Before I answer the question: “How is nature critical to a twenty-first century urban ethic?” I first need to ask the more fundamental question: “What is nature and how is it constructed by people in our increasingly different and diverse urban communities?” Cities of difference are places where we are “in the presence of otherness,” as Sennett puts it—namely, our increasingly different, diverse, and culturally heterogeneous urban areas
In my blog Cities of (in)Difference I discussed Bloomfield and Bianchini’s (2002, p. 6) intercultural dream where “different cultures intersect, ‘contaminate’ each other and hybridise.” Clearly parks, public spaces and streets have a role to play in this. Unfortunately however, culturally inclusive spaces, those designed intentionally around the recognition of difference, diversity, and cultural heterogeneity have neither been a major focus of study in the planning literature nor are they well understood by practicing urban designers, planners and policy makers (Kumar and Martin 2004).
Cities of difference (Fincher and Jacobs 1998) are places where we are “in the presence of otherness” (Sennett 1990 p123) — namely, our increasingly different, diverse, and culturally heterogeneous urban areas. Yet as I travel around the world I see token, or very little recognition, understanding of, and engagement with this difference, diversity, and cultural heterogeneity in creative and productive ways. Moreover, I’ve seen no examples which could be said to be capable of fundamentally transforming civic institutions, the public realm, its discourses and city management practices.