Mumbai on My Mind: Some Thoughts on Sustainability | Homi Bhabha
:: Mumbai Slum – image via Lost & Found
“It is always too early, or too late, to talk of the ‘cities of the future.’ (78)
Bhabha uses this essay to frame the idea of sustainability and innovation, mentioning that “Any claim to newness, any proposal that we are ‘at the turning point’ of history, urbanity, or ecology, is at once a historical commitment and a tendentious and transitional proposition.” (78)
When we shift this new ‘newness’ towards the ecological, and the shift from old ideas of succession and stability – those that now naively “take courage from texts that seem to stress the crucial importance of ‘momentary equilibrium’ in ecological thinking…” and evolving to the ‘eco-logic in Guattari’s The Three Ecologies, which is “…defined as a ‘process, which I here oppose to system or to structure, [and which] strives to capture existence in the very act of its constitution, definition, and deterritorialisation.” (79)
To discuss process, we much include more than the spatial. And while the overall issue of sustainability is inherently spatial, Bhabha expands this notion to focus instead on the ideas of temporality and the role that it plays in the agency of the ecologist.
“The most prosaic, dictionary definition of sustainability suggests that it is a city designed or landscaped in such a way as to ensure that continued conservation of natural resources and the surrounding built environment while providing the cultural, social, and economic base needed to support its inhabitants. It seems natural that the normative ‘measures’ of the discourses of ecology or sustainability are spatial. However, in that innocent-sounding phrase ‘to ensure the continued conservation,’ we move from territoriality or ‘ground’ – landscape, city, forest, industrial park – to an ecological temporality – the continued conservation – that supports or ‘houses’ the agency and ethical activity of the ecologist.” (79)
Thus spatial components never existing in a vacuum, but are managed by the ideas of agency/activism in this context is: “to intervene in the urban existence in the present tense: in the very act of its constitution, its being fixed-into-being.” (80)
There is the added complexity then to “calculate the ‘time’ of environmental intervention. Not ‘time’ is not as abstract a quantity, as discussions of temporality sometimes suggest. When time becomes the medium of agency or the vehicle of urban ecological interventions, then… temporality becomes intimately connected to governmental policy and bureaucratic decree – code, site, and practice.” (80) This is time in a more premeditated temporality, again, not relying on ‘nature’ to continue on its linear road towards a stable equilibrium, but shaped by the agency of the various actors working for (or against) it. It makes one think of this agency as substituting for ‘disturbance’ in modern ecological thinking as a generator of change.
The notions then of spatiality, coupled with temporality and agency, enable an ecological urbanism to transcend the static models and become process oriented in the model of its ecological origins.
(from Ecological Urbanism, Mostafavi & Doherty, eds. 2010, p.78-83)