City as Organism?

October 15, 2012

For decades, urbanists have been thinking about cities as organisms. They take in resources, eject waste, spread and grow. Theoretical physicist Geoffrey West decided to put the idea through the mathematical ringer. So, are cities like organisms? Yes. And no.

You can also listen to the uncut interview with West.



In 1977 or 1978, I persuaded my father to accompany me one evening to a lecture that was being delivered in my high school auditorium. The speaker was Paolo Soleri and the subject was his progress at Arcosanti and of recent developments of his and his colleagues thinking about Arcology and the arcological future of urbanism. My father (who's boyhood home in North Dakota is now a ghost town) was as fascinated as I. He made a fifty dollar contribution toward the work at Arcosanti.
I'm a skeptic in every way and if there's a guiding principle in my life, it's an adherence to the skeptical examination of everything. In my youth, I had little interest in comic superheros or space opera but I devoured the speculative designs of Syd Mead and Ron Cobb and others who seriously considered the requirements of the design of the human environment in extreme conditions and under extrapolated circumstances. Soleri's vision was like Mead and Cobb cast in concrete and bronze, down to Earth.
I love Soleri's grand vision as depicted in his folios. I love the over-the-top extension of his aesthetic of improbable, impractical, beautiful human hives, directly adjacent to yet disturbing as little as possible the natural surrounding ecology. It requires an utter rejection of my native skepticism to embrace these soaring, imaginary structures but I find it strangely easy to abandon realism when contemplating them.
Paolo Soleri died in April, at the age of 93.