Many people are nervous of ethical discussions, fearing they will be judged and hectored about their beliefs and conduct. Yet ethics is not about rigid rules or absolute moral truths by which to brow-beat and shame people. Rather it is a search for moral insights that help us answer questions about “how we ought to live” as individuals and communities. In this sense, ethics is an open and welcoming dialogue about the moral values, responsibilities and consequences of our individual and collective lives.
Brief History of Ethics and Urban Ecology
Historically the ecological worldview first arose in ancient geography. This worldview emphasized the relationships between people and their built, social and natural environments. It also was particularly concerned with how people create a good and just life. The Greeks and those who followed thus emphasized the relationships between people and their built habitats (the oikos), the connections between nature and society in the inhabited world (the ecumene), and the flourishing of individuals and communities (eudaimonia).
Today, urban ecology continues to rests on a normative foundation that cares about the well being nature and society. Humans have a unique capacity for what George Perkins Marsh called “geographic agency” — the ability to reshape the surface of the earth for good or ill. Cites are a prime example of this, and the urban landscapes in which the majority of humanity now lives can do much to help or hurt our individual and collective ability to thrive.
CURes, Ethics and Urban Ecology
It is for this reason that at CURes we see the science, ethics and policy dimensions of urban ecology as complimentary. The science helps us understand the ecological dynamics between social systems, natural systems and the built landscape of cities. Ethics contributes insights on the values we hold about social justice, animal protection, and ecological integrity as it affects and is affected by cities. And policy uses science and ethics to triangulate on what the best public decisions should be when envisioning, planning and building the urban environment.
CURes is distinctive in the field of urban ecology for its explicit incorporation of ethics. Overall, we view cities optimistically, as sources of insight and laboratories of innovation. Cities have the capacity to help solve many of most pressing problems facing a world that is increasingly urban, for example population growth, urban sprawl and climate change. Solving such problems with an eye to what is right, good, valuable and just is indispensable to the vitality, sustainability and resilience of cities, now and in the future.