RE: Faith and the Future American landscape? « SHIFT

Response to Faith and the Future American landscape? « SHIFT.

Over the holidays I was reading David Orr’s “Nature of Design”, in which he wrote a little about links between religion and sustainability. Here’s my take on what he was getting at:

In order to be “sustainable” as a society there needs to be some mechanism to keep in check the aspirations of man, or else we will inevitably ravage the countryside consuming more than we ever can replace. Religion played this role in Neolithic times, serving as the cultural mechanism to keep the population “grounded” and in tune with the cycles of nature. Civilizations were regionally distinct, because they were responding to the ecology of their respective regions and strived to maintain in balance with their local ecosystems.

Fast forward to modern times and religion no longer plays an ecological role in our society. Religion, by example, now encourages society to expand and envelop the globe. It imposes a cultural homogeneity, as does mass media, that serves to eliminate our regional differences and our bond with nature.

With the link between religion and nature severed we are trying to develop new cultural motivations to return ecological balance to our society. Environmentalism, government initiatives, and other cultural “sustainability” movements are unlikely to ever achieve the kind of mandate that religion once commanded in order to maintain any sort of limits to our ambitions.

Thus…we must look at imposing physical limitations to our constant expansion and consumption of the planet. Orr used the example of the horse, in Amish culture, as a limitation to their impact on their environment. Using a horse as a draft animal automatically limits the amount of land you can farm and your aspirations for taking over your neighbor’s farm. Similarly, if you only have a travelling radius of 8 miles in which to shop you undoubtedly support your local economy. Ideas such as greenbelts, growth boundaries, and road narrowing are other more structural methods of physical restriction.

This is where we as Landscape Architects come in. In our role as determiners of society’s physical form, we are in a unique position to implement built limitations to man’s aspirations. These may be our best bet for having long-lasting, structural checks and balances to our society without having to rely on the whims of culture and religion.