Crisis and Opportunity in America


Crisis, in the Chinese language, is a symbol combining the figures for danger and opportunity. For the Chinese these two situations were one and the same. With the drowning on one of America’s most important seaport cities, we have witnessed from our TV screens the unfolding tragedy that brought a million people into refugee status. Scenes of thousand of storm survivors stuck in putrid conditions of the Superbowl and Convention Center terrorized with the break down of civic culture and inadequate help from the federal government, the problems that American politicians have ignored for centuries bubbled to the top of the toxic oily water that flooded houses in New Orleans.

The rotten stink of America’s class society was projected into our homes through television and radio. It isn’t a little problem. It is a huge problem. One third of New Orleans residents didn’t have the cars and money to evacuate the city. Fifty percent of children who lived in New Orleans lived in poverty. Thousands and thousands of people were marginalized and lived disenfranchised lives. American civilization has failed to manifest the good life for millions of people.

As people were waiting for days to be rescued from rooftops and at evacuation centers, the scenes revealed to us the disgusting odor of a classist and racist society that is covered up every day by our news media, politicians, and school systems. But as people left from their houses and waded in the polluted flood waters, the crimes against humanity can not continued to be hidden. We are forced to ask, is it acceptable for the world’s superpower to be plagued with such poverty?

Many reporters on the scene said that after the flood New Orleans looked like the Third World. It looked like Haiti after a storm it had there because of the lack of governmental support for the poor. Is this what American society is all about? Underneath the cover of images of rich and famous glamour is the masses of poor people, so poor they can’t even make it out of town during a mandatory evacuation of their city. The presidency has become a façade of staged public relations affairs and propaganda photo-ops that has created a hollow presidency, so hollow he can’t react to the crisis of the poor as he cuts deals with the oil tycoons who put him into office. So, we can clearly see the crisis before us, but can we see the opportunity?

Former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, advised President Bush to quickly come up with a plan to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast needed to restore his power in Congress. "If it's done right, it adds energy to the rest of his agenda," Mr. Gingrich said. "If it's done wrong, it swamps the rest of his agenda." Gingrich is onto something important. The opportunity is to rebuild correctly.

But what is right way? Would it be building a city where the major transportation throughout the city relies on the automobile which the poor can not afford? Would it be to build a city that is below sea level in a hurricane zone or on an earthquake fault, or to ship radioactive wastes down the highways and on trains to a depositary site? Or to build a city that discharges toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and into the water that cause cancer? Would you design a city where the majority of workers commute on average of two hours a day in rush hour traffic?

To build something correctly is to build it with intelligent ecological design. The flood destroyed a city and exposed the design flaws and governmental failure to address these design problems. But now, we have the opportunity to build something entirely new, beautifully revolutionary and evolutionary. Our present cities were created in pieces, one building at a time with no overarching city design plan. They were developed before the invention of electricity or the automobile or telecommunications. They were built on top of the genocide of the Native Americans with slave labor of African Americans. Cities were built before the concepts of human rights and global democracy were formed. So now, the correct way to rebuild is to take all of these inventions and social concepts into consideration and see how we can design a city without poverty, one that is based on sound ecological principles, and one that socially liberating where no genius is wasted, an ecocity where the collective vision allows for individual freedom.

Arcology uses a whole-systems approach to city making. What I mean by whole-systems approach is that every field of knowledge needs to be represented in the decision making process so that we know how every branch of knowledge contributes to the vision of the whole. Arcology is a framework to put the pieces together in harmonious way that serves the needs of everyone.

Building arcology requires us to use innovative technologies that haven’t been tried before on this grand scale, to use solar energy in ways that don’t harm the environment. It requires us to develop a new cooperative form of business and government that produce goods and services that bring health and wealth to the biosphere. Such an opportunity doesn’t happen often, but in these moments after a major environmental crisis has destroyed an entire bioregion, it is time to begin this magnanimous, epic-making task. Constructing an arcology of love is surely a peace project, converting our resources away from waging war in the Middle East for oil and building the New Jerusalem of solar energy at home. It is time to come home, yes, it is time that all of us peace-loving refugees to crystallize the arcology of love.



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