Intricate ecosystems, such as the Chesapeake Bay Estuary or the Great Maya Reef, offer an opportunity for people to become aware of the importance of the interdependent functional and ecological roles that provide social security to a community. One can gain insight into the complex web of interactions that structure human life by looking at a coral reef and observing how destructive forces of competition, disintegration, and decay are balanced by constructive forces of cooperation, repair, and rejuvenation. In nature, beauty and diversity may appear as marvelous decoration but are important to the evolution and survival of an ecosystem. These natural systems are structured by many of the same challenges we face in our city.
We want change and we want it now. When new ideas are proposed and new programs introduced, they are often accompanied by high expectations for immediate outcomes. This may not be realistic. Change is gradual. It necessitates a degree of discomfort, of push and pull, and a balance of resistance and acceptance. The Utopian desire for perfection is theoretical and unrealistic. All of nature is in a constant state of flux, a state of creative interdependence. Our challenge is to accept that change is slow, but inevitable. It is a process that involves milestones, setbacks and life lessons.
Cities are like complex organisms, and all species must evolve in order to survive. The driving force behind Darwin’s notion of evolution is competition, which biologist Lynn Margulis considers incomplete. She believes that evolution is strongly based on co-operation, interaction, and mutual dependence. Relationships between organisms can be commensal, mutual or parasitic, but all are interdependent and symbiotic. No organism can succeed on its own.
An agent of change must cooperate with all species. We must be willing to get bruised now and again as we adapt new strategies. Only then can we really change things and evolve into an exemplary city.