By Stan Rowe
Published in The Structurist
No. 39/40: pp.17-24. 1999/2000. Address of The Structurist
is: P.O. Box 378, RPO University, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Sask. S7N 4J8 Canada. The editor is Eli Bornstein.
Cities are the rich nodes of civilization, the centers of every nation's culture, its commerce, arts, and sciences, which explains why so much attention is focused on their forms, their structures, and their internal functions. Much less attention has been paid to outer ties, relating the city ecologically to its larger geographic setting: the primary focus of this article.
Like coral reefs, cities are complex ecosystems: three-dimensional physical bodies, a close fusion of organic and inorganic components. Analogous to individual organisms, each volumetric city ecosystem depends not only on internal exchanges but also on outside exchanges, relying on the latter for the provision of necessary energy/materials and for the disposal of unnecessary wastes. The far-reaching effects of energy/material inputs and outputs constitute the ecology of these peculiar human-dominated ecosystems.
Confusion results when the inner functionings of cities, their physiology, is mislabelled their ecology. An example is the book, "The Ecological City" a collection of essays that largely deals with internal improvements of urban settlements by designing into them more of the undomesticated world.1 True, an inner ecology does exist in every urban setting, but it is not the ecology of the city; it is the ecology of people, the connections between inhabitants and the city ecosystem that envelops them.
At the ecology-of-cities level, within Earth's regions, problems are much less tractable than at the ecology-of-people level, within cities. Uncritically mixing the two dissimilar levels fosters an unwarranted optimism about solving city problems. Babylon and Tikal are reminders that city planning and city beautification are no hedge against the dangers of peripheral influences, especially those rendered virulent by neglect.