June 2013 Archives

Biomimicry and Cities

I have found my community -- actually, one of several, but a special one.

I attended the BALLE conference (no, not in Bali, but in Buffalo this year), an event focused on more enlightened, more powerful forms of business.  BALLE -- the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies -- emphasizes the primacy of local over global; employment over profit; we over me.

Among the many highlights of the conference, I want to mention this:

Janine Benyus, who is at the forefront of the biomimicry movement, described a type of communitarian "mutualism" in natural ecologies. More simply: A healthy tree requires healthy soil and other healthy plant- and animal-life to survive. Moreover, the only way for a healthy tree to ensure its progeny also have the opportunity to grow and thrive is for their growth to take place under the same, healthy conditions. Thus, through an intricate system involving other plants, animals, and fungi operating in highly mutually supportive ways, a single tree may help restore and replenish the environment of which it is part for its own survival, for the survival of its offspring, and for the survival of the other living organisms that comprise the ecosystem of which it is a part.

I have long admired Benyus' brilliance, and the ways she combines facts, passion, and beauty to convey her overriding message: Nature has been solving many of the same problems that we are trying to solve in modern society; only it has been doing it considerably longer: 3.8 billion years compared to 200,000 years for us (homo sapiens sapiens). So, it is has developed much better solutions. 

Benyus' description of an ecology of mutualism has gotten me considering how our cities can be similarly oriented. More to the point, how can social enterprises be seeded to provide not only single social benefits (such as better healthcare), but to help provide additional capability to support other social enterprises that are, only apparently, distinct from it? 

Benyus described how precise marking and tracing of carbon molecules shows that carbon that is absorbed in the upper canopy of a forest may be found in low-lying plants half a mile away. This movement of nutrients is biologically elegant and its purpose appears clear: carbon that is captured, shared, and redistributed creates a healthier environment for all plant-life in an ecology -- including the tallest trees that capture and might otherwise consume it all just to serve its own, immediate needs.

Here's to cities re-designed to do the same.

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