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207 10 Building Cities That Think like Planets If our cities are to be resilient on a planetary time scale, we must expand our horizons of time and space as well as our ability to embrace change. Earth has evolved into a living planet over a billion years, allowing human life to emerge. How can thinking on a planetary scale help us understand the place of humans in the evolution of Earth and guide us in building a human habitat of the “long now”? This chapter discusses the implications of complexity and uncertainty for building the cities of the future, and it articulates pathways and principles for urban design and planning. Cities face an important challenge: they must rethink themselves in the context of planetary change. Urban ecologists must understand the role that cities play in the evolution of Earth. Can the emergence and rapid expansion of cities across the globe represent a turning point in the life of our planet on a scale similar to that of the Great Oxidation (Lenton and Williams 2013)? And can the patterns of urbanization determine the probability of crossing thresholds that will trigger a planetary shift of the same magnitude and significance? I do not answer these questions. Only a new extraordinary collaboration among urban ecologists, evolutionary biologists, and other natural and social scientists might do so. I suggest that we begin to define a series of hypotheses and develop longterm studies that can tackle such questions in new and productive ways. We must also rethink the research infrastructure necessary to support diverse networks of scientific teams. In this book, I have advanced the hypothesis that cities are hybrid ecosystems: they are unstable and at the same time able to change and 208 Chapter 10 innovate. I proposed a co-evolutionary paradigm for building a science of cities that “think like planets,” a view that focuses on both unpredictable dynamics and experimental learning. I have elaborated on some concepts and principles of design and planning that emerge from such a perspective: self-organization, heterogeneity, modularity, cross-scale interactions, feedbacks, and transformation. In closing, I pose a question : how can thinking on a planetary scale help us to understand the place of humans in the evolution of Earth and guide us in building a human habitat of the long now? Planetary Scales Humans make decisions at multiple scales of time and space simultaneously , depending on how they perceive the scale of a given problem and the scale of influence that their decisions might have. Yet it is unlikely that the scale extends beyond one generation or includes the entire globe. The human experience of space and time has profound implications for our understanding of world phenomena and for making longand short-term decisions. In his book What Time Is This Place?, Kevin Lynch (1972) eloquently told us that time is embedded in the physical world that we inhabit and build. Cities reflect our experience of time, and the way we experience time affects the way we view and change the environment . Thus our experience of time plays a crucial role in whether we succeed in managing environmental change. If we are to think like a planet, we must deal with scales and events that are far removed from everyday human experience. Earth is 4.6 billion years old. That’s a big number to even conceptualize, much less incorporate meaningfully into our individual and collective decisions. Thinking like a planet implies expanding the temporal and spatial scales of city design and planning, but not simply from local to global and from a few decades to a few centuries. Instead we must include a broad range of scales, from the human experience of place (Beatley 2010) and the landscape ecology of regions (Forman 2008) to the scale of geological and biological processes operating on the planet (Alberti 2014). Thinking on a planetary scale also requires expanding the idea of change. Lynch (1972: 1) reminded us that “the arguments of planning all come down to the management of change.” Building Cities That Think like Planets 209 But what is change? Human experience of change is often confined to fluctuations within a relatively stable domain. However, Planet Earth has displayed rare but abrupt changes and regime shifts in the past (e.g., the last glacial-interglacial transition). Human experience of such change is limited to marked changes in regional system dynamics, such as altered fire regimes and extinctions of species. Yet since the Industrial Revolution, humans have...


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