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BOREALIS - THE LIVING UNIVERSITY OF THE NORTH

APPLICATION TO WORLD MILLENNIUM
PARTNERSHIP PROGRAMS

STAGE I  :  PROJECT EASEL : THE EXPERIMENTAL URBAN MODULE

 DESCRIPTION of the PROJECT - Continued 

Convenient, Fast, Efficient, Clean, Quiet, and Accident-free Public Transportation
Elevated Personal Rapid Transit 

C.) Side-effects: Environment

     The publication LIMITS TO GROWTH and BLUEPRINT FOR SURVIVAL, along with the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm (we presented our Borealis Program there), heralded world-wide attention to the environmental crisis. Whether or not we accept the imminent danger to mankind's existence which many authorities forecast, we still cannot escape the realization that our planet is finite, having limited land and resources, nor the change in priorities that such a realization demands Though we may see ourselves as the pinnacle of creation, we are still a part of the world and we depend on it for our life. Therefore we, along with other living creatures, must respect the laws governing all members of an ecosystem and must seek an urban ecology which is in balance with the natural environment.

     The idea of an Urban Ecology is relatively new and we have not yet reached the full extent of its meaning in our lives. We know that the city must have a determined limit of growth which we must respect, that recycling (both internal and external) must be an integral part of our life systems, and that we must consider the impact on the environment before acting. Research along these lines needs to be brought together and applied in all urban development, for no new city or development must be initiated without regard for ecological principles. It is the basic approach which directs every study and program of our projects.

Urban Life

     If we are to understand or define the experiences of urban humans, we must agree first of all on what is intrinsic about urban life. In considering the historical role of the city, we see it as the medium and catalyst of all the transformations and adaptations of humankind, outside of which cultural context we can hardly imagine such an evolution taking place at such a pace, if even at all. From this we conclude that the city is the place "par excellence" where man meets man. This experience of man meeting man takes place in three main areas: service areas (shops, cultural centres, etc.) , net-works of circulation (streets, walk-ways, etc.), and open places (plazas, terraces, parks, etc.). It is the latter two of these experiences which has been neglected in our present cities and requires careful attention if our cities shall remain viable centres of community interaction and creative expression.

      We are all so accustomed to North American cities that few of us realize the great extent of our poverty of kinesthetic experience of the urban space. We leave our homes to be constantly threatened by ubiquitous aggressors - the automobile. The noise and smell emitted from trucks, cars, or street repair render the experience of walking in our streets most unpleasant, if not sometimes impossible. We are forced to seek refuge in our own automobiles and drive them through streets we don't even see. Indeed, empty lots, abandoned cars and dumped trash, factories with their accompanying wastes, a plethora of neon signs, parking lots - these familiar sights are hardly worth noticing.

     As Canadians look again for a quality of life, they flock into streets and malls which have no cars, which allow them to walk at ease, to see people, to chat with friends, to enjoy the scene. This is yet a long way from the total kinesthetic experience which is possible in city streets: the evolvement of sight, sound, smell, and touch. The Latin Quarter in Paris where cars are blocked off, as well as hundreds of smaller Southern European towns and villages, exemplifies such a total experience. Through sound and smell alone a blind person could give an amazingly accurate description of the happenings and places he passes along the street: the cafes, the patisserie, ethnic restaurants, open-markets -- all have distinctive smells and sounds, as well as sights. The overwhelming popularity of these places by North American tourists makes a strong case for the value of such a total kinesthetic experience and the richness it gives to city life.

     In 1971 the Vincent Massey Awards for Excellence in the Urban Environment identified one category worthy of award as "Central Places", which they described as "places that give shape and focus and purpose to the environment." One such award was made to Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, with the following among the jury comments: "Toronto could not have claimed a place among the great cities of the world until it possessed a public gathering-place of such noble scale. It compares with the Agora or Forum of an ancient classical city, or with a European Piazza or Grande Place." Intrinsic within urban life therefore in not only the experience of people in daily affairs in their own streets, but also the open places which give focus to the city and offer central places of meeting, activity, or simply casual enjoyment of the flow of life.

     The role of technology in achieving these goals is extremely important. In order to give the streets of a city back to man, sophisticated transit systems must be installed to ensure the optimum automobility while at the same time removing the pollution, annoyance, congestion, and dangers to our present systems. In order to make these streets and central places viable throughout the year, protection devices must be utilized which cover these areas from rain or snow, yet allow them to be open in fine weather. Such technologies exist, but they must be brought together and used. In using them we can open the way to a more total urban experience.

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