02 cities sustainability

There is certainly a misalignment with what we want from cities and what we get (especially depending on what it is one wants), but it seems as though the primary tension of our relationships to cities is not a misalignment between wanting and getting. It is rather that for the most part, we do get what we want, but with dire consequences due to shortsightedness. The terminology I am using is vague, and to carry on without defining the terms I am using would be rather useless. But instead of prescriptively defining what we want from cities, what we get from cities, and why cities are the appropriate unit to begin looking at environmental crisis, I will instead shift to a discussion of crisis and inactivity due to mismatched systems. Naomi Klein gets at the heart of the dissonance of the relationship we have with cities (and the rest of the world) when she says that “we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism” (18). The necessary changes that need to happen on a large scale are in conflict with our economic model, and life as it is presently. The paradoxes created when large-scale, primarily extractive processes are hindered by the problems they themselves had a huge hand in are not confronted with an environmentally-oriented realism but rather with the bullheaded stubbornness of a logic that will not accept anything but its own solutions (see pages 2 and 3 for specific examples).

That being said, I do not believe that a potential solution lies in rethinking urbanity the way that Peter Calthorpe does in the first chapter of Urbanism and Climate Change. The model of urbanism he is talking about does not place itself at odds with the current extractive nature of the economy today, but is rather passively shaped as a commodification of the environment that is probably better than what it could be in its worst case scenario. Calthorpe seems to be approaching climate change vis a vis a defense of suburban lifestyle, which he discusses celebratorily and with a sort of apologism. It seems though he is veiling his idea of what a city should be (e.g. instead of large single family lots, some more bungalows and townhomes – see page 10) inside a chapter that is supposed to be about climate change and how urbanism can play a substantial role in affecting the processes which contribute to it.

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