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3.1.7 Nature vs Culture binary at the coast

Another key reason behind the lack of response to the continual degradation of coastal ecosystems and the lack of inclusion of their presence in our urban shorelines, I claim, is the dualistic modes of thinking that have influenced our relationship with the marine world. Prevailing ideologies such as human exceptionalism (Braidotti 2019; Haraway 2016), global capitalism (Campling and Colas 2021; Claudet, Amon, and Blasiak 2021) and terrestrial bias (Dobrin 2021; Jue 2020) are partly responsible for the conceptual barrier that conceives the marine world (i.e. nature) as something separate from humans and the urban condition. Crucially, this dualistic conception of the relationship between nature (the sea) and culture (the city) does not reflect the reality of the complex entangled network of interdependent connections (Prominski 2014) that make up the urban waterfront. While this dualism has a long and influential history within the Western world, its scientific and philosophical movements from the renaissance and onwards (from Descartes to Kant), it can also be exemplified in the physical manifestations of the striking delineation between land and sea in many contemporary coastal cities. As shown in Figure 57 in section 3.1.3 and Figure 70 in section 3.1.5, the land border's edge on the coast is often constructed from fortified concrete bulkheads with a 1-2m elevation and a sharp 90-degree drop to the water, creating a clear separation in between. This particular spatial composition translates into a rationale that designates the watery world as a space that ought to be tamed “down there”, segregated from the urban environment. As a result, the way coastal cities are designed creates a physical and perceptual barrier for people to engage with the intricacy of the entanglements of the marine world (see Figure 80 below).

     Moreover, the divided physical conditions at the urban coastal edge highlight the tendency for the cities to only engage with the sea from an instrumental, recreational or romanticised manner propelled by the waterfront property development boom over the past decades. This anthropocentric conception further exacerbates the stark nature vs culture dualism, where nature is something that only consists out in the wilderness worthy of protection and admiration. In contrast, the nature of “everyday” urban spaces is not as valued, despite playing an important accumulative role in climate adaptation, for instance, its capacity to increase permeability in the city (Wiberg, 2018). These everyday landscape spaces in the city are a prime example of the interdependency and the entanglements of nature-culture.



Figure 80. The waterfront areas of Middelfart, Denmark, show the dualistic spatial division of “nature” and “culture.”
(Left) Despite having the sea next to the waterfront, there is no tactile way to engage with the water (this is also due to the stronger currents). Instead, a small artificial replacement pool is built only for small children's recreation. There are no “rockpools” that host marine life.
(Right) The waterfront areas have very few areas for landscaping, but, in this case, it is terrestrial and not marine. The waterfront is dominated by impermeable paving. The photos were taken by the author on August 2022.

     Fortunately, there have been efforts to transcend the current nature-culture divide in the field of landscape architecture and urban planning reflected in the recent movements[160] of Landscape Urbanism (Waldheim, 2016) and Ecological Urbanism (Mostafavi, Doherty and Design, 2016). These movements refocus on an ecological approach to urbanism that marries ecological health with a mutually beneficial design for both humans and other species (Mostafavi, Doherty and Design, 2016). However, the effort of incorporating nature in the LUDP disciplines has been dominated by green terrestrial forms, only rarely integrating the blue marine environments. Yet, with the emergence of movements like Blue Urbanism (Beatley 2014) and Coastal Urbanism (Segal and Drake, 2021), a paradigm shift is imminent in the LUDP disciplines. Thus, the next sections will explore further how this movement seeks to depart from B-A-U approaches.



[160] The influence of ecological approach to planning and design of communities, goes all the way to Ian McHarg’s book “Design with Nature” published in 1969.



Section 3.1.7 Footnote
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