In this environmentally-sensitive book, Angelique Edmonds makes the urban environment come to life by highlighting the agency of non-human actors.
But Edmonds is not, strictly speaking, an environmentalist. She has taught Architecture at UniSA for 12 years, alongside running her own enterprise, the School for Creating Change, and has worked on various urban design consultancies. She is well-placed to do this kind of work. Combining a deep philosophical grounding and cutting-edge new ideas, she rethinks the whole field of urban design from the ground up, a ground that includes the deep history of the two main traditions that converge in Australia, European and Aboriginal.
A few years ago, her doctoral work took her to the Roper River region in the Northern Territory, a good move if you want to contemplate the meaning of place. It is well-established that place is a central concept in Aboriginal philosophies. Country is alive, and non-humans (plants, animals, rocks) play active roles in giving places their rich meanings, and ultimately, laws. Humans are inalienably connected, and the complex kinship system spells out just how they belong to each other and to the non-humans they are attached to. Society includes all these others, so care and responsibility for keeping all things alive flow from these relationships.
Edmonds moves on to contrast this kind of system with the modernist one invented much later in Europe. The Enlightenment had the bright idea of making humans exceptional and divided from what they came to call Nature. That domain was redefined as resources, as alienable property – both concepts conducive to extraction and accumulation in the economic system that accelerated modernisation to such an extent that it seemed to transcend place, to the ‘global’ stage we are now at, or were until recently.
We forgot where we were: on Earth. But climate change and COVID-19 are reminding us, in their ways. So is Edmonds, in the context of urban environments. For cities are where most of us live, and they need to be redesigned. But how? There are many great ideas in Edmond’s book, but let’s take a concrete example, set in Adelaide, the project that was dubbed 5000+. It was about ‘city re-design, and city renewal for inner Adelaide’ and took place under the Weatherill government, but with funding from all levels. Being design-led, it was all about ‘public engagement’, and ‘strategic creative alliances’. That meant unlike classically modernist urban planning, where relatively uniform ideas were imposed from above with the vision of some Corbusier type, this was about on-going engagement and process.