Give and Take
Welcome to ECOTECTURE's new GIVE AND TAKE department. Here ECOTECTURE contributors will respond to one another's ideas and assertions as published in the Journal.
Our first Give and Take is between Richard Register and Frijtof
Capra. Both are residents of Berkeley, California, and occasionally
meet each other at functions, thus the informal nature of
their correspondence. Register's letter was first sent
to Capra personally, with a copy to ECOTECTURE to be published
only with Capra's consent. Capra favored publication
and took the opportunity to respond.
. . .
ECOTECTURE's previous interviews are available here:
Richard Register interviews part 1 | 2 | 3
Frijtof Capra interviews part 1 | 2 | 3
FROM RICHARD REGISTER TO FRIJTOF CAPRA:
Hello Fritjof, 3/14/03
|Taking the whole
systems view, and
looking at it playing
out over time, the
is a true disaster.
I recently read your interview in ECOTECTURE On-line Magazine and need to talk to you about something: the whole systems perspective on cities.
You are brilliant on whole systems theory in regard to biological and other "living systems" but don't seem to apply holistic thinking at all in regard to the built environment. Taking the whole systems view, and looking at it playing out over time, the energy-efficient car is a true disaster.
Let me explain. It is not the car that is burning the fuel. It is the city. The car is just a component within the larger whole system. The analogy with a living organism is very good in this case, very productive and very important to think through. The animal eats the food, not the stomach. A different animal could have a vastly different diet and appetite for a particular quantity of any given energy source.
So it is with cities. They need to be redesigned — and there are plenty of examples of better components and total arrangements [other] than the sprawl/automobile/freeway/cheap energy infrastructure. The compact and high diversity/pedestrian/transit and bicycle/renewable energy (not cheap) infrastructure is a very different animal.
|. . . the time dimension is
neglected . . .in failing to
see that the short-term
apparent savings in energy by
switching to energy-efficient
cars is a long term investment
in worse sprawl, more car
infrastructure and ultimately
more dependence on cheap
energy at a later time.
The energy hogging SUV is an immediate disaster to the environment and an obvious component of the sprawl/car city. The energy efficient car is less obvious but constitutes a long-term disaster to the environment. It makes it possible to use less fuel per mile traveled but encourages living even farther apart for less money. It also has the psychological effect of making people feel they are making a positive contribution when in fact they are contributing to the continued expansion of sprawl development. We have to look at the time dimension to see this picture clearly. Satisfying our desire to "do good" in a simple, easy way, we can buy an energy efficient car and think we are making a positive difference and, because of this "contribution," not move on to face the harder issue of redesigning and rebuilding our cities, towns and villages for people, not cars. The other place the time dimension is neglected is in failing to see that the short-term apparent savings in energy by switching to energy-efficient cars is a long term investment in worse sprawl, more car infrastructure and ultimately more dependence on cheap energy at a later time.
Because you are a person who many people take very seriously, it is important that you understand whole systems thinking in regard to cities as well as all those other complex systems. We are losing time fast as the car/sprawl city generates ever more CO2, the planet heats up and species diversity dives into an extinction collapse around the world. The city of cars and sprawl is the main source of the problem — how could it be otherwise with the cities being the largest creation of our species?
Best to ya,
FROM FRIJTOF CAPRA TO RICHARD REGISTER:
|The mobility business may
very often involve cars,
but in other circumstances
it may be a redesign of our
cities so that we work
closer to home, for instance,
so that we don't need to
commute for two hours
but can just walk to work.
Thank you for your letter of March 15. It was good to hear from you again. I agree with much of what you say in the letter regarding the urgent need to redesign our cities. However, I am puzzled by your statement, made in reference to my comments about hypercars in the ECOTECTURE interview, that I "don't seem to apply holistic thinking at all in regard to the build environment."
In my book, The Hidden Connections, I discuss the ecodesign of buildings before discussing energy and transportation, and then continue with a discussion of urban design (pp.244-7). In the urban design section, I also refer explicitly to your work:
"The urban and suburban sprawl that characterized most modern cities, especially in North America, has created very high automobile dependence with a minimal role for public transport, cycling, or walking. The consequences: high consumption of gasoline and correspondingly high levels of smog, severe stress due to traffic congestion, and loss of street life, community, and public safety. The past three decades have seen the emergence of an international 'ecocity' movement, which tries to counteract urban sprawl by using ecodesign principles to redesign our cities to that they become ecologically healthy." (p.246.)
|On the other hand, I
though it was important
to spend more time in
the interview on the
connections between fuel
and US foreign and
military policy, given the
current political situation.
In an interview, naturally, one cannot always mention all issues, but I do briefly refer to urban design in the ECOTECTURE interview (in part II):
"A car company should not think that it's in the car business but should think it's in the mobility business. The mobility business may very often involve cars, but in other circumstances it may be a redesign of our cities so that we work closer to home, for instance, so that we don't need to commute for two hours but can just walk to work. Now General Motors or Ford could be the companies that redesign the cities in such a way that people can walk to work because they are the mobility company. This kind of thinking is systemic thinking."
On the other hand, I though it was important to spend more time in the interview on the connections between fuel consumption, security , and US foreign and military policy, given the current political situation. In the meantime, the "oil men in the White House," have indeed started a war that will cost the American taxpayers up to 200 billion dollars, is killing thousands of innocent people, and has already devastated the land between the Tigris and the Euphrates, the cradle of our civilization. And all that for access to oil that we don't need, that we could easily do without by just increasing the fuel efficiency of our light vehicles by about three miles per gallon! I hope you will agree that this a point worth emphasizing.
With my best wishes,
and let's give peace a chance!