There's the city and then there's the country, the built environment and the wilderness, nature and civilization. Whatever name the dichotomy goes by, we usually think of the world humans create and the world outside their creations as separate and unequal.
Cities will need to become far more responsive to what used to be thought of as nature lying outside their domains. It means recognizing how deeply the city relies on natural systems and thinking creatively about working with those systems rather than paving everything over.
There are, for example, ideas about edging coastal cities with wetlands for storm surge protection. Then there is urban farming — including their most radical version, the vertical skyscraper farm. Whether these ideas can work or not, each is an attempt to rethink how the natural world appears within and serves urban spaces.
One concrete strategy for addressing this issue of sustainability and resilience is to make cities act more like nature. Think about how forests get everything they need from whatever moves through where they stand. Building cities that use this principle is called biomimicry — and it means bringing more of the services nature provides to the city back within its confines.
There will always be a day-to-day distinction between living in urban spaces and getting away into nature. But as far as our civilization building goes, we need to go beyond the old distinctions. With the dawning of the Anthropocene we've become a true planetary species. That's what gets the astronomer in me really interested. With all our city building, it's the entire planet that we're changing now. And once we get to that scale, the distinction between nature and not-nature has to get updated. We need a perspective that's more sustainable and more resilient if we're going to make it for another 100, 500 or 5,000 years.
If we're building cities that affect the entire planet, maybe it's time to start thinking like one. Maybe it's time to think how nature and cities can evolve together.
Bob Dylan, by the way, has some thoughts on the subject.