Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Better than Before? By Kris Hoellen

Uncle Cyrus tells Raff, “Just because it gets developed, doesn’t mean it has to be any less beautiful.” I was struck by this statement. While I think the built environment can be absolutely beautiful and designed to fit into the natural environment as well as serve all sorts of critical functions, such as providing access, shelter, mobility, etc., I wonder, what are your reactions to this statement? In my work with infrastructure developers, I frequently hear the sentiment of ‘we’ll leave it better than before’ – a truly admirable goal and possibly achieved if one considers the amount of conservation capital that can be obtained from infrastructure projects to perform needed preservation/restoration work, but again, is this possible – what examples can you think of where the natural environment has been left ‘better than before’ as a result of a development project?

6 comments:

Mark said...

Kris,

A good question "can development make make a natural environment better." One would like to think so, and perhaps sometimes it does from our human perspective (e.g., a beautiful city like Venice, or Boston's emerald necklace of parks). But for the original non-human inhabitants development is almost certainly a disaster. That is one of the strengths of Wilson's book is forcing us to consider non-human perspectives. Since we know our houses, roads, etc. are going to harm other creatures we should be thoughtful in our constructions and mindful of our impact on our non-human neighbors. Our inability to think of many developments (or in my case "any" development) that made the natural world better probably speaks to our species ongoing struggle to share our environment with others.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question about human development making the environment better. In some areas, past human use degraded the environment terribly. But these same human-made agricultural or industrial areas can be restored and made better and even, "more natural". For example, replanting derelict areas with native plants and trees that would not have come into the area on their own is an improvement for insects, birds and other critters. Better designed buildings with green roofs and gentle placement into the landscape is a step in the right direction. I think we need to keep building where we have already degraded conditions (ie. brownfields) and keep wild, untouched areas wild. My opinion is that there are few places we humans haven’t degraded in some way, so we can strive to make those places better.

Cindy Samples said...

I think of the Mississippi River that has been altered for over 200 years. So overtime it has lost islands due to erosion, because it has been kept at a higher elevation. So in a sense when we construct new islands at a higher elevation so they can withstand the transformed Mississippi River we are enhancing the river. But what we are doing, is trying to replicate what nature did in the first place.

Karen Leggett said...

I think there is a distinction here that is perhaps small but important. Uncle Cyrus tells Raff, “Just because it gets developed, doesn’t mean it has to be any less beautiful.” So he’s not suggesting that the natural environment has been left better than before…it’s just not worse. It would seem to me that the balance ultimately achieved by Raff might be precisely what Cyrus is talking about. Part of the Nokubee Tract is developed but much of it is left untouched – which means more people have access to and an opportunity to appreciate the undeveloped land. We have refuges trying to restore native habitat and other refuges trying to sustain and obtain wilderness designation for untouched lands. We need both as well as careful building when development does occur.

Magdalena said...

Often times natural areas are developed so that people can more easily visit them. I think of the Grand Canyon Skywalk which allows people to look down at the Grand Canyon through a glass floor. Without this construction people wouldn't be able to get that view of the Grand Canyon.

Ryan Strom said...

The first thing that strikes me in this comment is a fallacy that we know or are superior to the natural world. There is still so much about the natural process that is still a mystery to us. One example that comes to me is when as part of a environmental concession a developer builds new wetlands to replace those organic spaces that will be destroyed by new development. Those new wetlands are never as 'good' or as perfect of spaces for wildlife as those that were destroyed.

Its a different story to say want to create spaces for people to enjoy, like pathways or trails and other infrastructure to make those spaces accessible. But to have the thought that we are 'improving' or making it 'better' speaks to a sort of arrogance that we should be careful to avoid.