In the beginning, people who wanted to establish towns or cities or industries chose landscapes which were suited to their needs, or offered new opportunities. Locating near fresh water was essential (Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World, Laurence C. Smith), whether for growing crops or animals, washing, drinking, and cooking for themselves, using power to grind grain for breads, and perhaps even for transit to other areas.
There had to be something available on the land to make into homes and workstations, whether bricks, mud, rocks (either to build into or to break into pieces for assembly), or wood.
There had to be food sources, whether wild or domesticated animals; grown crops or wild fruits, vegetables, nuts, or roots; or lakes, rivers, or ocean to fish.
There had to be geography suitable for travel to other areas to find help, social life, and places to purchase things you couldn’t make with materials to hand.
Settlements, villages, towns, and cities have always been established on these bases. Later, some cities grew around their places of origin but with less dependence on, or awareness of, these features. Local examples would be the Oshawa, Ontario port to the east of us and Toronto port to the west. The ports are still active, but not significant. Both cities have found other reasons to exist.
We are now in a time when we must re-evaluate our locations – are they still suited to our benefits, are we suited to theirs, is it still possible to live there with or without major changes; are the places themselves relocating (forests moving north, seas moving inland, rivers and lakes disappearing, see Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: the Fraught and Fascinating Biology of Climate Change, Thor Hanson). We are at a time when we must again choose places to live for different reasons than earlier, based on what they will continue to offer, what we must do to preserve them or improve them to adapt to climate change; or places which will offer conditions suited to us in the future, even if not the present.
And we all know that fundamental assumptions about how society is structured don’t work any more (We have built our society on the wrong principles and values. – Upon reconsidering….).
This is a new time when we can build from scratch, so to speak. Just as in the past people built where it made sense and did not elsewhere, with due attention to water, soil, location relative to others, weather, and building materials, so must we now and in the future.* It is not sensible to re-build where the weather may frequently climb to 125 degrees Fahrenheit, unless we can either acclimatize and protect ourselves using new more protective building materials as well as the time-tested positioning of the right species of trees (right for the future, not necessarily for the present); or re-build to live there during the more temperate time, but relocate the rest of the year to someplace far from the hot zones, or from the ocean; or from flood plains or from waters that are drying up. It will not be sensible to rebuild where we cannot grow food even with the help of genetic engineering or hybridization.
It’s time for governments to work out the legal issues involved in land ownership so that people can move, part-time or full-time, to areas currently already owned. Adjustments in land ownership will be necessary. People who need to leave properties that cannot be sold, will need financial compensation which, whether or not it replaces the value of the property before climate change, will need to enable purchase or rent, or accept the government gift of decent property elsewhere. All this will require excellent planning, tolerance if not goodwill, a lot of understanding of peoples’ needs and their abilities to thrive elsewhere, and negotiating. This won’t be something government alone, or private enterprise alone, or charity alone can do – it will require all these as well as the experience of NGOs accustomed to helping migrants.
In places such as Ontario, where, it is estimated, we will need one and a half million new residences in the next ten years to meet expected immigration, and where most crop and dairy farming continue to succeed during climate change, we will have to preserve and perhaps restore farming land so that we can not only feed ourselves, but grow enough to feed people living elsewhere in the world where they cannot do that any longer. Our cities will have to stay within bounds, and we will have to think of agriculture and animal farming as doing our part for the whole world. Not every place will be able to retain its ability to water and feed itself, let alone others. We will be watering and feeding many who will not be coming here, but still need these things.
It’s time to build anew anyway, so we might as well give up the ways that no longer work, and build toward what will work fifty years from now when we will have more immigrants and more old people and, unless the immigrants youthen our demographics, fewer workers to support them.
A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, by Christopher Alexander, et.al., of the Center for Environmental Structure, published in 1977, offers a way to build from the ground up by building a house and then a part of a neighbourhood while at the same time giving due thought to what several neighbourhoods should look like together (the “language of the pattern”), and they in turn together with the whole city, cities within regions, etc. One might anticipate that the extreme separations of industries, farm, shopping, entertainment, parks, schools, etc., would no longer be so delineated and separated as they are now, as people seek to live ever more of their lives locally. It is an instruction manual. I would never have recommended this book before now, because there has been so much momentum behind how we have built since the 70’s. But as it becomes clearer that we will need to build anew from the ground up, freed from the patterns of the past, this book and way may be very useful.
We will have to be more deliberate, developing plans not only around local geography but around our social and civic purposes. Will all building in the future relate, for example, to a waterfront, or a river, or ravines (as in Toronto)? Or will such building be at the centre of a community, but all else an expansion so far removed that one is scarcely aware of the original reason for the choice of this locat
We should build communities so that people with accessibility problems are not inhibited nor segregated by the built “pattern languages” nor by the economy (about which, more below). It should be possible to build structures and physical communities while considering the blind, deaf, non-mobile, and emotionally disabled, to get around and find their way in the community as a normal matter.
This video from a local university illustrates the difficulties encountered by blind people, as an example. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oe4xiKknt0. In this age of electronics, it should be possible for blind people to be electronically perceived (if they so desire) by a system which can inform them where they are, query where they want to go and how (foot, car, transit), and guide them, and then provide useful information to orient them when they arrive. The same should be possible for the deaf but sighted. (I don’t know how this might be done for people who are blind and deaf, but I’ll bet that relevant research is underway somewhere in this exciting age.) And our architecture and physical arrangements should be designed to not get in the way.
We will need to build not only physically, but in other ways, also. As we start from scratch, we will need to build our economics differently. We will need to stop growing the economy for its own sake, and instead fashion our economies to accomplish specific objectives for the sake of people and the environment; that people and all other life may thrive, not simply get by, survive, or make do. I for one think Modern Monetary Theory (The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy, Sephanie Kelton) should draw our attention so that, while guarding against inflation, we no longer allow ourselves to be limited by debt walls. According to MMT, money is not ours which gets taxed away; money is something created by our government and distributed among us according to our earnings and according to government programs. Reliable availability of money makes it possible for everyone to participate in the economy and in civic society by purchasing things and by working as best we can.
We must be able to take care of ourselves and those who cannot (Basic Income for Canadians, Evelyn L. Forget). While competition may foster improvements in many ways, we have seen over the centuries (A Brief History of Equality, Thomas Pikkety) that allowing competition and privilege to enrich and empower a very few people much more than anybody else, causes great hardship and suffering for no good or necessary reason. An economy, as Pikkety describes it, that has 50% of the population owning very little, 40% (the “patrimonial middle class”) owning the part not owned by the poorer nor the richest, and 10% owned by the very powerful, promotes inequality and suffering. We must cease to accept this as “how things are.” We have suffered under this too long.
We should build our society to provide the “Four Freedoms”**: freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — most particularly the last two. With programs such as Canada’s current coverage of medical costs (which needs improvement) already in place, we need to provide Basic Income so that everyone can rise in the morning and go to sleep in the night secure that they will still be in their own residence, and will be able to pay their basic bills (www.ubiworks.ca). This relates to freedom from want and freedom from fear. We need to ensure that law enforcement, the judicial and penal systems, and strong cultural support for people with accessibility limitations, are so deeply perceptive and fair that people need not fear their power will be exerted prejudicially or stupidly. And we need to deal with First Nations fairly, accepting them as people with whom we must deal fairly, forthrightly, and honestly, as we should with everyone. Freedom from want and freedom from fear should be our guiding motivations in government and society-building.
The climate emergency is causing so much damage, and necessitating so much change, that we have an opportunity to build anew, but differently, very, very differently. We have been seeing during the pandemic how very difficult it is for many people to adopt behaviours which they feel infringe gravely on their personal freedom in the name of doing what’s good for the most. We must seek to continuously talk with those who don’t see things the same way, and work very hard to keep people from feeling they have lost their place in society. As we accept more immigrants, we will have to become much better at getting along with differences, finding overarching motives and values rather than rules, quotas, and standard procedures (We have built our society on the wrong principles and values. – Upon reconsidering…) . I have confidence that this can be done because in Canada I have seen, in my own work in multi-faith groups, that particularly as second-generation immigrants come into adulthood they are able to identify ideals in which they, and long-time residents, share, and use as a basis upon which to build. These do not depend upon cultural background, or skin colour, but they can be weakened by dirty or terribly partisan politics (Canada’s Political Parties Inhibit Democracy’s Flourishing – Upon reconsidering…; Character in politicians – Upon reconsidering…). We must work diligently on common ground, not on building walls and moats. We must take away the attractiveness of hate (Removing the appeal of authoritarianism – Upon reconsidering…) You can see in earlier posts that there are ways to do these things.***
We must also do away with the terrible power of algorithmically driven social media**** by encouraging people to assert their own ability to think (which is what almost all my posts have been about).
I know – it’s a lot. But these are what we must and can do, rather than die of heat, flood, erosion, starvation, and disease. Doing these first things are easier than letting these last happen. If we haven’t the stamina to do it for ourselves, let us do it for the grandchildren.