cities as natural environments

If you are in anyway like me, you’ll have trouble escaping from the powerful mental dichotomy of nature versus human-made. But when you manage to resist its lure and look at cityscapes as particular forms of nature rather than opposed to nature much becomes visible that would otherwise remain hidden. Cities are the human ant hill, or bee hive, and their structures both reflect and influence its inhabitants, and those that came before them.

The growth of urban environments and the urban proportion of world population, being exponential phenomena, have only recently taken off big time. And recently is an understatement: when I was born there were less than 3 billion people, now we’re at approximately 7.7 billion. When I was born less than 33% of world population lived in cities, by now more than 55% do.

So a good half of us now live in man-made environments, and way more when you take into account how thoroughly rural landscapes have been shaped by humans, and how connected the urban and the rural are.

Being able to look at cities as ‘just’ another natural landscape, requires a shift of perspective. Easier said than done, so let me try to illustrate what I mean with adopting a perspective that opens you up to new ways to experiencing the familiar. I may have a very different taste in music than John Cage, but he is a perfect example of someone looking at his environment without the blinders of habitual dichotomies like natural/artificial:

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