For scholars of urban history and urbanism.
The idea of ecology embraces more than the biological world; it extends to the cultural world as well, including the built environment. At the same time our understanding of environment has changed to include the human participants and not just their external surroundings. Furthermore, humans engage their environment perceptually and this introduces the aesthetic dimension. Shaping the urban landscape requires both an ecological and an aesthetic understanding, and an aesthetic ecological model based on artistic-aesthetic engagement offers a guiding vision for constructing and living in an urbanized environment.
What I have tried to do here is to clarify and redefine the idea of environment in a way that recognizes its contextual character and includes humans, and so cannot be objectified. Similarly, environmental forms must not be understood as objects of experience but as constituents in an experiential, aesthetic field. We may even consider the urban environment the primum exemplem, the primary instance, of the social character of environmental experience and recognize that it directly reflects the consequences of political decisions.
The agricultural metaphor of my title is deliberate. It suggests the need for cultivating the urban environment, including the aesthetic dimension that is part of every place, so that it offers the conditions under which people will develop and flourish. Humane environments require time to grow and should emerge out of local needs, conditions, and traditions. What was once spontaneous urban growth of a proportion and scale to match the human body and activities that completed it must now be deliberately chosen and quickly accomplished. But the same organic principles apply. Planning under these conditions demands a gardener who is talented and sensitive, one who understands that the balance of differences among the components of an environment must be nurtured by being responsive to the distinctive qualities of each, to the interrelations among them, and to the unpredictabilities inherent in a complex and temporal process. This is the essential reciprocity of people and place, and the aesthetics of environment rests on a perceptual engagement between them. The capacity to cultivate the functional and the aesthetic as inseparable aspects of the same urban growth is what makes planning an art and the planner an artist. Can there be any act more profound or scope more significant? It must now be deliberately chosen and quickly addressed.
Environmental aesthetics has become a matter of concern to many different groups in recent years–to conservationists, to legislators, reluctantly to industrialists, and indeed to the public at large. This interest seems to have a clear purpose. It is regarded as an effort, belated and desperate, to save the resources and beauties of our natural world from the possibility of complete and irrecoverable exploitation, and from the disfigurement and loss that must follow. It is an attempt to change the atmosphere from a toxic medium that is often impossible to escape back to one that is fresh and invigorating. It is a proposal to rebuild our cities before they become unredeemable wastelands of physical and social decay.
While the environment has become a popular topic in many circles conservation, legislative, community, and international, to name a few, it has not often been the subject of a broadly reflective inquiry into its philosophical meaning and significance. Indeed, in the flurry of attention toward the environment, one crucial aspect of the subject has often been either disregarded, circumscribed, or trivialized: the aesthetic. Aesthetic experience here is more than the appreciation of beautiful gardens, parks, or urban vistas. It is more than neighborhood cleanup campaigns and the removal or masking of junkyards. It has to do with the very form and quality of human experience in general. And the environment can be seen as the larger setting in which all such experience occurs, the setting in which the aesthetic becomes the qualitative center of our daily lives. I should like to consider such ideas as these here.
The site of Morgantina, located on a ridge in the rolling landscape of east-central Sicily about 60 km from the Ionian Sea coast, has been the locus of continuous archaeological investigation since 1955 (fig. 1).1 The ridge controlled the western end of the fertile Plain of Catania and stands above the source of the Gornalunga River. Farther west, behind the inhabited zone, the land rises toward the Heraian Hills, which form a protective barrier. Between approximately 1000 BC and AD 50, two distinct settlements—both apparently called Morgantina in antiquity—existed on the ridge: an earlier village on the hill at the northeastern end, known today as Cittadella, and a later one on the neighboring plateau, called Serra Orlando, to the southwest (fig. 2). Research carried out at the site has revealed a great deal of information about both towns. The history and preserved material culture of Morgantina specifically (and of Sicily generally) allow for a detailed examination of the transition from Cittadella to Serra Orlando, as well as of the identities and lifeways of the people who settled in those towns during the archaic and classical periods (roughly 600–400 BC). Evidence that will be applied to these issues will include contemporary and later ancient historical accounts, the urban plans of the two towns, and the artifacts—especially pottery—uncovered by archaeologists at Morgantina. Most significantly, this evidence reveals the great extent of indigenous presence in the settlement of the town at Serra Orlando, and perhaps even their participation in the town’s foundation, a fact all the more striking for the historical context in which it occurred.
One of the most pressing challenges in the world today is access to clean water. This chapter explores the crises of contaminated water in Flint, water shutoffs in Detroit, and larger questions about the control of water by private corporations and the changing nature of urbanization. As neoliberal policies seek to privatize infrastructure and essential resources, the resulting crises illustrate the disastrous results of decisions driven by profit rather than the public good and demonstrate the need for a rethinking of the urban imaginary to produce a radically democratic, anticapitalist form of global urbanization.
The city does not exist. The city is a fiction, an abstraction rooted in history and mythology. For how can we identify it? However it is identified or defined, the city is an environment of experience before it is anything else. Urban experience, in fact, is perhaps one of the most important and powerful of the complex dimensions that constitute the city, whatever it may be. I call this talk “Distant Cities” because I want to inquire into urban experience from a different, perhaps unfamiliar direction, urban experience as encountered from the outside, from a distance, as it were. How is the city seen and understood not by its inhabitants but by an outsider who may occasionally enter into the urban sphere for visits of limited duration? The question of urban experience is as complex, intricate, and elusive as its material condition, the city. Here we encounter massiveness – the physical mass of the urban conglomerate of skyscrapers, institutional edifices, commercial monoliths; urban regions, districts, and neighborhoods. We not only encounter massiveness; we face spatial extent, as the urban consumption of the landscape spreads across whole geographical regions, such as the megalopolis of the eastern seaboard of the United States stretching from Boston to Washington or the amoeba-like spread of construction across huge distances and often overlapping state lines, as in the Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis urban conglomerates. From this uncommon external perspective on urban experience, I want to consider what it can tell us about the possibilities of an aesthetic of urbanism. In particular, I want to recover the humane and civilizing possibilities of the city. This leads me finally to an unabashed sketch of how a responsible environment might be now understood.