Saturday, August 8, 2009

A New Perspective

I'm about 30 pages into the seminal text The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design by Anne Whiston Spirn. Spirn argues that, contrary to prevailing notions, the city is part of nature. She writes, "The city is neither wholly natural nor wholly contrived. It is not 'unnatural' but, rather, a transformation of 'wild' nature by humankind to serve its own needs." To Spirn, nature is a continuum, and its influence on how cities are designed is undeniable. One of her most striking examples of this so far is the Manhattan skyline. I have always thought it was strange how Manhattan's financial districts and their skyscrapers were located so far apart -- one at the tip of the island and the other in midtown. It seemed arbitrary, and I assumed money and influence gave rise to these two forests of steel 60 blocks apart. Not so! According to Spirn, these locations are particularly suited for building high because of the proximity of the underlying bedrock to the surface. There's something comforting about nature's power and endurance. As Spirn puts it, "Civilizations and governments rise and fall; traditions, values, and policies change; but the natural environment of each city remains an enduring framework within which the human community builds." Wise words.

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