Urban, Rural, Natural. Questions, Questions

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As citizens we are often labelled into distinct categories, “tagged” if you like: by income, by municipality, by political affiliation, and in a myriad of other ways, depending upon the context. Lands, places, and communities throughout the Grand River watershed of Canada (the geography that situates this blog) are similarly and often categorised, as distinctly

rural,    urban,    or     natural.

Despite their frequent usage in discussions and decision-making, and our seeming need to force everything into these categories, they are quite artificial. They are neat boxes that perpetuate myths about the separateness of the systems upon which our lives and our environment depend. They emphasize distinctions, rather than relations.

Part of our work in setting up this blog has involved office discussions that have challenged us with the question of how to foster discussion of connections and relations, rather than division, among urban, rural, and natural, or whether we should seek another paradigm. This post is a series of questions, but these questions form an important part of the conversation we want to have:

How do we foster connections and integrated thinking about community?”

Dilemmas

These terms, Urban, Rural, Natural, are they part of the dilemma we face, or can they contribute to solutions?

As architects we’re steeped in the hubris of urban design, and how the urban realm is for the designer to shape. But we’ve started talking about the corollaries in the natural and rural. Rural Design? Natural Design? As a culture, we’re equally steeped in the idea that nature has its own design, and we use science to understand it, but cannot affect it, except by dominating it or destroying it. The rural lies somewhere between these two poles? Perhaps in the eyes of urbanites, but from the rural view perhaps not.

How do we discuss an integrated systems approach to the design of our watershed where “design” is pretty much all in the urban realm? Perhaps design should be kept there, unless it can bring better solutions than it has in our cities?

With the artificial divisions of urban, rural and natural come political territories of authority that make integrated decision-making very difficult indeed. Is the Grand River Conservation Authority the only steward of the natural? Are the urban municipalities the masters of the urban, and as such, do the rural municipalities control the rural?

But don’t the natural, urban,and rural intermingle, flow through, and profoundly affect each other? Are our present political and professional divisions part of the problem?

We think they might be.

Does the urban citizen come to the rural and nature for recreation only? Does the rural citizen understand the balance between community and watershed better? How do they both view the natural? Is any part of our watershed truly untouched by human hand at this point? Is the natural simply a series of disconnected pockets?

Is the Grand River an urban element in Paris, Brantford, and Galt, but a rural one in Caledonia and a natural one elsewhere? Surely the river is one thing, and not solely defined by its context.

Questions questions.

We’d like to get your help with this.

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