Tiziana Pers, I see you, 2014, oil and graphite on canvas


Down from the stand: towards a non-anthropocentric urban ethic

When thinking about their work, it is increasingly common that those fields who deal with the planning and transformation of lived space also have a strong ethical and philosophical edge to their outlook. We are pushed today towards thinking about the world in terms of the survival of humanity, thanks to an ongoing environmental crisis, unstoppable population expansion, the widespread urbanisation of the planet and the destruction of our natural resources (in terms of animals and nature) – in other words thanks to a kind of species suicide. It is no longer enough simply to look after the principles, values and the needs of our species, we also need to locate these within a wider vision of the future of the planet. This kind of world-view, while keeping mankind and its needs at its centre, begins with a desire to protect and help other species and the natural world of plants. A vision of this type allows energies to be pushed towards re-forestation and the re-naturalisation of parts of anthropised territory (territory which is subject to human­-impact): the urban re-colonisation by animal species which have been expelled from these areas, the regeneration of the flora and fauna in the oceans and in the other great liquid continents present in our planet. A non-anthropised and ethical approach, is still interested in the survival of mankind, but places this desire within a wider scenario of limits and possibilities. The point is that only within a wider world-view it is possible to plan the future of our planet. Non-anthropised ethics does not thus abandon mankind to its fate, but simply places it at the centre of a new kind of discourse, where humanity is no longer alone on the pedestal of life. The urban condition is -without doubt – the first testing ground for this new ethics. The contemporary metropolis is in fact the most important site for the intensified negative power of those kind of dynamics – demographic, environmental, economic – which are moving us towards a collective species suicide. But the metropolis is also the place where the inequalities, and injustices linked to the human race are to be found in their most extreme form. The support for a non-anthropocentric (human-centred) ethical outlook implies the application of a new idea of urbanity, seen as humanity located within a spatial context where a co-habitation with the kaleidoscope of life is sought rather than accepting a pre-ordained hegemony of power. This implies an equal distribution of the conditions linked to social mobility, the experimentation of the co-habitation of different species, and the rebuilding of a different kind of relationship with the components of the natural world. We need to think about an urban politics based around inclusion, which protects principles and values, which affect the future of the whole planet and its ecosystems. This transformation in urban politics, thanks to the adoption of a non-anthropocentric ethical outlook, is therefore a radical one. This is already clear in terms of those political ideas which propose the freeing up of energies within a “global planet” (in the words of the landscaper Gilles Clément) and which apply a parallel set of policies: based around on the one hand self-limitation and on the other an idea of grafting onto what is already there. The former implies a kind of suspension of activity –building, occupation and so on – while the latter is a sophisticated strategy for understanding the key zones within the anthropocentric territory in the city, and inserting at these points elements of reversibility which are able to enrich the environment and (re)create greater bio-diversity. We can indicate three areas of action here. The first relate, to the re-naturalisation of urban spaces. A non-anthropocentric outlook overturns the way we understand the world. The idea is to view urban space – the dense clots and its folds of cement and asphalt -from the outside, by beginning with the great plains and the non-anthropocentric landscapes which -although decreasingly- surround them. The idea is to restore parts of the city to a state of natural bio-diversity through a series of policies, which run across and connect up over the entire area occupied by lived space. For example, the forestation of peripheral areas and urban corridors, the transformation of ex-agricultural areas into protected natural zones, the creation of green corridors which can occupy empty spaces in the urban fabric, the gradual de-mineralization of fronts and roofs of the city through the use of cover-material which can host different kinds of plants. A second set of anti-anthropocentric action, relate to the bio-diversity of the animal world and the possibility of co-habitation of various species. This is a difficult and little researched area, -however- can no longer be overlooked.
At least in the sense that outside of the barriers, which are linked to the growth and the culture of the animal world, there is an urgent need to re-think and create within urban spaces some protected areas for the free circulation of species which are compatible with urban eco-systems. These can be parks and oases sheltered from the anthropocentric world where urbanity is controlled by the laws of the animal kingdom and where biro-diversity becomes a way for these animal species to observe us while we remain within our artificial barriers. It is also important that the retaking ex-anthropocentric spaces by animals and mammals is supported, and in this way new forms of exchange and new relationships can be created (as with the populations of wild boars which have returned to large areas of the Apennines) or the movement and mobility of species across landscapes which are anthropocentric can be encouraged (for example through special stopping areas for migrating birds in urban areas). Nonetheless, the first area for any kind of experimentation in non-anthropocentric urban ethics has to be that of human relations, as understood in a contemporary way. In any case, globalization -above all in its immaterial forms-, the global spread of flows, of images and information is already, in itself a state of affairs which necessitates an interpretation which places mankind within the context of geography, and not simply as the only available reference-point. A non-anthropocentric urban bio-politics has to be able to observe the state of cities without immediate resort to categories of history and ideology -which are in themselves intrinsically anthropocentric. ln this way we can also try and avoid outdated distinctions such as those between the periphery and the centre, the public and the private, and the local and the global. In their place we need a new descriptive geography, which observes urban populations and their spatial and economic relationships from a point of view of their evolution, as part of a generative grammar of space. In this way, using the idea of an urban ecosystem made up of different forms of energy, the study of the development of every lived space could become a way of understanding urbanisation as imposing limits on other forms of life or of seeing the processes of non-growth and the retreat of the presence ofhumans as a form of re-colonisation by nature. Just as, for example, we should understand the re-combinations of bio-diversities introduced by migration as an extraordinary creator of limits and opportunities for the entire variety of life-forms, and not merely as a producer of social risk. Highly topical and relevant issues, which, thanks to our tiny but crucial shift in perspective, now take on a totally different appearance.

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