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The City as a Living System: A Design Research Agenda

This is the text of my plenary talk at the Design x Collaborative Cities conference, 28 and 29 October 2018, Shanghai. It was hosted by the College of Design and Innovation (D&I) at Tongji University, where I am a visiting professor, and DESIS Network. (Here is the 25 minute video).

The industrial age distracted us from a whole-systems understanding of the world.

Paving over the soil, and filling our lives with media, obscured our interdependency with living systems.

The creation of cities that are habitable for all of life, not just human life, will determine the future relevance of design research.

We must learn to think of the places where we live as ecosystems, not as machines.

We need to embrace biodiversity, and local economic activity, as better measures of a city’s health than the amount of money that flows through it.

And we need to foster new connections between people, and place, to bring new opportunities to life.

Place. Care. Value.

A design research agenda along these lines is already taking shape.

The practices of ecological urbanism, or civic ecology, study how to help living organisms, and their environment, thrive together. They enrich city design with the insights of ecology, botany, climatology, hydrology, geology, and geography.

This ecological approach is not preoccupied by the the concepts of ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ .

On the contrary, it involves

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