While the light of progress has pushed aside the light of the cosmos, and the expansion of the man-made world is crushing the richness of life on this planet. How are we to know our place in the universe?
Our cities are planned, zoned and managed. Run as grand machines of economic activity. But could they not be more than just that? Aren’t we losing something by merely planning the city rationally? Since we made this condition ourselves, can’t we remake it in a different way? In a way that could reconnect us to the wonder of the starry skies, and the magic of fireflies?
Monnik’s World Tree Model (WTM) suggests that our desire to relate to our environment in meaningful ways is growing. Meaning arises from understanding the world around you, how you are part of it, and how the narratives that surround you inspire, motivate and move you. Today many relations to our environment are problematic. The stories through which we understand our world are fragmented, contradictory and abstract. The WTM suggests a growing need to heal this broken relationship and understanding of the world. In other words, the growing desire for a sustainable and inclusive world. If we want to galvanize these sentiments we need more than just technical solutions to address climate change, we need a poetic imagination. The Enchanted City provides a desirable future vision, an imaginary that can move us in ways that the technical fix and the cautionary tale can not.
The Enchanted City
The future vision of the Enchanted City heals our relationship with our living world and the cosmos. In the Enchanted City these relationship may be experienced daily. In this city the Milky Way is not an urban myth and the natural world is not just something you see on your holiday. They exists with the city and its inhabitants in the same space and time.
Light pollution disrupts many ecological processes for humans and animals. It disrupts circadian rhythms, halts sleep, confuses migration, causes stress and is linked to many other health issues. For example, many migratory birds use celestial navigation to guide themselves at night. Under a planetarium sky, birds have been shown to change their orientation when the star pattern shifts. They become more and more confused as more and more stars in the planetarium go dim. Experiments suggest that they use the pattern of constellations in the night sky as a whole to orient themselves, not just the North Star. (Scanlan, Kerry, et.al. “Bird Migration Facts.” Zoological Society of Milwaukee.) But it is not just animals that need the stars. For most of human history, the stars told us where we were in space and time. Read Gene Tracy’s essay Sky readers on Aeon, where he explores how human cultures have related to the stars throughout history.
The range of benefits of greening the urban roofscape is long, from reducing the urban heat island effect, reducing ambient noise levels , buffering rainwater, and boosting biodiversity. Check here for an extended list of all the benefits and ecosystem services green roofs provide to the urban environment, and/or read Green Roofs, Chapter 3 from Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies by the EPA for more information.
Tall Grass Beds
The introduction of self-driving car will turn the personal mobility into a service economy from door-to-door. Consequently the vast surface area dedicated to parking in the city comes available for other purposes. This terrain can be dedicated (together with the greening of rooftops) to reduce urban run-off and to provide additional eco-system services. Plant diversity attracts insects (including butterflies and bees), arthropods (from spiders to millipedes), birds and mammals which are good for biodiversity and pollination. Here flowering species flourish, a changing palate of colour is added to the urban environment throughout the seasons. But this environments also provides natural play and education opportunities to children. And finally these tall grass beds make for a cost-effective alternative to closely mown amenity grassland. (forestry.gov.uk)
With a perfectly dark-site (0 light pollution, Bortle class 1) the Scorpius and Sagittarius regions of the Milky Way cast obvious shadows. Also the zodiacal light is distinctly yellowish and bright enough to cast shadows at dusk and dawn. Some claim that the Milky can even provide enough light for reading a book.
Streetlights are the backbone of urban infrastructure and the main source of light pollution. Besides that it accounts for 19% of the global electricity use, and costing Europe €10 billion each year. Furthermore, roughly a third of all European street lights still run on a 1930s standard, resulting in massive energy waste and CO2 emissions.
Smart City technology and the Internet of Things allow for much more intelligent lighting systems, like the one Tvlight develops. These smart lights could once again reveal the cosmos above our cities.
In today’s cities roofs are a wasted spaces. With the re-greening of the city a new green natural landscape is added, one its inhabitants would like to be close to. Glass houses can serve as places that bring us closer to nature through providing education about nature, local food production, or simply as places to eat, drink and meet each other amongst the trees and the stars.
80% of the children born today in the U.S. or Europe will never encounter a sky dark enough to see the Milky Way. When we would get our dark skies back, we could take many of the urban observatories back into use, and new ones could be made. We can teach our children the constellations from our rooftops. In 2032 we may look up at the sky and not only be in awe, but also to point to where man is making its first new footholds off-planet.