PROJECT: Your project consists of fast-forwarding along the evolutionary time scale. Create an anatomical model of a human who has evolved to survive in the noisy, polluted, crowded, frenetic urban environment.
Traffic, smog, litter, and noise comprise some of the energy flows and cycling patterns in the sprawling ‘studio’ where urban eco artists sculpt. Statistics explain why increasing numbers of ecologists and artists are attending to urban habitats. A whopping 3.2 billion people live in cities today; the number is expected to reach 5 billion by 2030, which represents 61 percent of the world’s human population!14
Such provocative statistics help explain why urban ecology is a burgeoning subfield of ecology. Urban eco-art is a growing subfield of this subfield. The artists who have joined this effort bolster the ecosystems where cities are located and their human and non-human occupants. Their job is difficult. Every day the average European city of 1 million inhabitants imports 11,500 tons of fossil fuels and 320,000 tons of drinking water. Meanwhile, this average city spews 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the air and produces 300,000 tons of waste water.15 These numbers gain significance when it is noted that the footprint of London is 125 times the surface area of the city itself, while Vancouver’s footprint is 174 time its surface area.16 These disparities indicate the staggering quantity of goods being trucked in and out of urban centers.
READ TO LIFE! Any three chapters mentioned in the following paragraph.
The urban eco-artists discussed in this book not only improve the environment, they hope to improve the physical health and mental well-being of city residents as well by attending to infrastructure, development, transportation, and waste management (Hundertwasser, Potrc, Ukeles); transforming littered lots into gardens and forests (Fournier, Sherk, Sonfist); attending to disadvantaged urban residents (Reyes, Potrc, Ukeles, Fourneir, Sherk, Chin, Eke); and redressing urban soil (Chin, Eke, Harrisons), water (Eke, Haacke, Harrisons, Ngo), and air (HeHe, Eke). Educating the public is a vital component of their varied outreach efforts.
PROJECT: According to Howard Bloom, the renowned evolutionary psychologist, today’s humans are not tribal hunter-gatherers decked out in modern clothes. He claims that Homo sapiens are a diminishing species that may soon be overtaken by Homo urbanis. The term Homo urbanis derives from the fact that cities comprise the physical environment for masses of people alive on the globe today. Their physical and mental well-being depends on adapting to urban conditions. Bloom speculates that this may, indeed, be happening as the human genome evolves to serve the survival conditions that are specific to urban living. He comments, “The natural selection which winnows social entities has favored city dwellers so powerfully that ‘indigenous’ tribal folk are now on the endangered cultures list. Their hunter-gatherer mode of organization has been tested and has proven wanting.”17 Your project consists of fast-forwarding along the evolutionary time scale. Create an anatomical model of a human who has evolved to survive in the noisy, polluted, crowded, frenetic urban environment. For example, your Homo urbanis specimen might grow powerful lung filters capable of blocking atmospheric toxins from its bloodstream, or sprout a new organ within the trachea that emits a toxin-neutralizing enzyme.
RESEARCH / DISCUSSION: While poverty in urban settings is a familiar concern, let us consider the presence of free, abundant, and neglected resources readily available within most urban settings. One category consists of the wildlife that grows within the city limits. Varieties of indigenous plants persist despite paving and polluted rain water, and animals survive despite the clamor and traffic. Roof tops and vacant lots are the most likely locations where these species can be found. They generally support greater floral and faunal diversity than lawns and plazas. Another source of free resources is supplied by dumpsters that often overflow with just-expired packaged foods and other useful items. Indeed, ‘dumpster-diving’ has become a way-of-life for some urban residents who are not impoverished. They can attend regular dumpster-diving ‘meet-ups’ and read skill-building publications. People who take advantage of these resources reduce waste and save money. What are the pros and cons of scavenging and hunting within the city limits?