Medium_marcus Gaining a perspective

24 Apr 17:37

Marcus Collier

Ants Human cities are often compared to ant colonies – a myriad of individuals moving with purpose, seemingly oblivious to the happenings in the background, seemingly unaware of potential hazards, and uncaring of what is going to happen next. Ant colonies are a highly organised and resilient unit so when something happens – let’s say it rains – the ants react efficiently all acting with the purpose of adapting to the sudden change, as if it is the first time such a hazard has happened. Eggs are sequestered; food is moved to drier areas; opportunistic ants search for drowned insects; and so on. When the rain passes all is returned to normal and life goes on, as it has probably happened for millions of years. We’ve all seen this kind of nature programme, and we are aware that it is in the ants’ nature to be resilient, as it is with all life.

But with human cities similarities with nature sometimes is too simplistic. It is hard to conceive of a time when humans would choose not to live in communal groups like cities; just as it is easy to conceive of a future when humans may only live in cities. Science fiction writers have often chosen this as an apocalyptic theme. And well may they be right. Through the ages artists and poets have venerated the city, cursed the city and eulogised the city. We have a love/hate relationship with our cities, despite the fact that they are a unique result of our communal efforts, our unending activities and ant-like diligence. We have created the city and it can be argued that the city has created us, so now it seems that there can never be a time when there will not be cities. They are here to stay, but will they last? And how?

To the outsider the city itself seems to be, almost by definition, resilient. However, cities alone are not resilient. While their residents might be highly adaptive to change, left alone, their institutions and structures are not on the same timescale. The archaeological evidence from abandoned cities from antiquity shows that while the stones and the building shapes may remain, the spirit or vibrancy has often vanished. Some ancient shock (war, fire, resource depletion, earthquake, disease, whatever) may have hit the city and the urban community was unable or unwilling to adapt proportionally, and they gradually died or eventually disappeared.

The truth of the matter is that cities have not been here that long – in evolutionary terms. And communication between cities is only a relatively recent occurrence. Thus, we are now in an age when a sudden shock in one city resonates around all the other cities. There is now a network of resilience emerging between all the world’s cities and their residents. It is an interesting time. Human cities can no longer be compared to ant colonies, mindless and oblivious to other colonies, reacting instinctively and unemotionally. Humans are different in that we work on intellectual and emotional levels. We now seek to create resilient structures and institutions when we hear of an issue that befell a sister city. We now desire to leave a legacy of this resilience to our ancestors, mindful that we do not wish the stone and brick carcasses to be future archaeological sites. We seek perpetuation.

‘Turas’ is the Gaelic word for journey. It also means exploration or expedition. We chose to use the acronym TURaS for our project because we are engaged on an exploration of our potential, an expedition along uncharted streets, a journey of discovery. Our research and exploration will not merely be reactive; we seek ways to become proactive. Unlike the ant colony we expect to devise ways to transition from maintaining existing structures to creating new structures, so that a sudden shock becomes an opportunity for mainstreaming sustainable development in its original aspiration. This means that the next time it ‘rains’ on our colony, we know ways to better recover, and to aspire to a level that is greater, more sustainable, than the previous one, making our cities more resilient into the future.