When defining a new term, or redefining a marginalized term, it helps to define its converse. The word ‘sustainable’ has become such a meaningless marketing brand. If we’re going to take this one back from the PR firms we’ll need to draw a few lines. The opposite of ‘sustainable’ should be understood to be ‘terminal’. So often, though, the term ‘sustainable’ is being used where ‘terminal’ should rightly go. ‘Sustainable development’ on a finite planet seems comically dishonest. ‘Smart growth’, ‘green capitalism’ – it’s all a smokescreen. We’ll likely never have anything close to a sustainable metropolis. Like an ant hill, the larger our mega-cities loom, the further its resources must be imported. A few community gardens won’t radically alter much. Maybe Detroit can ramp up wide-scale urban farming, we’ll see.
Anyhow, with so many words being tossed around with dubious authenticity, it seemed fitting to play a little game of fill-in-the-blank ‘Mad-Lib Urbanism‘. Not that this is a thing yet, but it could be. The idea being you can juxtapose just about any word alongside ‘urbanism’ nowadays and potentially create an entirely new process or school of thought.
This rising trend seems to have taken root recently – likely in part to beloved academic geographer David Harvey rekindling the romanticism of Jane Jacobs and Henri Lefebvre. From Harvey in 2008, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: It is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”
So many different brands of ‘urbanism’ have emerged, and most not as new movements, but as a new way to label something that’s been around for a long time. It’s a fun trend to explore, as it can instantly introduce creative new theories of how we live and connect. While this lexicon includes actual studied references, others may be a bit less than sincere. For now, let’s just enjoy the ride.