How is a 21st Century Urban Ethic Critical to Nature?
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety—best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light—
good morning, good morning, good morning. Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.
These are the words of Mary Oliver, a woman who takes nature inside herself, then shares it with us through her elegant poetry. The title is Why I Wake Early, from her book of the same name. Oliver writes tirelessly of nature, her relationship with it, the elegance and mystery of it, the breath-taking beauty of it. She urges us to treat nature with reverence.
And this, my friends, is what this topic is really about.
We are able to examine this question about nature and urban living only because every structure within modern cities was created out of the abundance of resources found in nature. In that sense, cities are nature. The question to examine is: Do we build cities as extensions of nature? Or do we destroy swaths of nature to put up structures?
Julianne Lutz Warren, in her answer to this question notes: “The universe, Earth, and the life embedded within it are self-organizing and interdependent.” I would add that there is also an embedding of altruism, balance, inter-connection, unity. In it is the template for human relationships with each other and with the rest of the creation.
When we examine how critical is nature to an urban ethic, we cannot leave ourselves out of the equation. The human species is an intrinsic part of nature, not separate from other living things. Our bodies are made of the very elements of the earth. This is a level of interdependence that demands our attention. And it demands our intention to maintain alignment with this master plan implanted within nature as she evolved over the millennia.
Warren also says: “At a global scale, cultures and societies can falter and have, causing unintended global consequences because they strayed from aligning with Earth’s self-organizing capacities for self-renewal.” The innate drive of mankind since appearing on this earth to gather, to create, to advance has surreptitiously blurred our sense of belonging to nature. We have exploited her abundance for our own comfort and profit and manifested disconnection, selfishness and imbalance. We’re forgotten how to attune our lives to her cycles. We measure time by appointments, tasks, consumption, holidays, and too often miss watching the sun rise or hugging a tree.
It’s a mindset really—a worldview formed through careful observation of nature’s workings and the deep knowing of her that this brings us. It is out of this inner landscape that we birth our cities. We activate our senses so we can see and hear her, taste and smell her, and feel on our skin her vitality, her rhythms, her immutability. We feel the force of connection and unity. We breathe in nature, and then breathe out our cities.
Mighty cities stand all over the globe. They are miracles of creativity and ingenuity and a tribute to the resourcefulness and imagination of mankind. Take a moment to visualize your favorite city, then imagine that you are seeing it as Mary Oliver might if she were asked to honor the nature that it is built upon. Then begin to create your wildest dreams of the architecture, commerce, community areas, transportation vectors, art and music arenas, sports facilities and general ambience of that city’s future.
This is the substance and the ethic of regeneration. It is the voice, so to speak, of nature calmly and firmly leading the way. It is our inner connection with her flowing out into the universe.
“This World” by Mary Oliver
I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is a dark
pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music
out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we’re not too
hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs
even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too,
and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being
locked up in gold.