Regenerative Iowa City, Part One: The Anthropocene vs. Nature

In May 2015 I wrote a proposal as a final project for a class called Literature of the Anthropocene. My proposal was in regards in turning Iowa City into a regenerative city. While I hope we as a city take the initiatives needed to make this a reality, I’m going to be posting my long essay in a series of small parts in order to spark conversation on the environment, climate change, community, and where the future of humanity should go from here, starting in a place like Iowa City.


Regeneration is not about immortality: sustainability pulses at its core. Creating a cycle sustains regeneration for generations to come. Placing this idea into the context of a city allows the city truly to survive on what it needs, reducing excess in waste and material gain. After all, “[c]reating regenerative cities thus primarily means one thing: Initiating comprehensive, political, financial and technology strategies for an environmentally enhancing, restorative relationship between cities and the ecosystems from which they draw resources for their sustenance” (World Future Council). Therefore, I propose Iowa City, under the Ecopolis mentality already formed, transform itself into a regenerative city. Throughout this proposal, with the aid of writings and my own thoughts, I will discuss ideas for change, how the process of a change will help both us and the environment, and ultimately the benefit of turning to an idea such as a regenerative city.

The Anthropocene—or the human-dominated epoch in Earth’s natural history that we reside in today—started during the Industrial Revolution, which exploded urban growth (World Future Council). Before that, over the course of 14,000 years we, as humans, domesticated plants and animals. We took the land and created farming; we found animals and made them food or pets. The change from small family farms or simple hunting for food transformed into a mass commercial endeavor for an ever-growing consumer society. This increasing global influence impacted material production through labor, capital, and land. The introduction preceding Virgil’s poem “Georgics”—this specific version translated by Janet Lembke—explores this idea and also the potential disappearance of family farms in Virgil’s day. “Labor—sheer, ceaseless hard work—is the only barrier between the farmer and ruin,” and this is exceptionally true when looking at how humans gained the ability and perhaps the agency to stay put, to refrain from nomadic tendencies and develop more intricate cities that stretched farther than they ever thought (Lembke). The flourishing of agriculture became the underpinning of civilization and helped civil communities exist and have a stronger presence than before. I believe this is not the start of the Anthropocene but lays the groundwork for the beginning of a human-centered age of the Earth. To this day we focus on the concept of labor, but we have created different labors to make our lives easier, not to keep up that “hard work” Lembke talks about in the introduction. We must cultivate to survive, but our need for distribution now overpowers our ability to cultivate effectively, whether that is in regards to plant life or the excess of animals killed just for our food cravings. In the attempt to make life easier, to make everything painless and numb, to retreat ourselves into our little square houses, we are isolating ourselves from helping the environment as well as each other for sustainable reasons.

The Anthropocene also thrives on an influx of limited, unsustainable energy. It is so easy to throw out food and other items we deem as waste, to have that taken to the dump, perhaps flushed into our oceans, but we never give it a second thought because the convenience outweighs our negative output into nature in our minds. The impact of what we do in the United States stretches so far that developing countries attempt to mimic us and our behaviors, which in turn increases their own carbon footprint when before these countries may have lived less earth-harming lives. We rely on capital for what we have now, as well as renewable and regenerative sources, so often people will mistake the investment in renewability as unlikely or too expensive. We think in dollar signs instead of nurturing the land that provides for us. The introduction of capital marks a shift in our cultural awareness, in which our growth as a species is marked by Industrial Expansion (MacDuffie). The question as to what we can do has also shifted. Allen MacDuffie wonders, have we become our own energy, and are we a sustainable one at that?

Figure 1 – The comparison of our current linear city metabolism versus a prospective circular city metabolism.

In order to remain a sustainable entity on this planet, we need to adopt the way nature works. We currently work as a linear metabolism, in which we consume resources and create an excess amount of waste and pollution without much thought to how it affects the surrounding and, sadly, declining ecosystems. A circular metabolism remains more ideal because it reduces consumption and pollution rates while also recycling a majority of things in order to create renewable sources of energy and food. Employing a circular metabolism instead of the linear system we currently hold would benefit us and the planet greatly (see Figure 1). It is not about taking the energy nature has and making it more efficient for us, but rather for us to use it exactly as it should be used. And, besides, “[u]nless we learn from nature how to create circular systems, an urbanizing world will continue to be an agent of global environmental decline” (World Future Council). Nature works in a circle, so if we can mimic her movements so there is zero-waste, then every output has another input, and so on. To do this we may need a change the way we approach government and policy.


Works Cited (Part One)

Lembke, Janet. “Introduction.” Virgil’s Georgics: A New Verse Translation. By Virgil. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005. N. pag. Print.

MacDuffie, Allen. “Energy, Evolution, and Victorian Ecological Thought.” Energy Cultures in the Age of the Anthropocene. Old Capitol Senate Chamber, Iowa City. 6 Mar. 2015.

World Future Council and Energy Cities. “Imagine a Regenerative City.” Future of Cities Forum. 2014. PDF File.


Copyright © Alyssa Cokinis, 2015. All rights reserved.

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