Share // A Connected, Walkable City: Building for Urban Wildlife

Originally seen on, this article by Steven Snell tugs on my heart strings. How can we create a humane (or, as the article refers to it, a human(e)) city? What does it mean to be a human(e) environment?

Read the article here:

On Intersectionality.

Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. [Source: Geek Feminism Wiki]

The term is relatively new to me. The concept, however, I believe has been long ingrained within my core.

Humanist. Feminist. Environmentalist. Animal Rights Activist. LGBTQ (“SAGA”) Ally.

All of these doctrines are so fundamentally intertwined that they cannot entirely be removed from each other. Therefore, I strongly believe—as the intersectionality doctrine supports—that you cannot be one advocate  without also being an advocate for the others.

You cannot be a humanist, supporting equality and social justice, while at the same shop at big box retailers (some of which offer minimal or no services/benefits to their employees) to buy products manufactured via, at best, abysmal working conditions or, at worst, child/slave labor … so that you can have that cheap shirt. [Resource: Last Week Tonight]

You cannot be a feminist, and still support the artificial insemination of female cows, who are doomed to life of torture and without bodily autonomy, impregnated but never to become mothers, as their babies are then stolen from them almost immediately after birth … so that you can have that slice of cheese. [Reference: A Call to Feminists]

You cannot be an environmentalist, but at the same time support the industry which is the leading cause of environmental destruction and degradation, the depletion of precious resources, and the generation of pollution through greenhouse gas emissions … so that you can have that meatball sub. [Resource: Cowspiracy]

And you cannot be an animal rights advocate but support the destruction of rainforests and decimation of an entire ecosystem … so that you can eat that palm oil margarine. [Reference: Say No to Palm Oil]

Intersectionality is the belief that all of these movements are interrelated. That it is a moral imperative to practice the beliefs of all these doctrines, as they complement the tenets of the others. At one point in my life, I would advocate for one cause but, in the next breath (or bite of food) contradict my own morals. It took a great deal of research/soul-searching and contemplating before I came to understand, truly, the intersectionality of it all. In the past year, I’ve only just begun to familiarize myself, as I said, with the terminology. And as I am now able to assign a name to this concept, I’ve also been able to more clearly and comprehensively form arguments in support of each of the causes I hold very dear.

Recently, I’ve begun to write more often about my veganism on this blog, which began as an environmental blog. (I got a little heated in my last post.) I still very much feel that this blog is an environmentalist’s blog. And that is precisely why I have found it so significantly important to share these thoughts of mine. I am who I am because, deep down, my love for the environment and my love for animals (human animals included) has driven me to become the person that I am today. From my profession as an urban planner—which I have pursued in an attempt to protect what land and resources we have left on this planet—to my decision to live a vegan lifestyle, to reduce harm as much as possible to the living beings with which I share this planet. My environmentalism is what started to define me as the woman I am today. It opened my eyes to the struggles faced throughout the world. And I am thankful for that.

While I see the value in discussing all of these topics in one blog, I’ve been playing with the idea of having an alternate blog dedicated strictly to veganism and advocacy. I haven’t yet decided; I’d be interested to hear thoughts from some readers?

In the mean time, I encourage all to look into some of these fantastic resources on understanding intersectionality:

Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack! Podcast. Specifically Episode 009 Othering and Intersectionality but they have a series of different episodes which address this topic to some degree.

Washington Post Article: Intersectionality: A Primer.

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.

Yes, Our Lives Are Intersectional: Reflections on the Secular Social Justice Conference.

On FernGully, Avatar, and Princess Mononoke: Why they are arguably the same movie (aka my favorite movie)

Someone once told me there are only so many “different” stories re-told in film; and really, the list of central themes seems to be capped at ten. From these ten story lines, we receive more than 600 feature films each year in the United States alone (610 in 2011, to be exact). Some of those themes are so common that we barely bat an eye when we see them repeated (think good v. evil, love conquers all, triumph over adversity, individual v. society…). Some, however, are told  somewhat less frequently, and when a story seems too similar, the viewers apparently get annoyed. This was the case when James Cameron’s film, Avatar, was released in 2009. If you saw the film, you either loved it or you hated it, but I think the general consensus was positive. The critics went crazy; those who opposed the film offered criticism with frustration over its repeated theme. At first, Avatar was compared to the story of Pocahontas, which was reasonable, but not until the similarities were drawn between it and the 1992 animated children’s movie, FernGully: The Last Rainforest, did the arguments really hit the nail on the head.

As a kid, FernGully was one of my favorite movies (along with another movie with a similar environmental agenda, Once Upon a Forest. But if you don’t remember FernGully, I doubt you’ll remember this one). While I watched Avatar, I recognized the similarities, but it didn’t frustrate me as much as it seemed to have frustrated others. As I see it, regardless of whether or not the two films have “identical” plots, there’s no doubt the message is a powerful one. Going on, an article on Script Lab defended the film industry by declaring, “It’s not the story itself, but the way the story is told that makes a movie great.” To be honest, I was just pleased to see this less common theme explored in a hugely successful film. Better yet, not only was it a major Hollywood film, aimed at an older audience, but it now holds the spot for highest worldwide grossing movie– earning $2.78 Billion overall- just above Cameron’s 1997 film, Titanic, which earned $2.19 Billion (James Cameron has an uncanny skill).

But getting back to the point; FernGully and Avatar aren’t the only movies which have explored this environmental theme, nor was Disney’s Pocahontas (also part of the list, I should probably include Dances with Wolves among many others). This story- as one Yahoo! article summarizes it: “a would-be tree-chopper discovers the hidden beauty of an environmental treasure and changes his mind about its destruction” – is actually, in my humble opinion, one of the most enjoyable, and the movies which retell it tend to rank high on my list of favorites.

I have never actually been able to compose a list of my favorite films but if I could, the list would certainly include the following 3 movies:

  1. Princess Mononoke
  2. Avatar
  3. FernGully: The Last Rainforest (actually, today, this might not top my list; as a kid, however, this film was without doubt ranked number 1)

Princess Mononoke, a Studio Ghibli (artist Hayao Miyazaki) animated film, tells the story of a village prince, Ashitaka, leaves his village to save his people, and avenge the death of the demon that cursed him (no, you read that right- avenge….not revenge- this is a monumental message in itself!). He seeks out the Forest Spirit for help, but in his journey encounters “Iron Town,” a nearby village which had effectively clear-cut the neighboring mountainsides and killed and corrupted the remaining species while developing violent technologies (firearms) which would further their mission of controlling nature. Ashitaka learns that the leader of Iron Town is also on a mission to kill the very same Forest Spirit which he is in search of- hoping its death will grant them wealth and power. The movie ends (spoilers) with Ashitaka saving the Forest Spirit (and thus the entire forest) while teaching the people of Iron Town the importance of respecting the nature around them. I cannot describe how much I love this movie. If it gives any indication, I am getting a tattoo of the Forest Spirit in a few hours, right next to a tattoo I currently have of one of Hayao Miyazaki’s other forest spirit creations: Totoro.

Sketch of Mononoke's Shishigami (Forest Spirit)

Sketch of Mononoke’s Shishigami (Forest Spirit)

The film follows an extremely obvious environmentalism/colonialism theme. Only slightly different is the story in FernGully.

The IMDB profile for FernGully describes the story as follows:

The magical inhabitants of a rainforest called FernGully fight to save their home that is threatened by logging and a polluting force of destruction called Hexxus.

That about sums it up. Now, what if we change just a few key words, 5 in all:

The Na’vi, magical inhabitants of a moon called Pandora, fight to save their home that is threatened by mining and a polluting force of destruction called Humans.

Well that sounds like Avatar! Okay, I’m also pretty sure some specific shots were near mirrors of the animations in FernGully; and then, of course, there’s the sappy underlying love story in both. But I don’t care! The point is, these were both great movies that tell the same story, essentially a warning of destruction of the environment. Part of what I really like about both FernGully and Avatar is that the protaganist was ultimately changed to see the opposite of himself. I really don’t think plagiarism is a valid argument (I’m interested to hear what the folks behind FernGully would have to say about this); I mean, Shakespeare doesn’t get his panties all in a bunch when variations of Romeo and Juliet are produced ad nauseum.

In addition to some of the themes I referenced in the first paragraph, there is man v. nature (apparently, there’s a man v. nature theme to almost everything, but I’ll explore the opposite of this theme in another post for Unit 4). All of the films mentioned in this post follow a similar theme, offer a similar cautionary tale, and plot a similar story. The takeaway is the value of the message being delivered.

All I know is that, from these movies, I am left with overwhelming optimism. Why, you ask? Because Nature always wins.

How the Other Half Lives

Disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with tenement housing, nor will you find any Jacob Riis photos here. But at least it’s planning-related and is totally against crowded, dirty and unsafe cities!

After reading a lot about ethics and beginning to dive into this whole “nature disconnect” idea, I really felt it would be an interesting exercise for my Deep Ecological Urbanism study to conduct an interview which might portray the environmentalists’ enemy, if you will, and I had the perfect interviewee: my husband.

Lovers, enemies, same thing… You say tomato, I sayokay, so that saying loses all meaning when typed, but you get the point. Or maybe not; point is, we’re opposites and that does indeed pit us against each other at timesespecially in metaphysical disagreements like thisbut today, sleeping with the enemy worked out in my favor!

Well, I just love nature; and it’s a no-brainer to me that we need more of it in our lives, especially in cities. I also completely grasp the urgency behind environmental protection, restoration, conservation, and reintroduction efforts. Climate change is a serious threat: the numbers are all there, the situations are before us… and so, I am utterly baffled as to why there is ever any disagreement over our planet’s health. I’m not sure why I haven’t really pried into my husband’s mind regarding this matter before tonight, but I’m really glad I did and I was quite impressed to learn he actually DOES care about the environment (although, to most readers, the “feels” he has for nature will seem obscenely trivial). From this interview, I had hoped his outlook would help me to experience the widespread contention which inhibits progress on the sustainability front.


The husband and I on our honeymoon to Harpers Ferry, WV

Now, I wasn’t thinking and didn’t record our conversation; so I don’t have his answers for all of the questions word-for-word. But I’m really good at writing fast notes and, after 8 years with him, I think I’m pretty good at conveying his point. Here’s our paraphrased transcript:

[Me | Him]

Do you have any strong emotions toward anything in nature? If so, what? Yes. Mostly animals…all animals. Why? Because I grew up around them, with a lot of pets. I think I have a better understanding of them.

About how much time did you spend outdoors as a kid? Doing what? About 20% of the time. In the woods, riding my dirt bike or doing things with boyscouts.

Are they fond memories you have of being outside? Yes.

Do you think your life would be much different had you not spent that time outside? Yes, but I’m not sure how, specifically. I know I wouldn’t be the same. Do you think you would be worse off? Definitely. Why’s that? Because I would be missing that whole part of life and experiences.

And now, why don’t you spend as much time outside? Because I don’t have as much free time. I only used to go outside because I was bored, because I had so much free time. Now, whatever time I have, I’d rather spend it using technology.

What was your last positive memory of being outside? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is our walk in the city. [at Cylburn Arboretum] Did you enjoy that? Yes. Would you do it again? Maybe. Would you do it on your own? Probably not, because I’m lazy. [his words!!]

Do you consider anything in nature valuable to you? What and why? Yes, everything. Our resources…food, water, oxygen. We need all of it. So you see it as valuable because it serves our own benefit? Yes.

Similarly, do you see anything in nature as having measurable worth? Yea, like oil and coal…gold. [commodities]

Do you respect natural things? Yea. I wouldn’t purposefully pollute. I’d never go out of my way to hurt something.

Do you think your actions impact other living things? If so, how far might that impact reach? Myself, I mean my own actions…all of our actions…they’re not having a positive effect. So then why don’t you try to make changes? Because I’m lazy. I don’t see myself—I don’t see it as having any immediate result.

In what ways do you feel you are a part of, or separate from the environment? Separate. I live in a house with electricity— I’m really tied to my electronics which is about as far from nature as you can get.

What role do you think we as humans play in an ecosystem? We’re supposed to have no effect at all. We’re just supposed to be a part of it, but we’re just hurting it. Do you think humans are more important than other parts of the ecosystem? No.

How do you think you personally benefit from natural things? Emotional ways. It’s nice, it makes you happy. Besides that, it’s a we-need-it-to-live kind of thing. So why don’t you see a need to make your actions environmentally sensitive? I do see a need to, the path we’re on isn’t a good one.

Then what keeps you from feeling a need to protect, conserve, or restore the environment? Because I don’t feel the direct impact. What about when you think about your (theoretical) kids or future generations? I just don’t think that far ahead.

Do you agree with scientific evidence showing the climate is changing? I’m sure it is; I don’t think it’s to the extent people are saying. Yet you don’t think we need to act now? I mean, I think we need to make changes, but the problem is getting people to change.

What are your thoughts on the future? I hope we’re fine. Everyone will just have to change their lifestyle. Then how do you suppose that will happen if you don’t even want to change yours? We would need government to step in, enforce it. So if the government restricts your energy usage Not like that, that wouldn’t work. Okay, then say you were given something, like money for every hour of energy not used? Well, hah, yeah! Basically, it would have to be incentive-based…and directly affect your life? Yes.

And how do you think humans would cope without nature? We’d die.

So, very brief responses (try carrying on a conversation with him about anything that isn’t video games and you’ll be pressed to keep it going for more than a minute…), but I think it was quite enlightening. To be honest, I thought he could care less about the environment, but now I know he actually does care; and he recognizes the impending doom (okay, may be over-exaggerating a bit). What else did I learn? As long as nothing else changes culturally or socially, the only way we can hope for improvement is if we somehow force people to make changes- either through restriction or incentive. But perhaps, as the book Biophilic Cities suggested in the first chapter (I can’t wait to write about this book), if we reconnect people with nature, we can restore the bond which will then spark a beautiful chain reaction where people actually WANT to restore the environment!

This was a really fun little exercise, and I am so thankful to have my other half to show me how the other half lives! Thank you, Shane, for being so cooperative and maintaining that necessary balance I so desperately need as a Libra!!