Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Berkeley versus the World

I had lunch today in berkeley at a downtown thai-vegetarian spot. The food was okay and as I was talking to my friend I remembered why I dislike Berkeley so much, it is boring without a night life and most of all it has pretensions to be a garden city (The sustainable city here)

The idea that you can green your city is a preposterous one and ignores what a city is; a vast landscape of concrete. The buildings, the roads, the infrastructure of modern cities are cemented into the ground. By introducing trees, plants play pyschosocial roles, as stand-ins for natures.

"Simultaneously evocative of the raw, dark power of forests and the generous perfection of the Garden of Eden, trees symbolize man's uncomfortable relationship to the natural world. But this is an inversion of the natural order. Wild nature, or what may be left of it, seems all but removed from collective experience. Instead our cities become dioramas, providing us with the safe experience of, and carefully pruned effects of, nature in episodic demonstrations and specimens."
The Infrastructural City (I'm part of an online reading group. The latest chapter on trees can be looked at here.)

The greenery of Berkeley gives the residents the illusion that nature is still with us. Obviously there are benefits to having trees in modern urban environments; "A single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 pounds/year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support two human beings. In one year an acre of trees can absorb as much carbon as is produced by a car driven 8,700 miles, roughly the same number of miles that an average driver in California drives every year." (Infrastructural city)

Yet despite the pyschological, and environmental benefits of trees in urban landscapes I can't help but feel as if its a big facade. Cities are not environmentally sound, we look at any city and see the slow suck on nature; Vegas and LA's constant need for water are good examples. I don't think that you can have ecologically sound cities in the same way that you can't have working green capitalism.

Furthermore there is nothing "natural" left, the urban sphere of society now borders every wild preserve touching it with its civilization. The majority of earth's inhabitants now live in urbanized areas now. The city is everywhere.

That said I like the blight of industry, I realize that it is unsound, violent, not "sustainable" and creates ugly angry people. I think there is a raw honesty in the landscape of the city desert that is West Oakland. I'd rather the thugs of west oakland to the bland hippies of berkeley.

1 comment:

GJ said...

There are definitely places a lot more "blighted" and thuggish than Oakland - maybe you'd be even happier there? Plenty of "raw honesty" to go around for a tough guy like you.

But seriously, I agree that the green cities thing as pushed forward by city boosters/property owners is mainly superficial, but that doesn't mean that a vastly more sustainable city isn't possible. You're distracted by the bullshit and haven't seen the real vision. Look at one of those illustrated permaculture books one day. Think about how much compost can be produced in the city. Think of all the rooftop space. I guess for you, if it ain't gritty, it ain't a city. Well, there's more than one kind of grit.

And before you pop too much yang about B-town, you should maybe take a walk somewhere else besides Telegraph or around the quaint middle class homes around the University. You might also want to look into some of the history besides the stuff made by "bland hippies" - like the founding of the co-ops, the militant civil rights organizations as far back as the 1940s, the long fight to keep rent control, the Free Speech Movement and the very first Copwatch.

Peace and love kind brother!