Horizon at Sandy Point

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Theory of Cities

Consider the bachac. These leaf-cutter food farming ants can be seen in almost any
Trinidadian garden. Their soldiers and workers clear cut paths and highways from the nest to your rose bush or the sweet young leaves of fruit trees. The cuttings are taken back to central chambers of the nest where they are processed with the help of co-dependent fungus into food for the queen and the next generations of bachacs. Queens can live for a very long time (as much as 20 years) and nests can develop to house millions of these ants. "Bachac" is an Amerindian word known since the Spanish conquest of the new world.(

Consider termites. These industrious insects build giant nests on rainforest trees, or towering mounds in the savannas of Africa and Australia. They feed on, and are therefore imprtant to the recycling of dead plant material.When they find convenient and abundant sources of dead plant material - such as in human homes - they are our enemies. "Colonies use a decentralised, self-organised systems of activity guided by swarm intelligence to exploit food sources and environments that could not be available to any single insect acting alone." - (

We tend to consider bees in a different way because we have long derived direct benefit from their activity, cultivating them as pollinators and providers of honey, beeswax and royal jelly.

Many species evolved co-operative societies long before humans. It took us some 50,000 years to begin to co-operate outside of families and tribes. Then followed centuries of conflict among groups based on superficial or ideological differences.We are still working through this era, even as we have developed co-operative and ecosocial clusters - call them cities - that may yet redeem the ecological imbalances created by havesting the wild.

Especially in the last 200 years, we have exploited to near extinction, species in the oceans and on the land. We have co-opted the world's mineral resources, and populations have exploded. Now, in cities like London, New York, Tokyo and even those as tiny as Port of Spain on a small island in the south Caribbean, we must confront the challenges of feeding and sustaining ourselves without further affecting the balance of life on the earth.

One very perplexing question: on a planet that we are told is over four billion years old that has created and discarded thousands of creatures, why do we believe that a species not yet 100,000 years old has the capacity to determine not just its own fate, but that of the whole world.

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