Cities are where almost all resources are consumed and almost all wastes are produced. You could boldly argue that as many, if not more problems are created by our pesticide laden factory farms, ploughed and harvested by smoke belching fossil fueled tractors, filled to the brim with methane belching manure generating cows and chickens and pigs crammed together in CAFO's – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
and therefore to be accounted for as an essential part of what we call the urban ecological footprint.
As the economist E.F. Schumacher pointed out in “Small is Beautiful” in the 1960s, nature is like a giant banking account and our income is the amount of sunlight we receive and its immediate transformation into food and heat and wind and moving water.
Our fossil fuel reserves and our soil and forests and coral reefs and mountains and ore deposits are our savings accounts.
My response to that is to accept people as they are and see how we can make best use of our less endearing traits.
Pathogens and vermin get into the water supply and into homes and kill and sicken people – my good friend Hanna Fathy, from Egypt, for example, tells the story of how his baby niece was killed in her crib, bitten and infected by rats that were attracted by the food waste in the garbage but found it easier to eat the baby's ears and nose than try to tear through the sealed plastic garbage bin.
They explain why people will suffer the daily commute into the city or some other densely populated area to go to school and work and shop even when many of the actual goods we need can be obtained more cheaply and with less stress outside the population centers and urban cores. They explain why the Zabaleen garbage pickers of Cairo moved with all of their animals from the countryside to build an informal slum on the outskirts of the city only to live in piles of garbage – they knew that they despite the poverty and the filth and indignity they could make a better living in or near the city where resources have pooled and agglomerated and people are densely packed, than out in the fields and farms and villages.
My answer is “the city can solve all of its own problems if the people in the city recognize the city as the solution space that it really is and stop looking at it as merely a consumption space. The city needs to be seen as what the futurist Alvin Toffler called a “Prosumer” environment.
The Zabaleen men gather and sort trash and clean and sell most of the inorganic materials to factories around the world. They also run their own small factories. They also keep pigs in the city, in their apartment buildings and on their rooftops, along with goats and sheep and cows and rabbits and ducks and chickens, and these creatures help to turn the organic wastes into nutritious meat and useful leather and bonemeal.
In this class we will explore how this is done.