UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rebuilding the city from an ecological perspective Testemale, Philip M.


The depth and severity of the planet's ecological and social crisis demands solutions and actions which exceed the capacity and ability of our dominant paradigm. Western culture -- its set of values, attitudes, ethics, institutions and traditions -- is inherently non-sustainable. This is especially true with regards to perceptions and interrelationships with nature. The city is a projection of both the positives of this culture as well as being its worst "ecological and social nightmare." This thesis addresses the city as the logical starting point for the project of sustainability; one which must ultimately entail nothing less than a complete paradigm shift. Planning, and more specifically urban design, have significant "leadership" roles to play in this movement. This thesis explores an ecological approach to design as an alternative to current theory and practice. By initially exploring ecological theories, a broad base is established which contrasts deep ecological thinking with the shallow environmentalism that preoccupies mainstream society. It is asserted that the radical theory and principles of Deep Ecology, Social Ecology and Bioregionalism demonstrate an ecological wisdom and perspective found to be absent in Eco-development and environmentalism. This difference is directly translatable to design theory. Neotraditionalism is argued as embodying a mainstream "reformist" approach to urban form. In contrast the process theory of Alexander et al and the theories and principles of the Ecocity movement provide radical prescriptions to urban form and societal issues. Variations on the concept of the urban village are found in each of the three design theories. These are examined as potential alternatives to existing single-family landscapes. A synthesis of this concept drawing upon the principles of Alexander et al. and Ecocity theory is called the urban eco-village. This is posited as a process and form prescription for community which can begin to reharmonize the relations between humans and other humans, and between humans and non-humans Action must be the touchstone of any paradigm shift. Hence, a series of strategies for implementation are explored. These present potential process and built form actions which emerge in the context of an ecological ethic. Accordingly, these coalesce around holistic design principles, the necessity to rebuild existing form (the concept of bricolage) and the concentration of these efforts at the local/community scale in a bottom-up fashion. The strategies point to the requisite need to break with the current fixation on form which characterizes mainstream design. An alternative design philosophy and ideology based on ecological understanding, information, and a more holistic definition of community within nature must be widely accepted and practiced if the goals of sustainability are to be brought closer to realization.

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