Alastair Gunn,

Rethinking Communities: Environmental Ethics in an Urbanized World


1.      Main point: Env ethics needs to pay more attention to env ethics of cities

         a.      Env philosophy needs to not just help us think about wild animals, plants and lands, and native peoples, but about problems of life in industrial, urbanized society were most people live

                   i.       Can learn broad principles from tech primitive societies, but can’t provide models of relationship which nature for us to emulate

         b.      Env ethics seen as elitist concern for wilderness and biodiversity needs to add concern for env justice (e.g., life in cities)

         c.      Most people live in cities

         d.      Inevitability of an urbanized world”

         e.      Must deal with how we should live in a world that continues to be transformed by people

2.      Some specific criticisms of traditional env ethics

         a.      EE tends to embrace the incredible/unbelievable view that we must avoid favoring humans over animals and the rest of nature

                   i.       The real problem is the extent to which we downgrade the importance of nonhumans

         b.      Criticism of Leopold’s worry about driving species extinct for progress

                   i.       Leopold’s writing are largely irrelevant to modern human communities as says so little about human modified environment (other than agriculture)

                   ii.      Morning the loss of the Passenger Pigeon–last died 1914 in Cincinnatti Zoo): “Our grandfathers were less well-hosed, well-fed, well-clothes than we are, but the striving by which they bettered their lot are those which deprived us of a pigeons; perhaps w grieve as not sure in our hearts that we have gained by the exchange; The gadgets of industry bring us more comforts than the pigeons did, but do they add as much to the glory of the spring?”

                            (1)    Gunn: fine for someone whose family is comfortably off, but what about those who want not more material comfort, but some?

                            (2)    So we should wipe out species for the poor? Why not trade some of the rich’s wealth for the poor instead of wiping out more nature?


3.      Cities, pro or con?

4.      Pro

         a.      Cities as “culmination of human progress”

         b.      Traditional villages and urban communities provide for members needs by face to face contact and informal support networks that require close physical proximity

         c.      Population densities allowed for great range of social amenities close by: walk to work, shots, businesses, restaurants, cinemas, and recreation; car free and excellent public transport

         d.      Well managed, high density cities some of healthiest most prosperous and safest places

5.      Con

         a.      “Cancerous growth” (Frank Lloyd Wright)

         b.      “Great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health and liberties of man” (Jefferson)

         c.      “The ugliness, the noise, the poised air, the chaotic overabundance of stimuli, the symptom of social disorganization, and general impression fo incoherence and individual powerlessness” (Leo Marx)

         d.      Many of world largest cities not communities conducive to human flourishing

                   i.       Low income areas have inadequate services/infrastructure (water, sewers)

                   ii.      Cramped conditions were diseases flourish

                   iii.     Poor build on land not suited for habitation (flood plains, near landslides, polluting industries) as better chance of not being evicted

         e.      Cities might have as much total biomass as before, but greatly reduced diversity of species


6.      Three things in common in all large cities

         a.      Dense populations live in conditions not conducive to human flourishing and have little if any natural vegetation, soil, water

         b.      Unsustainable at present levels of consumption and env impact

         c.      Centers of scientific, medical expertise, art, learning, sport, recreation that can only exist in dense populated areas

7.      Environmental ethics must acknowledge these facts/problems of cities but also their positive value

         a.      W/o cities no smog, but no env. Ethics either!

8.      Life in most large cities can be either heaven or hell depending on whether rich or poor



         a.      “Cram People Into Cities and Save The Earth?”

10.    MORE

11.    Cities can be more env friendly, not less, when people use less resources per person (than say suburbs)

         a.      Water, sanitation, drainage, transportation, education, health and emergency services can be provided more efficiently than in lower density communities

         b.      Cities produce more pollution overall, but issue is per person

12.    By clustering, same population can live with more non-built spaces, allowing nature more room of its own

13.    Big env challenge is to reverse population spread

         a.      Happen only if halt and reverse urban decay

         b.      If inner cities were more pleasant places to live many more people choose to live in them and stop the suburban ex-urban drift and repopulate central cities by people who care about natural env

14.    LESS

15.    Cities can be env more harmful

         a.      Local landscape plundered for env resources (woods cut, nature paved over, waters polluted)

         b.      Spread people out and the rest of nature can handle their impact better


16.    How much nature and/or open space do people need/desire (i.e., space without people and their artifacts)?

         a.      Cities put people closer together

         b.      No one answer for all; people are different in terms the “nature” they require to flourish?

         c.      Note: One might bring nature into the city w/o open space but with trees/plants and animals

                   i.       Buildings with windows

                   ii.      Design cities in a way awareness of local nature

                            (1)    Views of marsh

                            (2)    No large building blocking view of mountains

                            (3)    Access to beaches, wetlands

17.    Gunn does stress importance of having nature/green space in cities

         a.      London has three hectares(=2.5 acres) of green space for every 1000 inhabitants

                   i.       Bombay has 12 square meters per 1000 people

         b.      Extensive public space improve quality of life for all, as opposed to cities where only high quality open space is in suburban gardens of the better off.

         c.      People need to be around nature not just because enjoyable and for their psychological health, but so they can see why env needs to be protected

                   i.       People not been around undisturbed natural env are unlikely to have a sense of its value and why it should be preserved.


18.    Miscellaneous

19.    Urban renewal often destroys community

         a.      When “slum is destroyed, many people are deprived of social support community and gravitate to institutions; welfare and social services increase

         b.      Old community is destroyed and displaced don’t find new community

20.    Problem not urbanization but destruction of successful urban communities

         a.      **Just as sad and avoidable as destruction of woodland/wetlands