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6 : New Slavery

While we create 21st century Survival Cities, the following are five essential commands to stop polluting in every-day's life:

First, to abandon car-based urbanizations: walking, bikes and trains will save what's left of the landscape. Second, to avoid all plastic packaging and plastics in habitat, clothing, tools, toys and furniture, except in specialized instrumentality applied to scientific research and exploration. Third, to keep producing analog machines and techniques, they are recyclable and more ecological, they produce better products and employ more people: prints, images and sounds are full of harmonics, not mere sterilised flat pixels; pieces of real material art. Fourth, to get food from areas close to where we live. Fifth, refers to a factor that has transformed society in such a electrifying way, so violently that we are not conscious about how dramatically the life of most people has changed. I refer to the Internet in relation with mobile communication technology. I suggest to keep away as much as possible from what we know as social networks; they allow organisations to profit and monitor our life. Not to mention that batteries are highly contaminant, they cannot be recycled and will end up buried: we should not to use mobile devices unless an emergency. In any case, it is indeed a fascinating technology, literally in our hands, but it developed wrongly. Wrapped and filled with banalities, it is transforming humanity in a new species of slaves at all times controlled and acknowledged by anonymous entities. We must not allow to be filed, indexed or briefed. Spying technology through collected private information (core of the virtual world) is destroying an important principle of humanist civilization, represented in the right to think, the right to respect our privacy, the right not to follow the crowd; ultimately, freedom. The obstacle of this new "slavery" status is that the slaves (most of us) are not really conscious about the destination to where we are pointing. A massive, silent migration is taking place, particularly in the youngest generation: from reality to virtuality. Most children are unable to distinguish trees or flowers varieties. They completely ignore basic principles of geology or astronomy, to take two core disciplines that used to be part of the High School or Secondary School hundred years ago; sometimes they cannot even guess how food is produced, most children never went to the countryside and have no idea how difficult is to produce grains or food in general. The detatchment from Mother Nature is almost total now; when they visit a rural place, the majority of them are unable to perceive, much less to associate or to understand, ecological cycles: they spend the day connected with their mobiles. More and more tourists are seen with their 'tablets' filming for hours their holiday trips... but looking at the screen, not at the landscape. This is tragic, it also means we started to relay on devices to keep our memories of life. While looking at the screen we ignore the scent, the fresh country air, moist and humidity. Regarding habitat, tourism and travel have became a terrible activity when practiced in historical places, worst than wars: destructive, dirty, noisy, a large proportion of tourists left rubish everywhere, they look for a few minutes around and follow the tourist guide to the next stop, what did they learn in the trip? not a thing. The attitude of mass tourism tends to be pathetic. In recent years, related to 'extreme' sports. It seems culture is not for all after all... I am convinced that only educated and sensitive people can learn something while in holidays, and it becomes difficult; we are at all times surrounded by the average tourist who cannot relate with a foreing land, with its local people. Millions of internet travel websites instruct how, where, what to do within hours in a particular destination, and unfortunately people cannot realise that the best way to know a place is to walk and even getting lost... interacting with its inhabitants, observing, learning. Programmed tourists are dangerous. They do not make the world smaller, they are just destroying it. Historical places like Venice are being violently attacked by frentic tourists. How far we are from the times of Le Grand Tour.

Pouchulu's Wörlgtor, (dead end refuge), study from Travelling Visions, Torcello, Italy, 1999. Black pencil on Canson.

Architects, as a committed institutional body related to solving humanist problems of living, urbanity and art, no longer exist. Indeed, there are brilliant individuals, colleagues like my mentor Sir Peter Cook, or the late Jan Kaplický (1937-2009), who produced a life work of wit and inspiration. But collectively, we decided to ignore the perspective of future paradigms. Of all traditional professions, ours used to work within reality, improving urban life, institutions, public spaces, leisure, travelling, all was part of a magnificent repertoire of activities related to progress. But when cars, marketing and consumerism -designed by electronic engineers and technocrats- started to kidnap our professional spirit, that noble reality vanished. Modern civilisation till the late 19th and early 20th century was, somehow, an intrinsically well balanced existence between us and nature, where architecture was a link between both. Dear colleagues: we have to prepare a long-term plan in order not only to re-organise our existing urban settlements, but also to create survival cities in feasible regions, with the assisance of wealthy individuals and (in a few countries) with the help of reliable governments. Architects must become leaders in environmental and habitat issues. Architecture teaching must be dramatically renewed, taking notice not only of the five commands mentioned above -which should be applied from now on, every day- but paying attention to children's education regarding nature and architecture. In that delicate combination lays a future feasable habitat, and it is possible.

Pouchulu's Wörlgtor (detail), study from Travelling Visions, Torcello, Italy, 1999. Black pencil on Canson.

A real -non virtual- education and training on Habitat produce people aware of nature, people that will understand our role within nature. We are not more than a link in a long chain of inter-related events. Religions were useful for a while but in recent times they have been fatal, for making us believe that nature and us are different things; that we are above nature. In fact, everything we produce (a tool, clothing, a car, a spaceship, an atomic bomb) is part of nature, not that different from any extension made by any insect, bird or mammal. Just more complex. In that sense, there is no difference between 'natural' and 'artificial' things. All we do is part of Nature, we are not supernatural. Even if you believe in God and the spirits, what we do is part of Nature. Thinking the contrary -and the two main monotheist religions have been promoting us above Nature for two millenia- is an arrogant attitude. This is, perhaps, one of the reasons why, as a collective intelligence, we ignore the consequences of our habitat destruction: we think we are not part of the Earth. It is amazing why, thanks to virtual communication, millions of children, and now the first and second generation of adults that grown up with digital media, became apparent experts, even technical experts of everything. But only a few can describe how a seed grows, how a flower blooms, how a tree evolves, how planets, moon and sun are aligned in one line, when watching up the sky; only a few can handle tools... It is almost impossible, for someone who ignores the cycles of nature, to even start thinking about the problematic of habitat. Digital information, even more, digital news (which is not information in the sense of what you learn from a book) has flooded our mind with useless images, violent and sadistic movies, sounds, music, noise, faces, news, characters, people looking for accidents, killings, terror, madness, advertising, robotic politicians. People are literally more and more time in front of the Internet and TV -which, on the other hand, are becoming the same thing- there is neither space for thinking nor for reasoning. This planet is being obliterated, abducted from reality. Our friends used to be made of flesh and bones... now our kids have virtual friends, who never met in reality. Body language is being replace by emoticons. Solitary people look for love on a screen. Sometimes I wonder if that is a 'natural' consequence of our evolution-involution or something beyond explanation is happening. The world I knew a few decades ago was perhaps not nicer than this, but it was more fascinating because it was real. Survival Cities will not be virtual. People will have to relate to reality, will have to work every day for survival.

Go to the next chapter, here.

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Background photo: flood traces on ceramics, circa 1985, courtesy of CIC.

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