City life 1.0

The foundations of any society must needs be its harmony with, for want of a better term, nature. There is simply no way we can live outside nature, so we have to recognise that we are part of it and live accordingly. This is easier to say than to do, so my apologies for not having ready answers to the torrent of issues such a line of thought unleashes.

The inescapable paradox is that our cities are built to normalise anthropocentric lifestyles. Nobody is to blame for such a situation, it has just happened this way and would probably do the same again if we were to reinvent industrial society. In simple terms we lack the skill set needed to give the natural world a proper hearing and it is a moot point to suggest that we just need time to do so. We have had an incentive to learn for millennia and have spent that time dipping into finite planetary resources in the process.

The earliest settled cities devised elaborate systems for governing both city and hinterland, documenting their transactions with painstaking detail. Literacy was restricted to the ruling class, but every citizen had to be environmentally savvy if the metropolis was to survive, let alone prosper. History bears witness to the long term success of Sumerian cities such as Girsu or Ur, where archaeologists talk of habitation during millennia, an achievement that is unlikely to be matched by the modern industrial economy. Stumbling from environmental crisis to ecological impasse, the industrial economy has played fast and loose with nature, not to mention urban food chains, the subject of this blog.

More pressing than to understand the fate of early agrarian societies is to understand what they did correctly for centuries. There is good reason to suppose that they had sustainable sanitation of a sort that Sir Alfred Howard envisaged while working on the Indore project. A renewable, natural cycle producing humus within a month would go a long way to explaining the soil’s fertility in the world’s longest-surviving agrarian societies.

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