Monday, April 7, 2008

#13b: When Flow Exceeds Form

Gone Fishin', originally uploaded by Bēn.

In more than one occasion a friend of mine (knowing I'm a planner - as if I can do something about it, ha!) has lamented the fact that Charlotte's greenways are paltry amenities compared to the river life that abounds in places like Greenville and Charleston...Some have even suggested we build an artificial canal like San Antonio to aid our soporific Uptown nightlife. (To which I respond: We do have a river! We just allowed McMansion developments to cut us off from it.)

Matt Edgeworth not only elucidates why rivers tickle our urbanist fancy, he evocatively suggests a whole framework for understanding humankind's technological genesis:

...rivers were the first artifacts. The great human transformation of the material domain may have started with things that were fluid rather than the fixed. From the moment that hominids placed stones across a stream to step across to the other side, or built a crude dam in order to create a pool for fishing or bathing, they were starting to influence and control the flow of water…

Rivers taught us to urbanize, to become technological beings, but there is something downright holy about rivers...Just ask John the Baptist. We were implanted with great reason at the Edenic confluence of four great rivers. Religious activity is a processive encounter with the flow-artifacts of life. To bring the spiritual to the mundane requires an understanding of life-cycles, seasons, phases and cultural pacts, the temporal phenomena of interchange, and our relationships to other beings.

Ann Galloway elicits the multi-disciplinary implication of Edgeworth's archaeological insights:

I may be biased by my previous life as an archaeologist, but I still don’t know any other disciplinary perspective that so persistently and convincingly troubles stable categories like nature and culture, and I think that Edgeworth’s essay is particularly evocative in its assessment of flow and the capacity to exceed form.

Besides mobile technologies, what other areas of study or practice could benefit from such an approach?

My answer: urbanism...or at least the form-fixated urbanism of the new urbanists.

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