets wasted if not collected by a FNB volunteer. Same for unsold loaves of bread, because they will bake fresh bread tomorrow.

    This isn't exactly an intrinsic advantage to cities, but more of an opportunity that exists within cities as they currently operate. It is possible to eat for free by scavenging what would otherwise be wasted, and not even getting into messy scraps from a dumpster. The FNB project is also an opportunity for community building and a kind of trial run at living without money or gasoline.

    One key to this type of activity is having a critical mass of people and business concentrated within a geographic area, really just a two mile radius or so. People are riding their bikes on dark rainy nights, and it's worth it for 20 minutes on the road but maybe not if it were 90 minutes (so 4 miles works but not 20 miles).

    I think the urban vs. suburban vs. rural discussions need to factor in human powered transit and how that impacts quality of life. If you live on a farm and don't venture into town often, then being far away and in a sparsely populated area may be fine. If you want to meet up with friends on a regular basis and can't provide 125,000 btus of energy for transit (one gallon of gasoline) then you're better off living near the destination.

  9. Timmy O'Daniels | | #9

    @Lucas,
    I am truly sorry if I have done anything to impose another rantfest on the lying, thieving, greedy fools who apparently constitute the rest of the GBA community. Eventually we will all come to understand the Truth but the whole of civilization will have to crumble before our subsistence existence utopia can be made. We will have no means whatever of letting Robert know that we were wrong and He was Right. But I'm sure He'll know, somehow.

    Reason for edit : grammatical correction

  10. ROY HARMON | | #10

    Thomas,
    Thanks for post 8, good stuff indeed. What city is this group working?

  11. Riversong | | #11

    Food Not Bombs does good work. But they will have problems with many state and local food regulations. In many places, dairy or bread that's past the "sell by" date cannot be donated for human consumption but only to farmers for livestock (which are then eaten by humans - go figure).

    Depending on which study you read, the US wastes between 25% and 50% of its annual food production from farm or factory to market, households throw out about 14% of their purchased food, 12% of municipal landfill waste is food (which produces the greatest single source of anthropogenic methane). And, in addition to the terrible waste of food, we also waste the huge volumes of energy and water embodied in that food.

    "Waste not, want not" the old timers used to say. They also said "Use it up, wear it out, made do or do without."

    Perhaps the one good thing about cities is that they are the easiest place for the homeless to scavenge for a living because there is a much higher concentration of waste - food, space, shelter, heat...

  12. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #12

    A few quick thoughts on this topic:

    1. Cities come in all shapes and sizes. I get the impression that the dominant image in this discussion is of the megalopolis. There are so many gradations between that and the small village or solitary homestead, so please be careful about abstractions and generalizations.

    2. There are many models for the sustainable city of the post-fossel-fuel age, they come not surprisingly from the fairly recent past, in the pre-fossil-fuel age. Even some large cities from the more recent past are going to be good sustainable models if we allow that renewable low-carbon fuels are going to be able to supplant the coal that powered the freight trains and street cars of, say, early twentieth-century Chicago.

    3. There is ample evidence that many people really, really like the cultural, educational, social, political and employment resources that cities have to offer. Most people also tend to prefer community to isolation - community actually means 'shared walls - and cities have long offered the opportunity to make and/or choose the community of your preference rather than just being stuck with the restricted options available in your village or hamlet.

    4. Cities are going to change, that's for sure, but they're not going away any time soon, especially in the age of social communication that reaches into the most remote villages of the developing world. 'How you're gonna keep 'em down on the farm, Now that they've seen Mumbai?'

  13. Riversong | | #13

    We will have no means whatever of letting Robert know that we were wrong and He was Right. But I'm sure He'll know, somehow.

    Riversong is Posting On-Line

    You better watch out
    You better not kvetch
    Better not spout
    And that's no stretch
    Riversong is posting on-line.

    He's making a list
    And Googling it twice
    He always knows who's green and nice
    Riversong is posting on-line.

    He knows when you are sleepwalking
    He knows when you're awake
    He knows if you've been greenwashing
    So be green for future's sake!

    You better live light
    You better live right
    Better not work for profit or might
    Riversong is posting on-line.

  14. Riversong | | #14

    community actually means 'shared walls

    You made that up. Community comes from the Latin communis, meaning common, public, general, shared. And it was used as much in terms of fellowship as in terms of ownership.

    There is ample evidence that many people really, really like the cultural, educational, social, political and employment resources that cities have to offer. Most people also tend to prefer community to isolation...

    That most people like something is not an argument for its value - often the contrary. Most people today like material comfort and luxury, electronic gadgets and the personal car. So what?

    What is indisputable is that humans are social creatures, but how many stories have been told of the extreme loneliness within the crowds of cities, the sense of isolation and alienation and impersonalization? Almost every city also includes slums and intense poverty. What's true is that, whatever exists in cities - good or bad - is found in concentrated form.

    Concentrated orange juice is more energy-efficient to use, but it's not healthier (how's that for a tangential analogy?).

  15. Riversong | | #15

    If cities are the repository of civilization, ponder these:

    Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.
    Mark Twain

    While civilization has been improving our houses, it has not equally improved the men who are to inhabit them. It has created palaces, but it was not so easy to create noblemen and kings.
    Henry David Thoreau

    It was the Law of the Sea, they said. Civilization ends at the waterline. Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top.
    Hunter S. Thompson

    It is impossible to overlook the extent to which civilization is built upon a renunciation of instinct.
    Sigmund Freud

    The first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization.
    Sigmund Freud

    When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization.
    Daniel Webster

    Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.
    Thomas Sowell

    The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization.
    Sigmund Freud

    The gross heathenism of civilization has generally destroyed nature, and poetry, and all that is spiritual.
    John Muir

    The development of civilization and industry in general has always shown itself so active in the destruction of forests that everything that has been done for their conservation and production is completely insignificant in comparison.
    Karl Marx

    Civilization is what makes you sick.
    Paul Gauguin

    America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
    Oscar Wilde

    God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness.
    Aldous Huxley

    Civilization is a youth with a molotov cocktail in his hand. Culture is the Soviet tank or L.A. cop that guns him down.
    Edward Abbey

    If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.
    Ayn Rand

    Civilization and profit go hand in hand.
    Calvin Coolidge

    Inventor: A person who makes an ingenious arrangement of wheels, levers and springs, and believes it civilization.
    Ambrose Bierce

    The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson

    I think God's going to come down and pull civilization over for speeding.
    Steven Wright

    The Bible tells us to be like God, and then on page after page it describes God as a mass murderer. This may be the single most important key to the political behavior of Western Civilization.
    Robert Anton Wilson

    You can't say civilization don't advance... in every war they kill you in a new way.
    Will Rogers

    Peace on earth would mean the end of civilization as we know it.
    Joseph Heller

    The whole history of civilization is strewn with creeds and institutions which were invaluable at first, and deadly afterwards.
    Walter Bagehot

    Without winners, there wouldn't even be any civilization.
    Woody Hayes

    In our rich consumers' civilization we spin cocoons around ourselves and get possessed by our possessions.
    Max Lerner

    Civilization is unbearable, but it is less unbearable at the top.
    Timothy Leary

    Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.
    Will Durant

    “I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species. I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.”
    - Agent Smith from The Matrix

    "I think we risk becoming the best informed society that has ever died of ignorance."
    - Ruben Blades

    We may get to the point where the only way of saving the world will be for industrial civilization to collapse.
    Maurice Strong

    What most people don't seem to realize is that there is just as much money to be made out of the wreckage of a civilization as from the upbuilding of one.
    Margaret Mitchell

    As I have said for many years throughout this land, we're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the future of human civilization. Every bit of that has to change.
    Al Gore

  16. TJ Elder | | #16

    Robert, your list of quotes doesn't address urban vs. rural living so much as human behavior in general. If the question is where the most "civilized" people choose to live, that's a different matter.

    Roy, there are many chapters of Food Not Bombs in different cities. Anyone who wants to collect and serve free food could call themselves FNB. The Portland, Oregon chapter may not be typical. Here's a film about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=49nzxKHSQPw

    There are other films about different FNB chapters that seem to operate differently, with more focus on feeding the homeless, and not necessarily the same approach of collecting surplus food or using bike transit. In fact there aren't many of what you might call conventionally homeless (street people) who take part, even when they're already at the park. They say they're not interested in vegan food.

  17. Riversong | | #17

    But my introductory sentence did.

    While it's a common vanity to use the term "civilization" for a culture advanced (sic) in the arts, technology, industry and government, the term comes from the Latin civilis, meaning civil, related to the Latin civis, meaning citizen, and civitas, meaning city or city-state.

    I think that a reasonable and accurate definition of "civilization" is a society organized into concentrated artificial urban environments. It is typically opposed to pagan (Latin paganus, country dweller) or peasant (Old French paisant, country dweller) society.

    Dwelling in and with the countryside, making one's living from the land, fosters entirely different values and mindsets than urban living. Today, almost all rural dwellers are urban at heart (you can take the person out of the city, but...)

  18. Riversong | | #18

    This is a test of the SPAM filter: sex (is this what's triggering the censor?)

    Edit: No, how about erect or procreate or Viagra?

    Second Edit: this is weird. I've been trying to post a theory of Freud's and keep getting filtered.

  19. Riversong | | #19

    Allrighty, I'm going to try this post one paragraph at a time:

    Freud, in Civilization and Its Discontents, speculated that we remained tied to the land and our animal instincts as long as we walked on all fours with our noses - literally - to the ground, relying on smell and hearing as the dominant senses. It was, he said, when we began to walk on two legs that our visual sense became dominant and our abstract mind developed that civilization ensued.

    [That worked - next paragraph]

    When we relied on scent to determine when the females of the species were in heat, we procreated in a natural cycle and that kept our numbers in check.

    [OK, I got one sentence through - keep trying...]

    But when we became visually-dominated, we would get excited all the time, wanted (left blank) on our own schedule, became possessive and protective of our female partners, which eventually led to the family and hence to all of modern civilization.

    [Wow, had to tame that one down a lot - let's try the last...]

    In other words, it was man's ability to be continually erect which created civilization as we know it. Now, in the degenerating phase of civilization, man must take Viagra in order to maintain the status quo.

  20. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #20

    ...doesn't address urban vs. rural living so much as human behavior in general.

    Urban vs. rural is not really what I was thinking about when I started this thread.
    I was thinking more about specific issues related to the "sustainability" of cities.
    James said:

    Cities are going to change, that's for sure, but they're not going away any time soon

    I think this should be common sense. So the question becomes how does a city "feed" itself? What ways are there to "soften the blow" of that change?
    Though historical examples of pre-fossil fuel era cities can provide some insights into how future cities might work, their usefulness as examples are limited because of how the resource landscape has changed since then. The days where people walked across rivers on the backs of salmon are long gone...

    Initiatives like "Food not Bombs" is what I was thinking about.

  21. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #21

    Robert, the spam filter has been a pain in my ass lately.

  22. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #22

    Other things I've been thinking about:
    - Cool roofs for "urban heat island mitigation"
    - Vertical farming

  23. Timmy O'Daniels | | #23

    culture advanced (sic) in the arts, technology, industry and government,

    sic (L.) so, thus - printed within brackets in quoted matter to show that the original is being faithfully reproduced even though incorrect or apparently so.

    @Robert,
    Who are you quoting and how do you think advanced should be spelled?

  24. Riversong | | #24

    Who (sic) are you quoting and how do you think advanced should be spelled (sic)?

    "It may also be used to highlight a perceived error, sometimes for the purpose of ridicule."
    - Wikipedia

  25. Riversong | | #25

    Cities are going to change, that's for sure, but they're not going away any time soon

  26. Riversong | | #26

    I have trouble imagining US cities pulling off what Havana and the Cuban nation did in the 1990s, but the example of Cuba's organic post-carbon revolution is an important and inspiring one (all of Cuba's revolutionary achievements are inspiring, but little known).

    The Power of Community is a must-watch documentary for anyone thinking about a post-carbon world. I've shown it many times in my community.

  27. ROY HARMON | | #27

    Maybe we should think about ways to create some "Stay Power" for the various aspects of good currently going on in cities. Vertical farming seems interesting at many levels~~~

  28. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #28

    CPULs - Continous Productive Urban Landscapes.
    A book about urban Permaculture.
    From the review linked above:

    This book is written by an architect for other architects... It aims to put productive land use at the centre of urban design.

  29. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #29

    @ Robert
    1. Yes community is from communis, which is in turn from the two roots co- together and mun- which has a variety of derivatives including munitio, munimentum, (city wall or fortification); municipium (autonomous free town). Community has urban roots.
    2. You miss the point entirely. Whatever YOUR values may be, there will be enough who do value the community resources of the city to ensure they will continue to exist in one form or another as long as there are people left on the planet to build them. It's what we do. I suggest it might be more profitable to worry about what KIND of cities we build than to indulge the fantasy that we can persuade the rest of humanity to abandon them.
    3. Slums and intense poverty, loneliness and alienation are found everywhere on the planet. Cities do seem to be a magnet for the lost and the lonely and many cities do a better job bringing these misfits into caring community than the places from which they came. Of course, many do not - again, let's concern ourselves with how we wish our cities to be, and take action to make them that way.

    By the way, that's one of the dumbest Edward Abbey aphorisms I've ever seen. Then I saw Ayn Rand coming up and stopped reading.

  30. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #30

    Paris in the late nineteenth century supplied all its fresh dairy and produce needs from within the city limits. Do I need to mention it did this without recourse to such inanities as vertical farming?

  31. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #31

    @Robert among your list of unsupported assertions I'll just address this one:
    "cities are unsustainable by definition and have historically proven to be so."
    What definition would that be? I spent ten years in a city that had sustained itself for around 2,000 years during which it has endured occupation by invading armies, devastation by civil war, and bombing during WWII. Fifty feet from the building where I worked stands a city wall built by the Romans, eighty feet away is a cathedral built in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries and still in daily use. During all this time and despite numerous economic vicissitudes it has supported a steady human population in a wide variety of honest occupations. From the very center of the city you can see the farm fields in the surrounding hills which continue to provide agricultural products in exchange for the many complementary benefits that proximity to urban resources allows. What was your definition of sustainability again?

  32. Timmy O'Daniels | | #32

    @Robert,
    Please excuse my perceived error of writing a sentence in correct English. 'Whom' would have been incorrect in this context and the past tense of spell is spelled 'spelled'.
    I would not have expected you, of all people, to be dismissive of others whose cultures differ from your own.

  33. Timmy O'Daniels | | #33

    Urban vs. rural is not really what I was thinking about when I started this thread.
    I was thinking more about specific issues related to the "sustainability" of cities.

    @Lucas,
    You are asking the Wrong Question - please re-phrase the question so that it fits The Answer provided. However, now that we have The Answer perhaps it doesn't need to be repeated so the rest of us can discuss what you actually asked...

    Historic evidence on the sustainability of cities need not be provided because it does not fit the cosmic (sp.?) assertions of The One Who Has The Answer.

    Historically, cities have been pretty unhealthy places to live but, assuming that modern knowledge of micro-biology and water supply may be introduced into the discussion without triggering the Rantmeister, that is not inevitable. Sustainable cities are likely to be more of a patchwork than the current models with relatively dense living/working areas interspersed with agricultural zones. The communal and artistic areas will be in the denser part(s) of the cities. An electric transport system should allow food, goods and people to move up to fifty miles without difficulty. People that want to go where they like, whenever they like, can do so by bicycle. Of course, there are times ( OMG :0 ) when the transport system will prove inadequate due to (da da daah) Mother Nature's Revenge. So folk will have to stay home, live on stored food and work remotely or do house maintenance. It's not going to be the car-dominated world we know today but it's not going to be hand-knitted subsistence existence either.
    Reason for edit: I missed a period.

  34. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #34

    Timmy, though I hate to agree with Robert on such a petty and inconsequential point, in this case 'whom' would have been technically correct. Parsing the sentence 'you' is the subject, 'are quoting' is the verb (continuous present) and who(m) would be the object. However as barely one in a thousand English speakers ever uses the accusative form of this word in either written or spoken form, and that one only when s/he wishes to impress, the point is a stupid one: for all but the most formal usage 'whom' has simply been retired from the language and the uninflected form does duty for all. Having nothing sensible to say about the content of your perfectly lucid post Robert chose to quibble on an asinine point of grammar. As Winston Churchill is said to have replied when an editor had the temerity to 'correct' a dangling participle in the draft of one of his speeches: "This is arrant nonsense, up with which I will not put!"

  35. Timmy O'Daniels | | #35

    Thanks for that James, I merely wrote that sentence as I would have spoken it. I have no wish to impress The One Who Has The Answer. He is certainly not impressed with me and you may be assured that, at least in certain areas, the feeling is entirely mutual.

    I'm with Calvin Trillin on this matter -

    As far as I'm concerned, "whom" is a word that was invented to make everyone sound like a butler.

  36. ROY HARMON | | #36

    Wow, Yu guys r talkin faincy here!

  37. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #37

    Paris in the late nineteenth century supplied all its fresh dairy and produce needs from within the city limits.

    James,
    Though I also believe history has some useful lessons, you may be over-estimating the value of historical examples. Things have changed a lot since the 19th century. That city's population is now 5 times what it was in the late 19th century and as I said before the resource landscape has changed significantly since then.
    The naturaly fertile soils and water resources that supported a "sustainable" dairy industry in Paris no longer exist. Even if those resources did exist as they once had, it is unlikely that they would be sufficient to provide for the entire present day population - especially given modern levels of waste and expectations of consumption.

    The best historical example of a high-population density "sustainable" society that I have been able to find is in Japan during their "Edo period".
    During the 265 year "Edo period" Japan had essentially closed it's borders to the outside world and a national population of some 30 million people was sustained - despite the limitations of a small land mass and moutainous topography - by growing rice in fields fertilized with human excrement. Are you ready to try fertilizing with composted human waste?

    Do I need to mention it did this without recourse to such inanities as vertical farming?

    James, did you not like the rendering in that article?
    Just because you consider an idea like "vertical farming" to be inane does not mean other people do not find it to be an inspiration for some other idea.
    A couple of years ago some well-meaning people in a town nearby tried (and failed) to establish a "vertical farm" in an abandoned grain facility.
    I admired their willingness to make the attempt even if they were not quite "clever" enough to anticipate that their efforts would fail.

    Now is a good time for crazy ideas.

  38. Timmy O'Daniels | | #38

    Wow, Yu guys r talkin faincy here!

    @Roy,
    Cuz if we don' some [fillintheblank] picks a [fillintheotherblank] fight...
    D'd if do and d'd if we don'

  39. Timmy O'Daniels | | #39

    @Lucas,
    Composted human waste can now be so processed and so re-branded so that the city inhabitants need never know...
    Then some folk can start a short-lived movement espousing 'natural' fertilizer that hasn't had all that nasty processing.

  40. Riversong | | #40

    Community has urban roots.

    Perhaps, but not for the linguistic reasons you cite. Commnis derives from the Proto-Indo-European root ko-moin-i, meaning "held in common", a compound adjective formed from ko- "together" + moi-n, a suffixed form of the base *mei- "change" or "exchange", hence lit. "shared by all" or "common exchange" or "common change" - co-evolution.

    It is almost certainly a word describing the co-evolution of the natural community.

    If the word has urban roots, it would only be because in natural society there is no need for a word to define what is known intuitively by all, and it is only in civilization that property exists - whether private or collective and that a term of contrast would be required.

    Whatever YOUR values may be, there will be enough who do value the community resources of the city to ensure they will continue to exist in one form or another as long as there are people left on the planet to build them. It's what we do.

    Though you and many others would like to dismiss the values I espouse as subjective or personal, they are not - they are universal human values that will re-emerge once we are disabused of the artificial values of civilization.

    And civilization is by no means "what we do". We lived for at least 2.5 million years in the Garden of Eden and only the last 10,000 in what we know as civilization. What is in our DNA is something entirely different and it will re-emerge once the facade of civilization is torn away.

    I suggest it might be more profitable to worry about what KIND of cities we build than to indulge the fantasy that we can persuade the rest of humanity to abandon them.

    There is no need for persuasion. It will happen by necessity - since cities are unsustainable by definition and have historically proven to be so. You suffer under the very modern illusion that we are free to determine the shape of our future. We are but bit actors in a play directed by a much greater consciousness.

  41. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #41

    Timmy,
    Your point is taken.
    Personally, I'm not sure it really matters how it gets processed and marketed, just so long as it is done without using much in the way of energy inputs and happens before chemical fertilizers go away.

  42. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #42

    Timmy,
    What does the "at" symbol mean before the name of each person you are addressing? Does it mean you want to talk at them, not converse with them? Or is it some kind of secret handshake I haven't learned about yet?

  43. John Brooks | | #43

    @ = red herring ?

  44. Riversong | | #44

    JAMES MORGAN: By the way, that's one of the dumbest Edward Abbey aphorisms I've ever seen. Then I saw Ayn Rand coming up and stopped reading.

    "Civilization is a youth with a molotov cocktail in his hand. Culture is the Soviet tank or L.A. cop that guns him down." - Edward Abbey

    Abbey is saying nothing different from Einstien (so you must think him dumb as well): that the destructive power of our technology (atom bomb = Molotov cocktail) has changed everything but our outmoded mode of thinking (civilization = adolescent). Abbey goes on to say that the response of our "advanced" culture is no different that that of the terrorist it opposes. Noam Chomsky says the same thing today: "How do we end terrorism? That's easy. Stop engaging in it. By its own definition, the United States is the leading purveyor of terrorism in the world today."

    The late great Kurt Vonnegut would, no doubt, agree. "So it goes."

    And too bad you stopped reading at Ayn Rand (of whom I am no fan), because I included her quote to indicate her single correct observation that civilization and altruism are incompatible.

    JAMES MORGAN: However as barely one in a thousand English speakers ever uses the accusative form of this word in either written or spoken form, and that one only when s/he wishes to impress, the point is a stupid one

    If I were to live my life the way the teeming masses do, I would be little more than a herd animal and equally culpable for the general decline in humanity. What is stupid is making assumptions about the motives of another. To impress fools is a fool's task. Nothing I do is for such a lowly reason, which is also unnecessary when one has no need of the affirmation or accolades of others.

    It is, rather, because I believe that language is the universal tool of humanity and the one that most renders us human. I would no more abuse language than I would a fine chisel - for clarity of communication is the requisite for viable and sustainable human interaction. It is revealing that the willingness to accept the sloppy and careless use of language parallels the discomfort with the sharpness of mine – most people would rather I use a dull chisel.

    Agrarian philosopher Wendell Berry is one of the most lucid and important writers alive today, yet his craftful use of language is hardly done to impress others.

    In Standing by Words, Wendell Berry writes, "Two epidemic illnesses of our time – upon both of which virtual industries of cures have been founded – are the disintegration of communities and the disintegration of persons. That these two are related (that private loneliness, for example, will necessarily accompany public confusion) is clear enough. What seems not so well understood, because not so much examined, is the relation between these disintegrations and the disintegration of language. My impression is that we have seen, for perhaps a hundred and fifty years, a gradual increase in language that is either meaningless or destructive of meaning. And I believe that this increasing unreliability of language parallels the increasing disintegration, over the same period, of persons and communities."

    Having nothing sensible to say about the content of your perfectly lucid post Robert chose to quibble on an asinine point of grammar.

    In fact it was Timmy who sidestepped the lucid substance of my post by nit-picking my use of the bracketed (sic) in its secondary – and more common – function. He, who cannot differentiate between a subjective and an objective pronoun, insists on the narrow purity of (sic). I simply turned the tables on him, and neither of you caught the joke (or the substantive message which it contained).

    TIMMY O'DANIELS: it does not fit the cosmic (sp.?) assertions of The One Who Has The Answer.

    You can spell it "comic" as well, since the Universe is certainly not without humor (just look at the human race for an example of a good joke), and I'm a disciple of Swami Beyondanama the Cosmic Comic. The problem with civilization is that its practitioners will always tar and feather The One Who Has The Answer and instead seek The Answer that's Good for Number One.

    "If you are worried what other people think, I've got good news for you. Most people don't think."
    - Swami Beyondanama

  45. Riversong | | #45

    Composted human waste can now be so processed and so re-branded so that the city inhabitants need never know...

  46. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #46

    Martin - @(name) is a Twitter thing. Not that I tweet.

    Robert, I don't need the meaning of Abbey's quote explained to me, I understood it perfectly well. I simply disagree with his debasement of the language through these tendentious pseudo-definitions of civilization and culture. And if you have a low opinion of Ayn Rand why attempt to bolster your argument with her authority? A barrage of random quotes does far less to support the communication of your opinions than you imagine.

  47. Riversong | | #47

    I don't need the meaning of Abbey's quote explained to me, I understood it perfectly well.

    Perhaps, though your denigration of the quote certainly didn't suggest a deep understanding, nor its consistency with similar quotes from people even you might acknowledge as other than "dumb".

    And if you have a low opinion of Ayn Rand why attempt to bolster your argument with her authority?

    Because even philosophically errant thinkers are occasionally correct on a few points, and because the fact that her philosophy of economics and ethics has so completely pervaded modern global culture it suggests a primary defect of civilization as we now know it.

    A barrage of random quotes does far less to support the communication your opinions than you imagine.

    Hardly random - and a collection of quotes from authors widely regarded as credible that share a common critique or disdain for civilization would be considered by all but the deliberately obstinate and contrarian as supportive of my analysis.

  48. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #48

    Robert: "a collection of quotes from authors widely regarded as credible"

    Argument from authority? Not impressed.

    With regards to the Freud quote concerning the insult and the stone, do I take it you prefer the stone?

  49. Timmy O'Daniels | | #49

    Dear Martin,
    I try not to talk at the participants in GBA but to converse with them. This is sometimes difficult.

  50. Timmy O'Daniels | | #50

    a collection of quotes from authors widely regarded as credible

    Dear Robert,
    You're not bolstering your argument with support from the great unwashed whose opinions you so despise, are you?

  51. User avatar GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #51

    James,
    So teach me more about Twitter. If the "at" symbol appears before a name in a Web forum like this one, does the symbol have any functional value? Does it allow Twitter users to access or search this forum?

    Or is it just a habit of typing?

  52. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #52

    Martin: I believe that @(name) performs a specific addressing function in Twitter which is read by the system itself, like an email address. At least that's how I understand it: I opened a Twitter account some time ago to see what the fuss was about and used it precisely twice, so I'm no expert. It seems to have carried over into in online discussions like this one not to perform an electronic function but simply as a typographical indicator of a response to a particular participant, really no different than the colon suffix after your name at the beginning of this note.

  53. John Brooks | | #53

    Thanks James,
    I was curious about the @ myself

  54. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #54

    Robert, I've been rereading your quotes on civilization and culture in an honest attempt to get a closer reading of your attitude to these values, and it still seems a confused list with no consistent message, so I return to my characterization as random. A number of your quoted writers express clear disdain for human civilization and culture and would seem to prefer to have it gone, so that's fairly consistent. Among the rest Gore at least obviously values it and fears for its passing, Coolidge and Rand approve of it in a form you would seem to disapprove, as would I. I can only think you're missing out on the humor of Twain and Rogers - these are attempts to shape civilization rather than deny it, surely? Similarly Durant, Bagehot, Wilson, Bierce, Wilde are closely involved in the attempt to steer our civilization, such as it is, towards better ends. And then there's Freud, that old trickster, speaking out of both sides of his mouth as usual.

    In your actions as a builder, writer, teacher you would seem to have a very highly developed sense of civitas, that core characteristic of human community which enumerates and clarifies our rights and responsibility toward each other, and of cultus, the garden we jointly till to make deeper and more productive soil for future generations. By a thousand acts, not least of which is our participation in this forum, we are following that admirably humble (that word again) precept with which Voltaire closes Candide: "Il faut cultiver nos jardins" - we must dig our gardens.

    But at the same time you also seem attached to the idea that all such cultural synthesis is taking us on the short road to hell in a handbasket. Did I really read that you wished to raise your son in the wilderness, without speech? (Robot voice): Does not compute.

  55. User avatar
    James Morgan | | #55

    Now off to the beach to celebrate the turning of the year with a hundred or so of our best friends. Here's wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous and safe New Year, everyone! Catch you on the flip side.

  56. Lucas Durand - 7A | | #56

    A related article about urban sustainability:
    Transition cities: Mission impossible?

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