However, in our focus as planners on addressing concerns with current development projects and other local issues we might be forgiven for sometimes losing touch with this larger picture: that the city is still the focal point and driver for those processes we refer to as civilization.
is committed to the notion that complex, civilizational problems need diverse, multidisciplinary analyses. Initially the members of the Society came from history, anthropology, and sociology; now, the Society includes such disciplines as philosophy, psychology, comparative religions, economics, political theory, literary criticism and textual analysis, art history, comparative government, comparative literature, science and technology, linguistics, archaeology, architecture, geography, biology, physics and ethnohistory.
The theme of the conference was Civilizations and Cultures in a Time of Change and Crisis and it did not disappoint. The Society’s President Dr. Andrew Targowsky gave a keynote address setting out in deeply unsettling terms the environmental and social challenges facing our global civilization. We have, he argued, managed to avoid a “Malthusian Trap” through the use of technological efficiencies, but are now facing what he calls a “Business Growth Trap” as the very forces which allowed the global population to escape its former limitations now threatens our global ecosystems with collapse.
This theme was taken up in another paper discussing German conservative thought in the transition from the 19th to the 20th Centuries: a rejection of city life and the industrial revolution and a yearning for the continuity of a “volkish” rootedness in nature. In the same session another paper argued that, far from rejecting cities, we need to recognize that they are going to be essential in our development of a sustainable global civilization. Further, the leaders of this transition will be true “global cities” – outward- and forward-looking cities where immigrants and diversity are not only welcomed but integrated into all levels of society.
This is but a small sample of the papers. I also presented a paper on planning and crisis (excerpted on my blog here and here). Overall I was impressed with the multiplicity of viewpoints and the attention paid by the scholars present to resolving some of the most pressing issues of our time.
See you in Provo?
By Michael Dudley
(This post originally appeared on the Planetizen urban planning news site, June 12th 2009)