ReBuilding Planet Earth
As a Work of Art

One Community at a Time
e m p l o y i n g
A Master Planning PROCESS
Planet Earth - if you like the idea or not - is a human artifact. It will remain a human artifact because there is no going back - even restoration to a “natural” state, if possible, would be a Human act. Humans have been altering the planet for over ten thousand years - our present activity is not new in this regard. We have, however, in the last few decades, passed the tipping point. The scope and scale of human “redesign” of Planet earth is unprecedented. This is, of course “design by default” [link: a future by...] - not intention.
The critical questions, then, are what kind of an artifact are we going to have? And, is is going to be a live one or a dead one?
And, more importantly, how are we going to evolve it? Or, more accurately, co-evolve with it? It will be, without question, the sum of all the Human actions taken, or not taken - along with the response of many other species and the planet itself - primarily over the next 25 years.
We face one of the greatest opportunities - or disasters - in the history of our Race.
Traditional planning and regulations will not give us the tools to resolve this crises. As they exist, the rules in place intended to mitigate the negative impacts of development do as much harm as good because of four fundamental reasons: first off, they make many new ideas illegal and stifle innovation that could be possitive steps. Second, they provide a place for people to hide. “It is built according to the zoning ordinances and the building code” protects projects and developers even if they are a disaster. Third, it biases the the argument towards individuals and corporations who already have great wealth and power. In the end they get what the want and they are the only ones who can withstand a protracted and costly process. I do not know why businesses are so anti-regulation, it is the easiest path to monopoly there is. Since I have never seen a big business that really wanted a free market (in their area) you would think they would understand the help regulation provides them - perhaps they do but also enjoy making Capitalist noises along the way. Last, it is totally impossible to make a regulation intelligent, context sensitive and adaptable. The process of making regulations is slower than the change in the circumstances that seem to give rise to them.
Add to this the complexity that regulations tend to be local (this is good) and vary country to country and region to region within a country, and it becomes clear that no comprehensive approach to human development is possible with today’s methods and tools. The entire process of human development is fragmented on several levels of recursion from city to county to state to country to international communities with little connection between them.
The Master Planning Process [link] is designed to resolve these problems. The best part of the existing regulation process, at least how it is typically carried on on the city level, is that it forces a public debate on key issues. The resulting ordinance is usually imperfect but the debate is sometimes healthy and enlightening. Too often, however, it degenerates into a bitter argument between narrow interests. Everybody is for a better environments as long as it does not restrict their use of their property and the exercise of their “freedoms.”
Assuming that it is possible, using the Internet, to install a locally responsive, regionally connected and globally integrated planning process, the question that come to the forefront is what is the integrating idea - the global gestalt - that can unite such diversity into one image of itself? To me, this is the image of EARTH as a garden and work-of-art.
The great work of the 21st Century can be humankind learning how to live and co-evolve with a planet as we are, at the same time, starting our migration into space. A big part of this will be “restoration” as we repair the scars of our primitive industrial and agricultural past. Included in this, of course, is the development of local community and economy, as well as, an integrated and supportive global infrastructure.
A design of this complexity cannot be planned. It can, however, be evolved. The integrating armature for this work is the Internet. It is the proper employment of this tool that allows the integration of the whole system with the emergence of all the parts. Integration does not mean “top down” or building to some fixed master plan anymore that the body “tells” each cell what to become or what to do. The difference, however, than this body analogy is that, in the is case, the “body” itself is also emergent and rapidly evolving.
To say that the Earth will become a “GARDEN” and a “WORK-OF-ART” does not picture an outcome - it is an image that drives a specification. In the organic tradition, it implies a cooperation between human systems with intent and natural processes and evolution. It the political-economic sense, it implies a period of stability with the basic necessities of life understood and delivered to all. In the work/lifestyle sense it implies a major human focus and effort with ecology projects followed like sports events are today. It will require the same level of inventiveness and market interaction as it took to spoil the Earth in the first place. It will occupy the attention of a couple of generations.
There will be those, of course, who will say that we cannot “afford” to do this. I will point point out the the GNP does not care if you are cutting a tree down or planting one. All it measures is the economic transaction and the value placed on it. I believe we will evolve a whole new economic measurement system, however, even in the old system this can be accounted. It it all in what “the market” values. A redwood forest can be capitalized and accounted the same way a automobile production plant is today.
Within the next decade, the status of the Earth’s ecosystem and remaining natural assets will become the single biggest political topic. If this happens, and these problem are approached as political ones, we are likely to find ourselves in a mess of enormous proportions. Regulation and government will fail us here. The variety of the problem and its possible solutions far outstrips the variety inherent in the political process.
The task is to bring the market in line with natural values and not wait to start accounting only at the beginning of human effort. Dolan pointed this out decades ago in his book TANSTASAFL.
The dichotomy between natural economics and human economics drives the whole UpSideDown economics [link] process. Economics which is a great human tool has become the paradigm that rules our lives. We worship human economics as if it were the purpose of life not a tool for conducting life. We value individual wealth and spoil commonwealth - which we do not measure. Some say our condition stems from the fact that we place an economic value on everything, it can be just as credibly said our problem is that we do not. What is the economic value of air? At over a dollar a bottle, what is the economic value of a clean mountain stream. Does it have to be in the bottle to have value?
The Earth as a garden and work of art implies a massive shift in attitude by billions of people. This will not take place all at once or even in one place. The process will be one community at a time making demonstrations that show better short and long term results than the now-in-place approaches. While it would have been possible to do this at any one or two or a few places before, it has not been possible to do this at scale until the maturing of the Internet and World Wide Web. Now, the necessary integration tool is in hand. It will take the appropriate use of this tool to facilitate the sum of thousands of efforts to emerge (and feedback) a result too complex to plan.
These first projects have to be strong enough to pioneer the process without the level of infrastructure and support that will be possible when larger portions of the system are in place. They should be carefully chosen. It will be better not to organize these by political borders but by bio-regions and human and animal corridors [link]. Also, seven levels of recursion will be necessary to migrate from any neighborhood to a planet. How these levels are formed into clusters is a design decision that will prove significant to the outcome. If a neutral, nonpolitical approach is employed, credibility will build slowly as each project produces real value. Results will determine success not mandate. An attempt to control the process and promote fast growth for short term gain (as we are doing now) will be seductive but fatal. The process has to be maintained over a long period of time, the work environment has to be neutral and the people of each segment have to be engaged in determining the kind of environment they want while at the same time being actively involved in the scales (clusters) above and below them.
This process will not work without the Gaia Project [link] being intact. Without trained Speakers for Gaia, there will be no one to represent the Earth’s perspective and presence - therefore no effective collaboration between human economics and Earth ecology.
There are many tools becoming available that will provide the capability for people to see and model [link] the consequences of our existing growth patterns. These tools coupled with the proper collaborative processes may turn the tide (to use an apt phase). The question is if we will use them in time.
We will have to:
Rethink our economic Paradigm [link]
Change our economic Habits [link]
Create a Foundation to integrate projects and perform research [link]
Create Community NavCenters [link]
Challenge our Development Practices [link]
Make Centers for Humanity [link]
Rethink our Concept [link] of the next 25 years
Bring Gaia into the Process [link]
Learn to Build New Kinds [link] of Cities
Make Reasonable Habitats [link]
Renew Shared Resources [link]
Build Lightly [link]
Reconceive the Urban Lanscape [link]
Establish Innovation Centers [link] that can work large
Practice Planetary Architecture [link]
We must Think Larger [link] than Earth
In other words, we need an AGENDA [link] and a new generation of solutions. These are mine; they are far from complete. They make a start. And start we must [link: a future by...].
The basic conceptual barrier that has to be overcome is the philosophy of utilitarianism; the idea that anything and everything can be justified on its alleged basic short term economic benefit. If this were a valid assumption, then war would be both morally justified and practical - it is neither. One thing is for sure, if we can afford the present global levels of war-preparedness and actual war-fighting, we can afford to restore the Earth and make it a Garden and a sustainable human, animal, plant economy - is this really difficult to do? I think not; it is a matter of what we decide to do.
Today, many tools exist to facilitate this effort. It is now possible, for the first time, to see the Earth as a system. Wind World from NASA is one such tool to do this [link]. Goggle Earth another. Combine this with GIS information and tools like SketchUp and a support technology can be assembled that will allow unprecedented local-to-global modeling capability.
Since 1971, when I conceived “KC Strip” [link] part of the Kansas City Master Plan project and first started thinking about this process, there have existed many practical reasons for not pursuing this kind of approach. These excuses do not exist today. And, in this time, a generation has passed. The conditions that existed then - which were clear enough - and now reaching a critical state. If we wait much loner to start a process of Planetary Architecture [link], many destructive patterns will be established that will be socially difficult and financially punitive to alter. In the best case scenario, it will take a decade to put into practice a system such as I propose. As of now (2005), we are in 2015 to really begin. Of course, local projects can and will be in place before this time. This is how the system will grow and evolve. There is a critical mass necessary before the process can begin to effect the outcome on a global scale. This is what will take the time. To delay responding and then to react and rush the process of implementation will be a great mistake. A system such as this is built on practice, experience and earned trust. Even with good tools and proper environment and good facilitation, this takes time.
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Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
July 27, 2000


SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted: July 27, 2000

revised: January 9, 2005
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(note: this document is about 30% finished)

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2000, 2001, 2003

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