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 April 2012 blog post Cities of (in)Difference, I quoted Bloomfield and Bianchini (2002) and Sandercock (2003) on their visionary and transformative thoughts about the shift towards interculturalism. Like Amin (2002), Tully (1995) argues that our societies are intercultural rather than multicultural because of the cross-cultural overlap, interaction, and negotiation — the “politics of recognition” — that occurs out of necessity in the formation of our society. This is what Amin (2002 p 960) calls the “negotiation of difference within local micropublics of everyday interaction.” An acknowledgement of this dynamic cultural nature of society — both the “politics of recognition” and “negotiation of difference” — is a key distinction between intercultural versus multicultural theory and demands a culturally competent approach to both professional planning and urban design, and planning and urban design education.
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.
Two agriculture related stories caught my attention recently. One, on National Public Radio’s ‘All Things Considered’ entitled ‘Some US Farms Trade Tobacco for a Taste of Africa’ reported on George Bowling’s 60 acre farm in southern Maryland which has started growing African crops for the region’s 120,000 strong African population. The other, a piece in the New York Times, ‘When the Uprooted Put Down Roots’, highlighted the growth across the US in ‘refugee agriculture‘ among for example Somalis, Cambodians, Liberians, Congolese, Bhutanese and Burundians.