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. This is the final post of my “Regenerative Iowa City” series.
Infrastructures such as roads have become necessary identifying features of towns, but the way we utilize them remains harming and greedy to the environment around us. The switch from driving cars to get to places in Iowa City should refocus its efforts into other modes of transportation. Though in the winter months there is not much one at a distance from campus can do other than drive their car or take a bus to get downtown or to class, during the warmer months employing a bike-sharing program, which is currently in the works, would help “reduce the carbon impact of transportation and promote a healthier lifestyle” (Kuehl). Designing for proximity helps enhance efficiency in travel in the city while reducing transportation emissions. Biking and walking, rather than driving, allows more activity than cars. Iowa City is a “walkable, bikeable community” with “bike-friendly destinations” (Kuehl). After all, “the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot” (Thoreau 48). More than speed, Thoreau attempts to invite people to think that the benefits of traveling on foot—or, in this case, also by bike—far outweigh what we perceive to be faster solutions in getting to places but at a higher cost environmentally and from our own pockets. As the implementation of the bike-sharing program heads into further discussions about costs for bike use and locations where bikes can be rented, this is one goal Iowa City can and will achieve in the coming year.
Despite this gain, one obstacle to stumble and struggle through will be that of a communal behavioral change. Our habits in the way we use energy is unsustainable (Future of Cities Forum 14). The explosion of urban growth contributed to the mass consumerist and “survival of the fittest” mindset, instilling fear into the minds of the entire world’s population. We believe we need capital in order to survive, in order to establish a hierarchy of success. Our focus on monetary increase and demand segregates us from truly seeing what goes on around us, both in the environment and in our personal lives. Material gains are not goods like the relationships we have with those around us that inspire us to foster a healthy lifestyle. However, the farther we have reached in urban areas, the easier it was to consume beyond our means “or faster than ecosystems can regenerate” (Future of Cities Forum 4).
It is also beyond our environment—our consumerist and capitalist habits affect our governments, food production, and ourselves. That is why transforming policy and turning to locally grown foods are small steps to take when imagining Iowa City as regenerative. The Future of Cities Forum suggests we “promot[e]…a city that allows behaviors that have no or low effects on our environment” (14). We must realize that we cannot keep up with the demands of ourselves: more productivity does not mean we can sustain it. In fact, if we spent more time in sectors of medicine, social work, and education we would “directly improve the quality of our lives” (Jackson). If the University of Iowa turned away from preparing students for a workaholic lifestyle by diversifying the types of classes students take beyond the General Education program and ensuring workloads are not impossible, as well as Iowa City lowering the hours in its work week by presenting a livable wage on just, say, 20 hours per week, we would spend more time taking care of each other, as well as our surroundings. We would collect a common purpose around a regenerative city in maintaining it and keeping our output in check with our input instead of staring emptily at a phone or sitting at a desk for ten hours a day. Getting moving and getting excited about things is what keeps us going and makes us a great species. Peter Marland of the Future of Cities Forum suggests we “[i]nnovate, explain, implement,” in that order (16); if we “innovate” ideas for a better city, then we must “explain” to every single affected person and then “implement” our ideas with others into a regenerative Iowa City.
It starts with us. If we elevate ourselves onto a pedestal, we dehumanize ourselves into mere parts of the machine. We must learn to love ourselves if we ever hope to make a lasting impact in helping our planet. Twist the definition of the Anthropocene, and see human dominance instead as the growth of human compassion. See love and kindness over work and capital in the way humans treat each other as they work together to foster a healthier and more environmentally-friendly city. See how stress decreases if we don’t depend on education to prepare us for a job or working overtime to get education and things like food, water, clothes, and shelter; see everyone have more time to explore themselves and nature around them. See us think about ourselves in conjunction with animals and plants, not above. Living in a regenerative city, and the planning and preparation for it, would benefit us individually as well as fostering a self-aware community that understands unhealthy actions, habits, and consumptions leave lingering traces that grow with each passing day. A place like Iowa City has the capacity to take care of its citizens and its surrounding students in order to create a more inclusive, communal, and circular environment. With projects and organizations like Ecopolis working within our city, I believe there is hope to start small and locally in the pursuit of making us regenerative in our habits, lifestyles, education, and productions. Battling the adverse affects of industrialism and the Anthropocene is more than just “making a difference”: it requires innovation, communication, and implementation. A regenerative Iowa City can be one of the first examples of many in the discussion of becoming a more environmentally-conscious world.
Works Cited (Part Four)
Jackson, Tim. “Let’s Be Less Productive.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 May 2012. Web. 06 May 2015.
Kuehl, Eric. “Bike-sharing Program Coming to Iowa City.” Little Village Magazine. Little Village Magazine, 7 May 2015. Web. 7 May 2015.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Boston: Beacon, 2004. Print.
World Future Council and Energy Cities. “Imagine a Regenerative City.” Future of Cities Forum. 2014. PDF File.
Copyright © Alyssa Cokinis, 2015. All rights reserved.