History and Bioregion

The evolution of a given settlement or community is constrained by r- .'"»cation and history as well as by conflicting existing forces. There may inherited limitations, but like a skeleton, they are the basis for structure,

- vement, and future action. From a biological perspective, that which been inherited is the ground against which ecological ideas are

- „oerimposed. When most of the buildings in a neighborhood are vacant "ere is usually good reason for it, but the same reasons can be turned and on themselves to illuminate new opportunities. Much of the new

- -aal and economic frontier will lie in the buildings themselves and in a re---.•ed social infrastructure surrounding their use. Function will play a part in determining the qualities of a neighborhood. One must per--ive a community in relation to its past in order to see its early riches, or -t or unexploited potential.

A good way to develop a time perspective for a community is to track

- >u-n old drawings and photos and to gather as many stories as possible :r> >ni long-time residents. The local historical society often holds treasure -reives of information. Through the process of asembling bits and pieces of :ne past, a sense of the structure of a community, how it worked, and is •• "rking currently can be slowly acquired. Asking people directly what they :ke and dislike about a community now and in the past will help to etch the -:rengths and weaknesses of an area and to reveal the course for improvements. Public transportation is often a bellwether to understanding the hanging economic and social relationships of an area. Another potentially fruitful exercise is to chronicle the location, type, and power output of elec-:rical power stations over the years. Older communities have usually shifted away from local electrical generation to larger more centralized stations wi greater capacity. The same pattern applies to the history of waste treatment.

Imagine for a moment a cross section of a sample coastal city, from waterfront inland to wooded shrubs. Any analysis of social patterns and their relationship to the structure of the community would require the previously mentioned historical perspective combined with contemporary aerial photographs. What would emerge is a set of relationships between residential, commercial, and manufacturing areas that directly define a given neighborhood. Historically, polluting industries and their workers were separated from middle and upper class residential areas. Commerce was usually centrally located in the center, close enough to industry to interact with it yet serving as a "barrier" shielding "better neighborhoods" from the roughness of industry and poorer areas. Industry, commerce, merchandising, and housing grew in relation to each other through a mix of practical and social influences. These earlier patterns are currently being upset in some areas as people begin to reinhabit warehouse districts, preferring to live there, and turning away from the sterility of very new neighborhoods.

A recent determinant of settlement is the interstate highway system which, since the 1950s, has been a dominant factor almost everywhere. In many instances the centers of towns have shifted to the outskirts. The interchange town and communities that have grown up are completely dependent upon the car and most probably, in the long run, on relatively cheap gas.

Few of us are used to thinking about settlement in the context of the bioregion, yet in learning to do so, we can begin to understand the ways in which places like New York, New Orleans, Kansas City, or Denver, to arbitrarily choose a few examples, are different. The respective fates of these cities were, and are, refected in the characteristics of their bioregion, just as ghost towns and abandoned villags also have something to teach us about communal failures, fragile relationships, and deep changes in fashion. Walking through a ghost town, the deserted skeleton of a social system makes it possible to trace what went wrong and to imagine what can and does work in a community.

By sheer dint of bioregion and location, New York City was fated to be one of the world's great centers. Historically, other cities like Montreal and New Orleans might have been rivals, but they have never equalled New York in influence. The reaons for this can be gleaned from a list of the city's major physical and biological attributes. The initial attributes of New York f included: i. abundant pure water; ii. a benign climate; iii. good soil and ¡cultural capacity; iv. the Hudson River and direct access to the Hinter-d>: v. great, hardwood forests; vi. exceptional marine resources includ-; fisheries; vii. superb harbors free of ice year round; viii. and placement he center oof an access hub to New England, Europe, the great grain iducing mid-west via the Great Lakes, the West Indies, and Southeastern ¡tec! States. The combination of these made New York City America's ewav. Coal, a key resource, was close at hand in Pennsylvania. Ship-Idins and shipping developed to solidify and enhance New York's regional inheritance. Although Boston had many of the same attri-les. it lacked a great river connecting it to interior forests and waterways, í Great Lakes, and the continent beyond. The soils in the Boston area re thinner and the climate slightly harsher. Baltimore, similarly, lacked e-ss to the inland and was somewhat isolated by Chesapeake Bay from Hr.i! shipping routes. Montreal was a frozen port in winter, and New Or-ns too distant from Europe and New England. New York, whose story sheer dint of size has a heroic quality, has had a fate much like kings of t—it began to change as much of the original basis of wealth began to ide. Stock Markets and financial communities cannot function forever in mum. The Stock Market and Wall Street are like the inner grids of com-iers. cut off from the materials they represent. The stock yards of II-W.S. the refineries of Texas, or the steel mills of Indiana have nothing di-ih to do with the functioning of New York City, although they are bar-ned for there and support the internal business of the city. Distant ores of food, energy, and materials long ago replaced regional producid The critical economic diversity of the city and its outlying region by v have been lost, which weakens the whole—the fabric of the bioregion.

New York's exhausted biological resources include the once-pro-cbve Long Island and Jersey shore commercial fisheries eliminated by lution, habitat destruction, and over-exploitation; the indigenous ship-idm<i industry; the merchant marine which has shifted principally to eign fleets and flags; agricultural land, as development has pushed ag-aJture off the best soils; and the great primeval forests. In some areas if forests ringing the population centers are growing up again, although se are not sufficient to provide local wood.

A key element to the stabilization of New York lies in renewed caring • it> basic biological resources. Although the former richness can never regained, a plurality of activity that would increase social flexibility, ac tivity, and dynamic quality can be created. The following activities, in c; bination, would help return much of the resource base to the region.

1. The modification of housing and commercial developme' around New York to reduce sprawl.

2. The recycling by industry of water and airborne wastes at sour to improve environmental quality so that conditions are more pleasant fi people living nearby, making them less inclined to want to leave the ar:

3. The true modernization of industry around themes of 1 energy requirements, internal waste purification, and highly adaptive a flexible working environments. If these qualities are combined with a si towards high quality products rather than over-production, indust would be much more efficient.

4. The recycling and reusage of sewage, making useable by-prc ducts from it.

5. The recycling of water for city maintenance functions.

6. The redesign of urban landscaping based on food and ecological "islands", or small wilderness areas, to develop more liveable areas.

7. The rehabilitation of waterfronts, drawing on the example of South Sea Port, to include housing, mariculture, and floating complexes in order to bring the ocean and the river back into the life of the city.

8. The restoration of salt marshes and ocean fish inshore nurseries.

9. The development of coastal mariculture on a scale like that of


10. The reclamation of some of the original farm land.

11. A shift in the energy base to renewable energy sources, particularly solar, quickly and in some volume.

The gradual implementation of these ideas would restore to New York City some part of the biological riches of its original inheritance.

Cities like Tucson, Phoenix, and San Diego lack many of the biological resources that apply to New York. Their growth has been sustained by the heavy importation of water. As continued importation will not come cheaply, much of their future depends on re-using, and purifying, recycling water, and in creating industry and agriculture requiring minimal water use. Long-term viability for such cities lies in creating a profound dry lands mentality and culture in small villages similar to that of Paolo Soleri's thinking at Arcosanti in Arizona.

The Great Plains have their own characteristic beauty, destiny, and culture. Flying over the cities of the Plains one is immediately struck by the fact that they are located on rivers-Wichita on the Arkansas River, Topeka

Kansas River, Kansas City on the Missouri River, Omaha on the Iowa ¡nd so on. These river veins or arteries are still essential to these ag-: al cities, but to a lesser extent than they used to be. The history and

• 'iis of such cities have much in common. There are a number of _ - that make them viable and regulate their over-all size. Water is av-:n modest by reliable quantities in spite of the trend, in recent years, : deep aquifers for fossil water to support agricultural production, re usually situated amidst good to exceptional soils which are the .-.ith of the region. The continuing fertility of the land is essential to ival of such cities. The prevailing climate and soils are superbly : to grains and grasses, which are the basis for a viable livestock ag-■ c. Well developed air, truck, and rail transport provide connections - rest of the country and a range of shipping modes. Finally, wind are abundant seasonally and offer the potential for generating and hydrogen fuels rather than continuing to transport energy

The major difference between New York and most of the cities of the e^ in the diversity of bioregional resources appropriate to them. New York lies at the "belly" of the western industrial world with a vast continent and has half a dozen biological resources, the soil rncipal basis of wealth for the Plains city. Due to modern agricul-•thods, however, soil is eroding at a rate of tons per acre per year. It at such erosion be stopped, or in twenty years the capability of the ains to function as a breadbasket for much of the world will be gone Water, equally vital to agriculture, must be protected. The mining tuifers should be reduced and ultimately discontinued before they ;>ed dry.

I ins comparison of two bioregions from a biogeographic and his-. ■erspective is intended to illustrate ways of thinking about options t .iture. What have been seen as constraints, however, can still be-irces for new directions. Each place has its peculiar attributes and ^ what they are and how they fit within the overall pattern of an provide tangible clues as to how to proceed. The Balinese, among

• t sensitive and artistic of peoples, have a saying which indicates why . i\ life has the precision, creativity and uplifting carefulness of an t It translates roughly as:

"We have no art; we do everything as well as we can." The ability to see an area as an entity—whether city, town, desert or n village-grows from learning to know a place. In a city, a good street or road map is a good place to start. In a smaller town a topographic map is an effective guide. Maps from the present and the past offer information for designing coherent living areas. Once a set of appropriate maps have been assembled, the first step is to delineate all the natural water flows, including streams and lakes, then water-related functions, like harbors, docks, and marine terminals. Using see-through tracing paper attached in layers over the map railroad courses should be charted and overlaid over the water courses, then major road traffic arteries and airports superimposed. From this material, patterns that indicate relationships will begin to emerge and give a sense of what is linked to what in a given area.

• The next step is to prepare a biological map that includes the land, soil and, to some extent, the vegetation. All green zones including parks, open spaces, tree-lined avenues, wooded ravines and forests should be plotted. Such biotic arteries will probably be spotty and discontinuous. The structural patterns created previously can be superimposed on the green zone maps. It is very likely that transportation arteries cut through the topographic and natural connections. With the information thus assembled in map form it is then possible to begin to consider the elements that constitute the raw materials of design.

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Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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