Imagining the Democratic City

Question: Can cities help promote greater equality?

Penalosa: Many people thought after communism failed that we could forget about equality, that this was just an obsolete issue and that we should just worry about economic development and that everything will fall into place.  Then we even have Mr. Fukuyama and then this is the end of ideology.  We all agree now on everything, the market is the solution to everything, but I am not so sure because actually we have been trying to have more equality for the last 2,000 years.  I mean, even more; Greece, Rome, the Judeo-Christian Revolution.  I will even say that the western civilization came to happen, not because we had more advanced technologies or mathematical knowledge, but because we had this bonding element of equality, which was finally the basis for private property and laws that protected cities as rights and things like that.  But over the last 300 years, all kinds of conflicts for more equality, so we cannot all of the sudden say that the equality is bunk.

So what kind of equality can we talk about today?  Not income equality, clearly, because we all agreed that the best way to manage most of societies resources is private property and the market, and that creates income inequality. But, what kind of equality?  So I would say at least equality of quality of life, at least for children; that all children should have access to everything they need to be happy, to green spaces.  Without being members of a country club—to sports facilities, to libraries, to waterfronts.

Another basic principle of equality, I would say, is a basic principle of democracy; which is, in all democracies the first article in our Constitution is that all cities are seen as equal before the law.  A consequence of that, which is explicit sometimes in the constitutions, if not always implicit, is that public good prevails over private interest.  This is an extremely powerful principle.

If public good prevails over private interest, for example, we should not have private land around growing cities in the developing world.  We should never have private waterfronts, especially around urban areas.  So there is much to do, even in the United States.  For example, all the Long Island coast should be public; a great greenway, a public park, and not these big fancy houses in front of the water.  If we really had true democracy at work…if we have public good prevail over private interest, public transport should have priority over private cars in the use of road space.

 

Enrique Peñalosa describes how cities can encourage greater equality.

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less