City as it relates to Nature

A series of metaphors of a city

  • Created by: emily
  • Created on: 15-06-12 13:59

Analogies of Cities

  • Because of a city's large physical inertia, they are long lasting.
    • Subject to many different metaphors throughout its history
  • Changing metaphors due to due to:
    • Cultural change (even if the city remains the same)
    • City change (even if the culture remains the same)
  • Geographically there is a large variation in perceptions of cities across the globe at any time
    • Cities exist on many scales
  • List of 7 metaphors
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1. Cities as Sanctuaries

  • Ancient Pagan cities were seen as homes and gifts of the gods
  • Early Christian perception of the earthly city as the counterpart of the cosmic city...Heaven
    • Seen as part of a bigger scheme
  • Dark Ages perception one of spiritual and secular refuge from wilderness, pestilence, banditiry
    • Civilisation within the city walls
  • Cities seen as civilising forces
    • Centres of creation
      • Revitalised in the European Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment
        • Development of sciences
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2. Cities as Organisms

  • Associated with the development of biology
  • Cities appeared to have a life of their own
    • They were born, grew, matured and died
      • Terms of sustainability finite
  • Their functions were analogous to bodily functions
    • Breathing, eating, excreting, reproduction etc
  • Heavy dependence on nature noted
  • Viewed as a part of - rather than apart from - nature
  • Resurgent as a metaphor during times of morbidity and mortality
    • Later part of the Industrial Revolution
    • During times of heightened disillusion with technology and modernism
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3. Cities as Ecosystems

An advance of the organic view - Allows for visions of sustianability. Cities wil keep operation as long as they are in balance.

  • Focuses on the internal structures (organs)
  • Reflecting developments in Ecology from the late 19th Century.
    • Greater emphasis placed on the interaction between the city and its environment
  • Sociological input in the mid-20th Century and systematic ecological input during the late 20th Century contributed to urban ecology
    • Today's most influential approach to urban analysis and management
  • Popular notion of 'Back to Nature' entwined with ecological metaphor.
    • Cities were seen as out of balance and un-natural
      • Proper environmental management might be able to 'restore the balance.'
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Cities as Ecosystems - Bioregionalism

A universal concept that combines:

  • System analysis
  • Notion of natual bioregions
  • The focus is on identifying the biophysical opportunties and constraints in each landscape 
    • Ensuring we don't exceed the the environmental limits
  • Each city should adjust their ecological footprint to fit the limits of the bioregion within which it is sited
    • Every scale could be more sustainable when aware of limits and opportunities
  • Practical limitations of this are enourmous
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4. Cities as Machines

  • Seen as mechanistic
    • Products of human ingenuity, especially during the Industrial Revolution.
  • Seen as the physical embodiment of power
    • Integrated and powered the various discrete but interdependent components. 
  • Technocratic management would ensure the progress of cities
    • Traditional organic or cultural views of a city were associated with rural folk and cultures
      • Dismissed as Backward
  • Became a powerful icon of modernisation and Man's ability and wish to conquer Nature
  • Gender differences. Female organics and masculine machines.
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5. Cities as Deserts

  • Cities began to be percieved as forsaken by life/God
    • In part from organic and ecological movements
    • Compare to Sanctuary
  • Seen as morally and legally corrupt. Unsustainable and Irredeemable
    • Mankind as the agent of spiritual and environmental desertification
    • Civilisation, urbanisation and humans seen as destructive, not creative forces
  • Based on the assumption that only wild areas were sufficiently remote to be untouched by humanity. And should be left that way.
    • As centres of human activity, cities are the places most alienated by Nature
    • Wilderness became iconically good, not bad (as it had been in other metaphors)
    • Environmental management seen as destructive.
    • Unbridgeable gap (duality) between Man and Nature
      • Old idea in the west, but foreign to other cultures
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6. Cities as Vortices - Black Holes

  • Developed during the Space Race (expanding public interest in astronomy) and is also part of the cities as ecosystems view
    • Emphasised cities as all-consuming Black Holes
  • Deserts are inert and spatially isolated
    • Unless involved in expansion through a process of desertification
  • Destructive nature of cities evidenced by ecological footprints and Life-Cycle Analysis
    • Through their hinterlands, cities consume vast amounts of energy, material, labour, capital and ideas
    • Spoil huge areas with their waste
      • Emphasised by radical development theory in the 70's and 80's
  • This view offers little hope for redemption or sustainability of cities
    • Why should we bother with sustainability efforts?
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7. Cities as New Nature

  • An alternative and more recent idea.
    • A challenge to the idea that cities lack biodiversity
    • Rejection of the old ideas and binaries (Man vs. Nature)
    • Rediscovery of the natural history of cities


  • Are biodiverse due to habitat diversity
  • Have abundant and healthy flora and fauna because of reliable resources and less predators
    • Protect some rare and endangered species.
    • Contain species long adapted to humans
  • Offer great opportunity for conservation
  • Offer the largest engagement with nature
  • Are ecologically dynamic
  • Are subject to natural or near natural environment processes
  • Need environmental management
  • Misleadingly seen as the only site of human disturbance
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Mixed Metaphors

  • Today western perceptions are influenced by all of the potentially compteting metaphors
  • The conflict between the desert and new nature views poses fundamental challenges for environmental management and notions of sustainability
    • If a city is a bastion of nature then doesn't it reduce the value of wilderness for nature conservation and human engagement with nature?
  • The conflict stems from the differences between nature of nature, nature of knowledge and the nature of truth
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  • If a city remains a biological desert or a vortex, and continues to exploit nature
    • Possibilities of it being environmentally sustainable are low
  • The machine analogy is more contradictory
    • Promises progress or decline depending on your view of technology.
    • Machines are not inherently sustainable (linear systems
      • Technology viewed by some critics as inappropropriate
  • Alternatively, the dualism between city and nature may be entirely misleading.
    • The prospects for sustainability may be greater than we currently imagine.
      • Something entirely different?
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