Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lost Cities of the Amazon - Garden Cities of the Amazon

A century ago Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-morrow proposed a model for lowdensity, sustainable urban growth. A forerunner of today’s green movement, Howard envisioned networked towns as an alternative to an industrial world filling with high-rise cities. Ten towns with tens of thousands of people, he suggested, could have the same functional and administrative capacity of a single megacity.

The ancient Xinguanos built such a system, a flat, green style of urbanism or proto-urbanism: an inchoate garden city. Perhaps Percy Fawcett was in the right place but looking for the wrong thing: stone cities. What the small-scale centers lacked in size and elaborate structures, they made up for in numbers and integration. Had Howard known of them, he might have devoted a passage to the “Garden Cities of Yesterday.” The common conception of the city as a dense grid of masonry buildings dates to early desert oasis civilizations such as Mesopotamia but was uncharacteristic of many other environments. Not only the Amazon’s tropical forests but also temperate forest landscapes throughout much of medieval Europe were dotted with towns and villages of similar size to those in the Xingu.

These insights are especially important today as the southern Amazon is redeveloped, this time by Western civilization. The transitional forest of the southern Amazon is being quickly converted into farmland and pasture. At the present rate, it will be reduced to 20 percent of its original size over the next decade. Much of what is left will be restricted to reserves, such as the Xingu, where indigenous people are the stewards of the remaining biodiversity. In these areas, saving tropical forests and protecting indigenous cultural heritage are, in many respects, one and the same thing.

Source of Information : Scientific American October 2009

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