Sustainable Urbanism as Natural Urbanism:
Learning From Radical Ecopsychology
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master Stadt- und Regionalplanung
Fakultät VI - Planen Bauen Umwelt - Technische Universität Berlin
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Angela Uttke
Prof. Dr. Habil. Harald Kegler
Daniel Schwab, Matrikelnummer 333668
Hiermit erkläre ich an Eides statt, dass ich die vorliegende Arbeit selbstständig und eigenhändig
sowie ausschließlich unter Verwendung der aufgeführten Quellen und Hilfsmittel angefertigt
Sustainable Urbanism versucht „einen neuen Konsens der Rolle der Menschen in der Natur“
(Farr 2008, 28) zu schaffen. Aber die Definition der Natur, als auch die Beziehung dieser zum
Menschen ist im Diskurs über Sustainable Urbanism nur oberflächlich behandelt. Dies führt im
Kontext zu stark vereinfachten Ansätzen und Strategien.
Ökopsychologie weist eine detaillierte und differenzierte Darstellung der Mensch-Natur-
Beziehung auf. Dies wird in Bezug auf die Erfahrung des Natürlichen thematisiert. Die "radikale
Ökopsychologie" von Andy Fisher beschreibt vier Aufgaben für die Überwindung der Entfrem-
dung des Menschen der Natur gegenüber: eine psychologische, eine philosophische, eine
praktische und eine kritische Aufgabe.
Anhand dieses Rahmens wird in dieser Arbeit das Projekt des Sustainable Urbanism untersucht.
Eine Diskussion mit den Themen „Fußgängergerechte Stadt“ und „Finden eines naturnahen
Ortsempfindens“ identifiziert und erweitert latente Potentiale des Sustainable Urbanisms.
Die Analyse der Planung einer nachhaltigen Siedlung in Bochum Havkenscheid, Deutschland im
Jahr 2009 soll zeigen, wie der ökopsychologische Ansatz neue Dimensionen des Planungsprozes-
ses illuminiert. Die Erläuterungen der „Wildnis Basierten Urbanistik“ und der „Ruderalen
Ökopsychologie“ sollen dazu dienen, neue Ansätze für eine ökopsychologische Erweiterung des
Sustainable Urbanisms vorzuschlagen.
Sustainable Urbanism is purportedly about creating a new relationship between humans and na-
ture. Yet the definition of nature and its relationship to humans is weakly developed in
Sustainable Urbanist discourse, leading to simplistic recommendations for their integration.
Ecopsychology offers a more detailed and nuanced exposition of the human-nature relationship
in terms of the experience of the natural. Andy Fisher’s “radical ecopsychology” enumerates four
tasks for overcoming the alienation of humans from nature: a psychological, a philosophical, a
practical and a critical task. Using Fisher’s framework, the project of Sustainable Urbanism is ex-
amined. A discussion of the themes of Walkable Urbanism and Finding a Naturalistic Sense of
Place identifies and extends latent ecopsychological possibilities within Sustainable Urbanism.
An analysis of a Charrette planning process for a sustainable neighborhood in Bochum Havken-
scheid, Germany in 2009 serves to illustrate how an ecopsychological approach illuminates new
dimensions of planning process. Discussions of Wilderness Based Urbanism and Ruderal Ecopsy-
chology propose directions for how an ecopsychological Sustainable Urbanism can be further de-
Each city tends to reproduce in its children the values embodied in its form and expressed in its
– Richard Register (2002)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Angela Uttke, Prof. Dr. Habil. Harald Kegler and Prof. Dr. Uwe-Jens Walther
Jocelyn Harimon and Eden Schwab
Andy Fisher, David Week and David Seamon
Michael Schwab, Ante Werner, and Holger Werner
According to Sustainable Urbanist Douglas Farr, Sustainable Urbanism will require a “new con-
sensus on the role of humans in nature” (Farr 2008, 28). This is a bold claim, and worthy of
investigation. I have been intrigued to know what kind of relationship humans can have to nature
that will support their mutual flourishing in an urbanized world. The task of this study is to try
to answer this question with the help of an ecopsychological lens.
The literature of Sustainable Urbanism tends present the human-nature relationship as easily de-
finable, if not somewhat more difficult to correct. It is argued that by adopting an ecosystems
approach to urban design, urban patterns that have accompanied industrialization can be brought
into line with natural processes. Urban environmental problems are essentially engineering prob-
lems to be combatted through altering settlement patterns, applying green building techniques
and installing effective transit systems.
In the words of Andy Fisher, ecopsychology “is not about solving ‘environmental’ problems but
rather understanding how psyche and nature internally relate, how they are interior and exterior
of the same phenomenon” (Fisher 2012, 167). In other words, subjectivity and environment
form an ecological whole. Paraphrasing David Kidner (2001), I call this phenomenon, which
applies equally to the urbanized mind and the urban environment, the ecological nature of subjec-
tivity. The result of it is that urban theorists are prone to producing “solutions” that differ only
insignificantly those of urban industrial capitalism because they live in a conceptual and physical
world that tend to reinforce these patterns of thought. In this subjectivity/ecology, mind and
world are strictly separated, nature is silent, and it is up to humans to gain control over it.
A broad range of thinkers (Fisher 2002; Kidner 2001; Macy and Young Brown 1998; Naess
1989; Plotkin 2003; Romanyshyn 1989; Shepard 1998; Snyder 1970) argue that to create an
ecological society will require a different way of thinking, a different psychology, which is con-
gruent with the ways of the natural world. On the one hand, it is about coming to realize that we
are part of the greater phenomenon of nature on Earth, and learning in turn to respect it and be-
have accordingly. On the other hand it is about coming to grips with the ecological nature of
subjectivity as the very fabric of our thought. I apply these two propositions to the sustainable
planning of - and in - the built environment.
To date, ecopsychology has not been used to examine urban approaches to the environmental
crisis, preferring to look at environmentalism as a broader whole. This is unfortunate, since over
the next 40 years, the human population will pass from one-half to two-thirds urban (UNICEF
2012), making cities the primary locus for environmental action. Furthermore, “while only occu-
pying 3 per cent of the Earth’s surface, urban areas consume most of the world’s resources and
release the most waste to our air, water and soils” (Mc Grath 2013, 9). Urbanites need to have a
good understanding of their own uniquely urban psychology as they begin crafting environmen-
tal solutions for a planet that is 97% not-urban. To fail to do so could force sustainable urbanists
inadvertently to invent a “sustainability” that, being the product of urbanized thinking, would be
impotent in producing real change.
The purpose of this paper is to examine Sustainable Urbanism from an ecopsychology perspec-
tive. To do so, in the Literature Review (part 2), I introduce the reader to the basic positions of
Sustainable Urbanism and ecopsychology. In part 3 I present the framework of ecopsychology as
described by Andy Fisher (2002), and apply it in part 4 to examine Sustainable Urbanism to re-
veal its limits from an ecopsychological perspective. In part 5, the Discussion, I examine Walkable
Urbanism and A Naturalistic Sense of Place as themes that seem to me to be latent in Sustainable
Urbanism and can serve as a starting point for an ecopsychological Sustainable Urbanism. In part
6, I examine how a real-life Sustainable Urbanist project can be read ecopsychologically by means
of a case study. In part 7, I summarize the results of the analysis and in part 8 I develop the
themes of Wilderness Based Urbanism and Ruderal Ecopsychology as possible future directions for
an ecopsychological approach to Sustainable Urbanism.
In this study, I argue that while much of Sustainable Urbanism remains within technological-
capitalist positivist discourse, strands within it are already departing from this thrust of urban
development in important ways, most visibly by rejecting automobile dependence as the answer
to the “transport problem” and by searching for language of the “natural” city. I argue that these
departures have important ecopsychological implications that could significantly strengthen Sus-
tainable Urbanism as a movement, as well as provide further direction for how to develop it.
Given the ecological nature of subjectivity, however, in the recommendations section I also call for
two new forms of ecopsychological urbanism. Wilderness-Based Urbanism takes the epistemology
of the wilderness as its starting point to counteract the limiting effects of the urban landscape on
urban theorizing. Ruderal ecopsychology develops the ecopsychological potentialities within the
2. Literature Review
2.1. Sustainable Urbanism
In this section, I briefly review the terrain of Sustainable Urbanism. Sustainable Urbanism is an
amorphous set of concepts about how cities can position themselves more ecologically towards
the natural world. Here I draw extensively, though not exclusively, on discourses related to Sus-
tainable Urbanism as a reaction to the problems of the US-American landscape in particular,
although the ecological problems of cities are worldwide.
The term “sustainability” is slippery and continuously being redefined, encompassing a range of
concepts and approaches. The word has been in common parlance at least since the Bruntland
Report (1987), which defined “sustainable development” as the ability of society to meet its own
needs, without compromising future generations from doing the same. While often expressed as a
natural resource challenge, “the protection of Earth's vitality, diversity, and beauty” as “sacred
trust” (Earth Charter Initiative, 2004) is an aspect of crucial significance to an ecopsychological
The city is often conceptualized as an ecological system (Register 2002; White 2002). Downton
(2011, 93) writes: “The city as organism is a useful metaphor, but the ‘city as ecosystem’ isn’t a
metaphor. It is an appropriate and scientifically defensible description. A city is a constructed
device that integrates living and non-living components into a total living system that is a physio-
logical extension of our species. It only lives when it is occupied, and it can die.” Given this
definition, Sustainable Urbanism often invokes a biomimicry approach (Benyus 1997).
Sustainable Urbanism is charged with a number of important goals. All ecological systems are
situated in the environment, partake of its processes and are subject to its conditions. Sustainable
urbanists thus also look for ways to create cities that are climate-responsive (Olgyay 1963; Tavel
2012) and that create virtuous, rather than vicious ecological cycles (Birkeland 2008).
By destroying the ecological systems on which cities depend, we face today an unprecedented
anthropogenic extinction of species, and Sustainable Urbanism must work to ensure biodiversity,
that is, the preservation of the largest possible range of different species. This is best accomplished
by preserving habitats.
Similarly, Sustainable Urbanism has to contend with the fact, as economist E. F. Schumacher
wrote in 1973, that “infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibil-
ity.” Current levels of consumption of terrestrial resources currently outpace the planet’s ability to
regenerate them, leading to an “ecological footprint” (Wackernagel and Rees 1996) exceeding the
total resource-creation rate of the earth.
In the last two decades, it has become evident that human activity is creating climate change by
producing CO2, resulting the greenhouse effect. The heat island effect also is a significant problem
in cities. Cities stand to suffer greatly from climate change, and therefore will require mitigation
and adaptation measures to survive (Newman, et al. 2009).
In the 2000’s, the world has also started to feel the effects of peak oil extraction, which was pre-
dicted in 1956 by M. King Hubbert. This has sparked intensified discussions on its effects and
mitigation for a society that is dependent on oil, specifically the need for alternative forms of
transportation and settlement pattern.
Finally, it is now clear that because cities house most of the world’s people
(UNICEF 2012) and
are responsible for most of the world’s consumption and waste (Mc Grath 2013), cities are a ma-
jor cause of climate change. They are therefore also regarded as the key locus of action for
carrying out measures towards mitigating and adapting to climate change, reducing the human
footprint, responding to the pressure of peak oil, and protecting the natural environment.
Canizaro (2010) describes 3 discourses related to architectural sustainability which are equally
relevant to Sustainable Urbanism. The first discourse, energy efficiency, views sustainability as an
essentially agricultural, or resource-related concept revolving around the notions of “resource
sufficiency” (i.e. how long a practice can continue given the resources available) and “functional
integrity” (i.e. how quickly a resource can be used within a system without impacting on its re-
productive capacity)(Thompson 2010, 19). Ecological visions deriving from this definition, “too
often portrayed in idealized or utopian terms” (Canizaro 2010, 150), tend to manifest as an em-
phasis on technocratic and futuristic fantasies.
The second discourse is somewhat broader. Captured by the Bruntland report’s 3 E’s: economic
development, environmental protection, and social equity, it is nevertheless “dominated by technical
solutions to mostly technologically framed problems” (Canizaro 2010, 151).
For Canizaro, the third discourse, regionalism is the most “subtle.” Regionalism focuses on “sen-
sitive adaptation to places reflective of local resources, climate and a part of a local culture more
closely connected to the land” (Canizaro 2010, 160). The built environment thus tends to recog-
nize craft, climate, site and situation, with a “sense of fitness to site and purpose” that is “sincere
and satisfying” (Canizaro 2010, 156).
A further discourse for ecological urbanism is that of resilience. This psychological concept, ap-
plied to cities, describes their ability to mitigate the effects of changes wrought by climate change
and to better adapt or change to deal with these changes. Changes associated with climate change
include increased likelihood of flood, drought or oil shortage (Newman, Beatley and Boyer
2009). Diversified energy and transport systems allow cities to continue “living” should single
energy sources or transport modalities become scarce. Similarly, naturalized landscapes, by being
able to absorb sudden surges of water or wind, make cities less adversely effected them. Urban
resilience will be supported by a diverse, appropriately scaled, renewable and localized resource-
base, integrating solar, wind, wave, tidal, geothermal and/or biomass power sources (dependent
on context) and will employ the principles of redundancy and local access to resources found in
robust ecosystems. Air quality, building and street temperatures, water levels, rainfall surges,
floods and winds will be managed through good design that works in concert with ecological
principles, rather than by relying on mechanical systems (Benyus 1997; Hough 1995).
American Sustainable Urbanism is primarily concerned with converting sprawl into walkable ur-
banism. Walkability is broadly considered to be the defining characteristic of the sustainable city
(Crawford 2009; Farr 2008; Register 2002; Speck 2012) because of its myriad ecological benefits.
Following from the organizing principle of walkability, the sustainable city has the properties of
compactness and mixed use (Beatley 2000; Jenks, Burton and Williams 1996; Lowe 1989;
Newman, Beatley and Boyer 2009; Tolley 2003), “completeness” (“having a certain number of
retail, locally owned businesses, third places, and a range of housing options (including car-free
housing) within a given area”)(Farr 2008, 45), legibility (Lynch 1960), and definition, i.e., “a
defined center and edges” (Farr 2008, 45). Not least, it must be a place where people like to be,
what Shaftoe (2008) calls convivial.
A good walkable city should also be “biophilic” (see next section for a fuller definition), taking
into account the “human love of nature based on … intrinsic interdependence between humans
and other living systems” (Farr 2008, 48). It will encourage “human access to nature” (Farr 2008,
42) and “encourage daily outdoor activity” (Farr 2008, 49). It will create “immediate benefit and
pleasure from seeing landscaping and natural areas” and make “resource flows visible and experi-
ential” (Farr 2008, 49). Specific measures include open space, a commitment to public darkness,
stormwater systems that “treat water as a resource, not a waste product” (Farr 2008, 175), local
food production and food access, and outdoor wastewater treatment.
According to Beatley (2008), biophilic design in cities is characterized by:
• Abundant nature
• Mimicking nature
• Employing the forms of nature
• Celebrating nature
• Enjoying, participating and
• Connecting to nature
• Knowledge of nature
• Awareness of natural history
• Investing in nature
• Taking cues from nature
For Douglas Farr (2008, 42), Sustainable Urbanism brings together three movements that are
particularly prevalent in, and relevant to, the US-American context, where combatting sprawl is
the core of the Sustainable Urbanist agenda: Smart Growth, New Urbanism, and green building.
Smart Growth has to do with setting boundaries on growth patterns and thus containing sprawl,
while New Urbanism emphasizes traditional building typologies and human-scale urban design.
Together these two emphasize what Andres Duany (in Farr 2008, 9) calls “the primacy of the
settlement pattern” for sustainable city planning. Finally, green building focuses on “high per-
formance buildings” (Farr, 2008, 42). Sustainable Urbanism has also an important political
focus, demanding the restructuring of priorities and the putting in place of vested interests that
have shaped cities for decades (Harvey 2000). This requires campaigning efforts, training, and the
changing of laws on every level (Farr 2008, 56 – 7). Not least, for Farr, Sustainable Urbanism
must push its political program by employing “weights and measures” using “recognizable stand-
ards” and a “seal of approval” (Farr 2008, 54).
2.2. Definition of Ecopsychology
Here I attempt to give an overview of the literature of ecopsychology, particularly as it relates to
its implications for the way we treat the built environment. A great deal of ecopsychological work
tends its focus towards psychological change. Where it does focus on the environment, it usually
attempts to strengthen general environmental care and concern and promote “pro-environmental
behavior” (Davis 2006; Key 2003; WWF 2011). The focus of this paper, and thus this literature
review is to examine in particular what ecopsychology would mean for the way we work in the
Ecopsychology is a young inquiry with a range of definitions. The term was coined by Theodore
Roszak in his book The Voice of the Earth (1992). His goal was “to bridge our culture’s long-
standing, historical gulf between the psychological and the ecological, to see the needs of the
planet and the person as a continuum” (Roszak 1992, 14). Ecopsychology has sought to investi-
gate in particular the psychological dimensions of the ecological crisis, probing Paul Shepard’s
(1982, 1) question, “Why do men persist in destroying their habitat?” Alternatively, what kind of
psychology might support a more loving relationship between people and the Earth?
In this paper, I use Andy Fisher’s (2002) description of ecopsychology as my framework, and so
here concentrate on his definition. Fisher calls ecopsychology “a psychological intervention aimed
at contributing to the transformation of society by encouraging or providing for the recovery of
our nature and our experience, for the regaining of lost world-relations and life-meanings. It is an
effort to remember that, and how, we are a part of the big life process; to get us back into the ser-
vice of life” (Fisher 2002, 187).
Fisher writes that ecopsychology is concerned with experience on one hand and the natural on the
other. Specifically, he argues, ecopsychology is about giving validation to the experience of natu-
ralness as an organizing principle in people’s lives and in a life-revering society.
As an experiential project, ecopsychology attempts to reinforce the legitimacy and symbolic rele-
vance of lived experience of the life process. Nature is investigated “with an emphasis on the lived
experience of the human-nature continuity, and not on the models of natural science” (Fisher
As a naturalistic project, or a project concerned with the natural, ecopsychology situates itself
within the inescapable bounds and claims that nature makes upon us. Nature is defined in three
ways: as “the natural world; the essential quality, way, order, or character of a being; and the life
force (desire, spirit, etc.)” (Fisher 2002, xviii). Nature in all three senses of the word shapes our
psychology and our relationship to the world.
While ecopsychology primarily relates human experiencing to ecological realities, it does not end
with the ecological or the psychological. Human psychology functions in dynamic relationship
with social, economic and political realities. Indeed, ecopsychology grew out of inquires that fo-
cused on these dimensions by attempting to articulate their psychological dimensions and asking
how a better understanding of them could bring to bare on the innately political nature of the
ecological crisis. Andy Fisher (2002) therefore calls ecopsychology “a psychologically based eco-
logical politics.” Fisher argues that combining a keen sense of the natural and a respect for
personal experience, we are able to build a critique of “the ideology of technological progress”
(Fisher 2002, 163)1
We can then go on to suggest a psychology that can support the natural un-
folding of the experienced life-process within the context of the natural world.
2.3. Ecopsychology on Humans and Nature
2.3.1.The Wilderness Effect
At the core of ecopsychology is a strong link between human thriving and contact with the natu-
ral world. Robert Greenway (1995) calls this the “wilderness effect.” In this classically
ecopsychological passage, Laurens van der Post writes (1982, 68-9):
Perhaps the only truly great man I’ve ever known, Carl Gustav Jung, told me how as a child
he discovered, to his great distress, that there were two states of mind in the world; one he
called a natural and country mind, the other a town or city mind. This town mind was to
him, as it is to me, daily becoming more unreal, terrifying and nightmarish, and the longing
for a return to the natural or the country mind greater and more urgent…. Those of us who
have experienced being exposed to wilderness, who a have taken people into the wild areas and
lived with them there, have witnessed a change within them similar to that which happened
with Jung. Somehow they emerge from the wilderness transformed as if they were coming from
a highly sacred atmosphere. …the original church of life in which they have been converted
and healed, and from which they have emerged transformed in a positive manner.
Robert Greenway, in his research of students’ experiences in the wilderness, reported that the
great majority experienced an increased sense of aliveness and wellbeing (90%), feelings of expan-
sion or “reconnection,” and the “release of repression” (Greenway 1995 and 1997). Studies of
participants of wilderness adventure programs revealed that the spiritual dimension of the en-
counter is wide-spread. People often feel a deep sense of belongingness, oneness with the Earth,
or connectedness to the life-force, and the sense that everything is sacred (Greenway, 1995; Key,
2003; Stringer et al. 1995). Davis has reviewed a broad literature pointing to transpersonal effects
of wilderness, inducing the experience that we and all things in the universe “are aspects of a sin-
gle unfolding reality” (Davis 1998, 9). Recent sociological research has also shown that for people
who move out of the city, “places that have little urban infrastructure … instil a feeling of still-
ness or peace [or authenticity] among their residents” (Osbaldiston 2012, 38).
In the new chapter to the second edition of Radical Ecopsycholgy (2012, 7), Fisher writes, “were I
writing the book today perhaps the main difference I would make would be to include more ecosocialist
thought. Even though I was quite explicit in chapter six about the unity of modern technology and the
capitalist system, I would now call the chapter “Making Sense of Suffering in a Capitalist Society” and use
socialist ecology as the main means to achieve critical distance.” In this paper, I retain Fishers 2002 frame-
work while at the same time taking into account this development.
Ecopsychologists have generalized this finding. Chellis Glendinning (1994, 6) writes: “we are
fully who we are when we live in the natural world” and Andy Fisher (2002, xiii): “genuine sanity
is grounded in the reality of the natural world.” Glendinning writes that this psychology of the
natural world encompasses a number of “baseline psychological capabilities” including “a sense of
belonging and security in the world, trust, faith,” “a sense of personal integrity, centeredness, ca-
pability,” and “the capacity to draw vision and meaning from nonordinary states of
consciousness” (Glendinning 1994, 21). Knowledge in the wilderness often comes in a form that
is not simply “in the head” but also in the body. Bill Plotkin shows this in his description of how
on a mountaineering trip, “a staggering mix of grief and hope shot up through my belly and into
my throat, and I knew in the next instant I was not meant for academia” (Plotkin 2003, xxi).
While the term “ecopsychology” dates from the 1990’s, the essentially ecopsychological coupling
of human sanity and wilderness dates at a minimum back to Romantic literature, which “is a
germinal site for the rise of ecological consciousness and practices” (Harrison, no date). For ex-
ample, William Wordsworth (1798) wrote of a “wise passiveness” that he cultivated while sitting
in nature. Henry David Thoreau (1854) stressed the importance of going into nature to learn
about life. In Germany, from the industrial revolution until the mid-twentieth century, protec-
tion of nature was primarily argued in terms of its necessity for preserving the human character
(Lachmund 2013; Lekan 2004).
2.3.2.Beyond Environmental Psychology
Ecopsychology is closely related to environmental psychology, with important distinctions. Envi-
ronmental psychology uses traditional scientific methods to assess the effects of different
environmental factors on human psychology, and like ecopsychology, documents the virtues of
the natural world for the human mind. A great number of environmental psychology studies now
suggest the positive relationship between exposure to the natural environment and “wellbeing”
(Frumkin 2001; Morris 2003, Maller, Townsend and Brown 2002; Pretty, et al. 2005). Newton
(2007, 10) records over 180 studies “suggesting the positive impact of engagement with the natu-
ral environment (particularly green spaces) on psychological wellbeing,” pointing out that
“wellbeing cannot be considered in isolation from the environment” (Newton 2007, 12). Benefits
of exposure to nature include accelerated restoration from stress and disease, better concentration
and increased happiness.
Out of this body of evidence has arisen the biophilia hypothesis (Wilson 1984), which theorizes
an evolutionary-biological basis for the “inherent human affinity to affiliate with natural systems
and processes” (Kellert and Wilson 1993). According to the hypothesis, we are adapted to re-
spond to natural stimuli in order to find food and shelter, locate ourselves in time and space, and
identify dangerous and beneficial events or objects in our surroundings. Positive emotions are
triggered by those stimuli that have supported our evolutionary survival. According to biophilia
theorist Edward O. Wilson, this has implications when it comes to designing the built environ-
ment. On the basis of landscape-preference studies, he argues that to feel most comfortable,
people want to be on a height looking down, they prefer open, savanna-like terrain with scat-
tered trees and copses, and they want to be near a body of water, such as a river or lake…. In
short… people want to be in the environments in which our species evolved over millions of
years, that is, hidden in a copse or against a rock wall, looking out over savanna and transi-
tional woodland, at acacias and similar dominant tress of the African environment (Wilson
in Kellert et al 2008, 23).
Research in environmental psychology, informed by biophilia theory has been used to articulate
principles of “biophilic design” (Beatley 2008; Kellert et al. 2008). It has also been suggested that
mathematical qualities of spaces and images underlie biophilic responses (Salingaros 2010).
Hägerhäll (2004) found that emotional reactions to natural landscapes could be predicted by
fractal characteristics. Joye (2007) has thus proposed that “fractal architecture could be good for
you.” These findings have led to the articulation of a biologically based “unified theory of archi-
tecture” (Salingaros, 2013).
What separates the environmental psychology/biophilia approach to sustainable design from an
ecopsychological one is philosophical posture. The biophilic approach attempts to explain the
“positive” human experience in nature in terms of biological facts while the central theme of
ecopsychology is the primacy of experience as the means by which we make meaning of our lives.
This is an approach which can be traced back to humanistic psychology (Chalquist 2007; Fisher
2002; Schroll 2011a): humanistic psychologists argue that by attending to and being faithful to
our experience – to our feelings and the meaning we make of them - we are able to make sense of
our lives and what our being-as-organism is calling for. Ecopsychology extends this humanistic
argument by arguing that experience is completed and made meaningful by contact with the nat-
From the perspective of ecopsychology, the positivistic approach of environmental psychology
flattens the richness of human experience by seeking explanations for environmentally induced
“well-being” rather than investigating more deeply the meaning of nature in human life. Ecopsy-
chology is thus strongly critical of those assumptions that “frankly technocratic” (Fisher 2002,
33) environmental psychology is willing to accept, including the values of a society that sees the
environment primarily as a resource that serves human needs. The title of the environmental psy-
chology text With People in Mind: Design and Management of Everyday Nature (Kaplan, Kaplan
and Ryan 1998) reflects exactly this bias within environmental psychology.
2.3.3.The Ecological Nature of Subjectivity
Ecopsychology emphasizes that the natural world forms the basis of human psychological and
spiritual maturity. Cognitive science shows that the human mind thinks using the exterior envi-
ronment to structure thought and model the world (Clark 1998). For the vast majority of human
history, the natural world provided that structure. According to human ecologist Paul Shepard,
the human mind is “keyed with infinite exactitude to small-group, omnivorous life in for-
est/plains edges of the wilderness” (Shepard 1998, 137), which provides “the grounding for
symbolic meaning throughout the lifecycle” (Shepard 1998, 47). Interaction with animals in par-
ticular provides “actual nourishment” for which humans have a “profound inescapable need”
(Shepard 1996, 3).
According to David Kidner, interaction with the natural world completes the potentials of hu-
man subjectivity. For example “when I experience a beautiful landscape…there is a subjective
resonance which includes myself and the landscape, and will not occur in the absence of either”
(Kidner 2001, 295). The mind thus “engages with what is outside itself to form a system”
(Kidner 2001, 301).
Thus, the human interaction with place and its resulting subjectivity come together to form an
inseparable unity. In the words of Kidner, “culture, place and psyche, if not distorted by some
other influence, tend to coalesce to form a mutually sustaining whole” (Kidner 2001, 174). Simi-
larly, human geographer J. Nicholas Entrikin (1991, 41), drawing on the work of Clifford
Geertz, writes that the “language of everyday life” connects human experience with place into a
coherent whole in a way that highlights the importance of place in human meaning-making. Im-
portantly, from an ecopsychological perspective, it is the natural world that provides for the least
“distortion.” Christopher Alexander has similarly argued that although it varied greatly by culture
and epoch, “the Timeless Way of Building” embodied a “symbiosis of building form, social be-
havior, and human feeling” (Alexander et al 2011, 1) in which the nature-like built environment
mirrored the truest human self and supported the most authentic human activity. I refer to this
triadic whole as the ecological nature of subjectivity. The table on the following page summarizes
how this concept is described in the vocabulary of these three scholars.
Scholar Socio-cultural component Place-component Subjective component
Entrikin Language Geographic context Experience
Kidner Culture Place (natural world) Psyche
Alexander Social behavior (nature-like) Building form Human feeling
Figure 1: Three conceptions of the inseparability of place, culture and subjectivity
With the majority of humanity now residing in cities, for the first time in history human thought
will also be primarily urbanized (Wasiak 2009, 361; Glendinning 1994). Urbanized or techno-
logically mediated epistemology is almost impossible to escape so long as we remain in the city
because it is continuously reinforced through lived contact with the urban environment. This is
the definition of the ecological nature of subjectivity. As David Kidner writes,
What we might call the ‘ecological tendency’ of systems ensures that thought processes and phys-
ical surroundings, at least in a facilitative ideological environment, tend toward consistency
with each other; and aspects of subjectivity that are inconsistent with this evolving gestalt will
be driven further from consciousness. For this reason it is possibly no coincidence that much
radical environmentalism seems to originate in those parts of the world where wilderness sur-
vives, such as the Western United States and Tasmania, which can still nurture a conscious
environmental awareness. Those of us who inhabit more urbanized areas find it difficult to
develop the environmentally aware states of consciousness that are sensitively attuned to the
‘more-than-human’ world, and so may be more prone to developing variants of environmen-
talism that are derived reactively from the patterns of industrialism (Kidner 2001, 223-4).
Thus, as human epistemology becomes increasingly urban, so the ways of solving the “ecological”
crisis will become ever more bounded by urbanized ways of thinking. Together the urbanized
mind and the urban surround produce a single self-reinforcing system that becomes increasingly
impermeable to naturalistic thought.
It is for this reason that I shall later argue for a wilderness-based urbanism that, by having people
stepping out of the urban milieu and into a wild setting, will be able to cultivate naturalistic
streams of theorizing on the city. My interest is in how a mutually sustaining relationship be-
tween place (and specifically wild nature), culture and subjectivity can extend to the culture of
Sustainable Urbanism such that we can speak of a culture of sustainable planning that expresses the
continuity of nature and naturalized psyche. An ecological subjectivity and culture of sustainable
planning would “reframe social and political life as part of the natural order” (Kidner 2001, 8)
such that the values, goals and methods of planning “are the indirect articulation of an embodied
rootedness in the natural world” (Kidner 2001, 190).
2.4. Urbanization and Alienation
Ecopsychology, it has been remarked, is borne of an alienation that was unknown to earlier peo-
ples, who tended to live in ways deeply embedded in natural systems. (Fisher 2002; Glendinning
1994; Roszak 1995). From an ecopsychological perspective, life under modern technological cap-
italism alienates us from a basic sense of naturalness in a natural world, stunting the complete
maturation of the human being.
Expressions about the dangers of “progress,” whether of technology or capitalism date back to the
beginning of the industrial revolution. Early critiques of technology include ETA Hoffmann’s
Der Sandmann (1817) and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (1823). In Civilization and its Discontents
(1930), Sigmund Freud wrote that much of the pain we suffer may be a result of civilization it-
Ecopsychologist Chellis Glendinning argues that our separation from the natural world is the
“original trauma” upon which Western civilization itself rests, disrupting the natural congruence
that exists between self, society and place in nature-based cultures. A number of psychological
attributes are commonplace in Western civilization that sharply contrast from baseline psycholog-
ical capabilities found in nature-based cultures. These include “hyperreactivity,” “psychic
numbing, constriction of feeling,” “a sense of powerlessness over one’s destiny,” and “arrest-
ed…psychosocial development” (Glendinning 1994, 91 - 3). According to Glendinning, the
“original trauma” is perpetuated through a social addiction to technology, which attempts to fill
the void created by the loss of nature. As an addictive pattern, this by definition fails to fill the
need, while simultaneously creating new problems that require more and newer technologies to
solve them, in a never-ending cycle. David Kidner (2001, 183) writes that our era is characterized
by a “desperate technological optimism.”
If society itself is perceived as normal, while in fact resting on an addictive process set in motion
by a traumatic break with nature, then, as R.D. Laing thus claimed, it is “mad to be normal”
(Mullan 1995). Psychologist James Hillman similarly wrote that “it is the civilization that is dys-
functional” (Hillmann and Ventura 1992, 218).
The role of addiction in the modern world is reflected in anthropological research on the effects
of “progress” on nature-based societies. For example, in Tukano Indian tribes, “nucleated settle-
ments of square one-family houses are not traditional, but are imposed by missionaries,
government agencies or rubber gatherers, and have led to social and economic disruption, the
spread of diseases, alcoholism and the breakdown of symbolic systems related to Maloca life and
ecological theories and practices” (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1996, 18). Bruce Alexander’s dislocation
theory of addiction (2001) also describes how addiction follows naturally in places where free
market capitalism has taken hold. Thus, from a naturalistic perspective, the notion of “develop-
ment” is more correctly “a successor to imperialism and colonialism” (Blaser 2004).
The fundamental break-down that nature-based peoples face as they come into contact with “de-
velopment” is in the relationship they have to the places they inhabit. “Development practices
have furthered, and still further, the transformation of relatively autonomous and self-governing
communities, which over the years have carefully developed an intimate relationship with their
lands, into dependent communities easier to subordinate to transnational markets and nation-
states” (Blaser 2004, 28).
Glendinning, applying the addiction paradigm to “Western civilization,” writes that it cannot be
“made better,” for this is to fall into the trap of technological addiction. Rather, as a society, we
must face up to our collective addiction and admit our powerlessness against it. From here, we
can begin the process of recovery, of what Joanna Macy (Macy and Young Brown 1998) calls
“coming back to life.” This is Fisher’s “therapeutic practice” of ecopsychology. For urbanites try-
ing to recall a life of deeper connection that we may have never experienced directly, this can be a
difficult process of “gathering up the lost threads” that lie buried in and beneath memory
(Glendinning 1994, 146). This process is Fisher’s “recollective practice” of ecopsychology.
2.4.2.Thinking With Technology
If throughout history the human mind has been structured through interaction with the natural
world, today it is structured by a range of technologies, from the alphabet to the built environ-
ment, to the internet. This interaction supports very different kinds of subjectivity, patterns of
thought and culture.
Michael Cohen writes that “spend[ing] an average of over 95% of our life indoors” and “over
18,000 hours of our developmental childhood years indoors in classrooms… excessively empha-
sizes our consciousness of reasoning and language…. We have learnt thinking and skills that
support cement school buildings, asphalt parking lots and economic relationships” (Cohen 1997,
According to David Abram nature based people, the environment “speaks” and is peopled with
the “numerous powers of this world.” But “the letters of an alphabet function more like mirrors
reflecting the human back upon itself” (Abram 1997, 177), making the “powers of this world”
become simply objects. We then “we no longer avail ourselves of their perspectives or their guid-
ance, and our human affairs suffer as a result. We become ever more forgetful in our relations
with the rest of the biosphere, an obliviousness that cuts us off from ourselves and from our deep-
est sources of sustenance” (Abram 2010, 112). Likewise, the invention of linear perspective
encouraged a style of cognition that separates us from the world, as if from behind a window
For Kidner, “in the city, the situations I meet do not draw me out of myself or extend myself be-
yond egoic boundaries in the way that … other situations do [such as being with the plum tree in
my garden] so that I usually remain ‘stuck’ within my individualistic definition” (Kidner 2001,
299). This is particularly problematic for urban planning and design because as the disembodied
mind becomes increasingly the status quo, it re-creates the conditions for disembodiment in the
built environment. As Kidner writes,
if our relations to the world are already devoid of empathy, then we are likely to construct a
physical world that is incapable of resonating with an empathic subjectivity. Subjective and
physical thus coalesce, hiding from view possibilities which become increasingly elusive and
unreal, and seeming to confirm that the world conforms to our reductive understanding of it.
Conversely if I live in an ‘environment’ whose aliveness reflects and complements my own at a
more superficial level, then my ‘individual’ subjectivity will constantly overflow into the
world, discovering resonances and complementarities within it and creating a sense that ‘I’ am
much more than my egoic self, and that there is part of me which owes its existence to what,
conventionally, is ‘outside’ me (Kidner 2001, 299).
According to David Kidner, our epistemologies and sciences are in effect industrially “colonized.”
As industrially conceived “subjects,” humans are conceptualized as “relatively unemotional, unso-
cial, … notably detached from the world” and “increasingly identified with internal experiences
dissociated from the world” (Kidner 2001, 49). This definition of human nature is regarded to be
unproblematic, even though across cultures “the individualist stance is far from universal”
(Kidner 2001, 50).
This psychology leads automatically to a particular kind of relationship with the world that ac-
cording to Kidner
seems to invite exploitation. Moreover, a world that is detached from us and so fit to be une-
motionally exploited is also one that we are likely to experience as hostile and alien (Kidner
Because of the apparent passivity of the human-made world, the child encouraged in the “fanta-
sy” (Kidner 2001, 149) that the ego alone is active and the world is passive. As Paul Shepard
Life in a made world slowly builds in the child the feeling that nonlivingness is the normal
state of things. Existence is shaped from the outside or put together. Eventually, he will con-
clude that there is no intrinsic unfolding, no unique, inner life at all, only substance that,
being manipulated, gives the illusion of spontaneity….he will believe that either (a) all life,
including people, is, in fact machines … or (b) the only truly living things are people
(Shepard 1982, 102).
Kidner agrees that for the child of industrialism, the world is seen as having a “lack of natural
structure” (Kidner 2001, 97), but is rather simply a “stockpile of ‘natural resources’ arranged in
no particular order” (Kidner 2001, 25), apprehended in a way that is “abstract, overwhelmingly
visual and relatively unemotional” (Kidner 2001, 150).
A direct implication for urban planning is the ubiquitous practice of so called “zoning” according
to “land use” which is used in most industrialized countries, (in Germany according to the
Baunutzungsverordnung (BauNVO)), in which essentially orderless land is ordered according to
human-chosen criteria. Kidner writes that “in contrast, the Aboriginal attitude toward the land
integrates these ‘separate’ realms” (Kidner 2001, 166).
Figure 2: Comparison between naturalistic and technological/urbanized psychologies.
Visualizing Listening / feeling
Dissecting Hearing/feeling the whole
Seeing: clear, sharp, monocular Feeling: hard to articulate, diffuse
Self is fixed and closed to influence Self is vulnerable to being changed by world
Vision of the future Future unfolds from present
Knowledge is abstract, conceptual and disem-
Knowledge is “known” with the whole
Seeks to simplify Dwells in complexity
Seeks to control Dwells in reverence
Sees world as made Sees world as organically unfolding
Sees nature as silent object Sees nature as teacher and subject
Nature is without structure Nature has structure
Strengthened Ego / weakened resonance Contextual Ego / strengthened resonance
Place is meaningless Places carry meaning
Things are owned Things are part of fabric of the world
Desperate technological optimism Contentment with nature
Preference for textual analysis Preference for interaction with real world
Nature is product of language; values are so-
Values are articulation of embodied rooted-
ness in nature
Sees objects Sees relationships
2.5. The Project of Ecopsychology
Andy Fisher writes that ecopsychology is not so much an inquiry as a “project,” that is, a “multi-
faceted undertaking... which has arisen in response to specific historical conditions” (Fisher 2002,
6). These conditions have to do with our extreme separation from the natural world as the result
of innumerable factors, among them urbanization, industrialization and technological capitalism.
They are overcome by engaging in a set of four tasks which together, as a coordinated whole,
make up the project of ecopsychology.
The first task, the psychological task, is “to acknowledge and better understand the human-nature
relationship as a relationship” and “to build a psychology that expands the field of significant re-
lationships to include the other-than-human-beings; a psychology that views all psychological and
spiritual matters in the light of our participation within the larger natural order” (Fisher 2002, 7).
For Fisher, ecopychology “aims to link the claims and limits of human nature with the claims
and limits of the natural world” (Fisher, p. xvi). This involves understanding how human psycho-
logical development, mental health and meaning are all framed by contact with nature in all its
three main senses.
The second task, the philosophical task is “to place psyche (soul, anima, mind) back into the (nat-
ural) world” (Fisher 2002, 9). To do so, ecopsychology draws on phenomenological, and
hermeneutic approaches, both of which break down the alienating split between pure subject and
pure object, showing rather that subjectivity extends out into the world. David Seamon calls
phenomenology “a way of thinking rigorously and of describing accurately the complex relation
between person and world” (Seamon and Mugerauer 1985, 1-2) which “allows phenomena to
be understood as they are without the reduction or distortion so often the result of positivist
science or the many styles of structuralism.” Andy Fisher (2002, ix) succinctly defines phenom-
enology as “the study of direct experience” and argues that for ecopsychology, phenomenology is
important because in human life, “experience comes first.” Hermeneutics is the science of inter-
pretation. Fisher writes that ecopsychology is hermeneutic because it attends to “the primacy of
experience or felt meaning in human experience.” It is this felt meaning that ecopsychologists ar-
gue should guide the way we characterize our relationship to nature. For the urbanist, a
hermeneutic approach has to do with the way that places communicate to us or convey meaning.
The third task, the practical task is “to develop therapeutic and recollective practices toward an
ecological society” (Fisher 2002, 12). The job of these practices is to center the experience of the
natural, which has been continuously pushed to the side-lines of human activity for many centu-
Recollective practices help us to remember the ways in which we are connected to nature. Much of
this work involves learning ways that were familiar to traditional societies. As Deloria (1972) re-
marks, movements such as bioregionalism that attempt to come home to nature find themselves
“retracing the steps taken centuries before by Indian tribes [in the case of America] as they at-
tempted to come to grips with [the] land.” Thus some methods used by nature-based peoples
have also been taken up by modern practitioners of ecopsychology (Cowan 1992; Deloria 1972;
Glendinning 1994; Griffiths 2006; Metzner 1999).
Kidner argues that to escape the epistemological colonization of modernity, we must “explicitly
reframe social and political life as part of the natural order” (Kidner 2001, 8). This involves redis-
covering the “repressed connections” (Kidner 2001, 77) between self and nature by identifying
“sophisticated structures that could reintegrate us with what is outside us” (Kidner 2001, 77).
Kidner calls these “resonances.” To begin to identify such structures or resonances requires a qui-
eting of the mind and a re-awakening to the language of the body (characteristic 2b) through
practices such as Focussing (Gendlin 1982). These practices allow the language of the body to
take on symbolic meaning.
Therapeutic practices are used to help people return to their nature and overcome alienation from
the natural. Through these practices, we are able to return to our “true natures,” to heal the
wounds in ourselves which have been wrought by techno-capitalist society. For ecopsychology,
healing contact with the natural world is an important part of this process.
A popular ecopsychological therapeutic practice is the vision quest (Davis 1998; Foster and Little
1989; Foster and Little 1992; Plotkin 2003; Plotkin 2008; Wood 2010). In this ceremony, the
quester goes into the wilderness to fast, alone for several days, usually to seek the answer to a per-
sonal life-question through transformative encounter with the wilderness (Wood 2010). Some
quest leaders, notably Bill Plotkin (2008) use the vision quest as a way to help people find their
personal role in relation to the Earth. The psychological effects of this practice are often profound
and questers often return with a deepened sense of who they are in relation to the world.
The fourth and final task, the critical task, is “to engage in ecopsychologically based criticism”
(Fisher 2002, 16). From the remembered and healed position of rootedness in the natural, it be-
comes essential to critique the capitalist and life-destroying relations in which we find ourselves.
Here we can find an extension of the position articulated by Marx and other critical theorists.
This critical theory, however is ecopsychological in that it results from experiential naturalistic
According to Kidner “the environmental futures we propose are rooted within the same intellec-
tual landscape as the rest of industrialism…. [Thus] our alternative visions of the future may be a
lot less alternative than we think.” (Kidner 2001, 3). To find a more liberated ecological future
require that we become savvy to “the ongoing dialectic between industrialism’s historical trans-
formation of the physical landscape and its parallel transformation of the human person into the
autonomous individual” (Kidner 2001, 9). An ecopsychological criticism will help us to step out
of the industrialized epistemological frame and forge a more deeply naturalistic response to the
3.1. Research Problem
My interest is in how we can find a way of understanding and approaching cities that is not colo-
nized by techno-industrial capitalism, that is, rather, naturalistic in its approach and ways of
For the purposes of this paper, I ask how ecopsychology could be the psychology for a sustainable
way of city-planning. The focus of radical ecopsychology has so far focussed broadly on environ-
mental issues and has not been applied in depth to the build environment. My task is therefore to
attempt to round out the contours of an ecopsychological approach to Sustainable Urbanism.
How can focussing in on the insights of ecopsychology help us understand what a naturalistic
Sustainable Urbanism might be? Perhaps we can come closer to understanding what implications
an ecological psychology would have for the way we understand the problem of cities, for the way
we design cities and the way we think about the Sustainable Urbanism phenomenon, as it exists
today or how it could in the future.
So far, no study has been done to establish whether Sustainable Urbanism is moving in an
ecopsychological direction or not, because an ecopsychological lens has never been applied to it.
This study makes a first attempt at this project. An important secondary goal of the study is to
establish the epistemological lens that can detect the signs of a techno-capitalist psychology on
the one hand, and a more naturalistic one on the other. This takes the form of the analytical
framework I employ. Using this framework, I propose that we can begin to make clear to our-
selves what parts of the Sustainable Urbanism platform are truly life-oriented, and which parts
not, and indeed what a truly living Sustainable Urbanism might look like.
3.2. Research questions
This study explores how an ecopsychological view of planning can illuminate sustainable plan-
ning. My aim here is to evaluate to what degree, and how, if at all, the project of Sustainable
Urbanism is ecopsychological. Here, I use Andy Fisher’s framework to guide my questioning.
What are the psychology, philosophy, practices and critiques of currently existing Sustainable
Urbanism in relation to the natural? To what degree does Sustainable Urbanism engage the psy-
chological, philosophical, practical and critical tasks of ecopsychology? And in what ways are
there potentials and movements within Sustainable Urbanism toward a fully ecopsychological
approach to the city?
3.3. Methodological Approach
The literature of ecopsychology is susceptible to being swept aside as romantic and lacking in
rigor. I have therefore chosen the ecopsychological framework created by Andy Fisher in Radical
Ecopsychology (2002), which seems most appropriate to providing a solid foundation. In it, he
aims “to map out the field of ecopsychology in a way that shows how it various elements hang
together as a radical whole” (Fisher 2002, xiii), while drawing special attention to its political im-
plications in a way that is relevant to the project of Sustainable Urbanism. Where Fisher calls for
a “psychologically based ecological politics” (Fisher 2002, xv), I search for what we might call a
“psychologically based ecological urbanism,” where the psychology is a psychology of the natural
person in a natural world.
In order to make sense of Sustainable Urbanism from an ecopsychological perspective, I adopt
Fisher’s map and create out of it a list of attributes of an ecopsychological approach against which
one can evaluate projects such as Sustainable Urbanism. Using it, I revisit familiar texts of and
around Sustainable Urbanism and let them “speak again,” listening with an ear for ecopsycholog-
My argument is that by engaging in the tasks of ecopsychology, we open up new possibilities for
thinking about the “sustainable city.” By becoming aware of how “we too are nature,” we can
begin to order our designing and planning differently, according to the desire to promote life and
My study is presented in four basic parts. In the first part, I trace the thought of Sustainable Ur-
banism through the lens of each of the four tasks of ecopsychology, which are characteristics 1a to
1d in the analytical framework, created from Andy Fisher’s map of ecopsychology. In this section,
the analysis is driven by the questions as articulated in that list, and is directed narrowly at the
literature of Sustainable Urbanism. Because of the interconnected nature of the project, touching
on each of the four tasks brings the reader into contact with many of the other characteristics in
the analytical framework in the course of the discussion.
In the second part, I look more deeply at two themes that I see as being latent in Sustainable Ur-
banism, that I believe can become more full-fledged using an ecopsychological approach. These
are Walkable Urbanism and Finding a Naturalistic Sense of Place. These themes are holistically
ecopsychological, and thus bridge Fisher’s four tasks. I this section, I draw on a broader literature
around New Urbanism and urban critical theory to access elements that are treated only partially
in Sustainable Urbanism discourse, in order to reveal potentials within Sustainable Urbanism that
lend themselves to an Ecopsychological Sustainable Urbanism.
In the third part, I use a case study to develop Ecopsychological Sustainable Urbanist method
further and to further examine what an already existing ecopsychological approach might look
like in reality.
In the fourth part, after briefly summarizing the findings of my analysis, I propose new practices
for Sustainable Urbanism that take into account the ecological nature of subjectivity. I call these
Wilderness Based Urbanism and Ruderal Ecopsychology.
3.5. Analytical Framework
In this study, I ask ecopsychologically evaluative questions of Sustainable Urbanism to discern
whether it fulfils the basic characteristics of a radical ecopsychology approach. These are:
How does Sustainable Urbanism position itself in relation to the four tasks of ecopsychology:
a. The psychological task of seeing the human-nature relationship as a relationship
(Fisher 2002, 7);
b. The philosophical task of placing psyche back into the (natural) world (Fisher
c. The practical task of defining practical actions that can anchor human experi-
ence of the natural in the worldly realm, specifically therapeutic and recollective
practices (Fisher 2002, 12);
d. The critical task of practicing ecopsychologically based criticism (Fisher 2002,
2. How does Sustainable Urbanism position itself vis-à-vis the need for a “return to experi-
a. Discovering an interaction between bodily felt meaning and symbols (Fisher
b. Cultivating the bodily ground of experience (Fisher 2002, 58);
c. Cultivating contact, or the process of interacting (Fisher 2002, 65);
d. Confronting the problem of psychopathology in the forms of disturbed contact-
ing, constricted existing, or blocked living (Fisher 2002, 70);
e. Confronting the connection between experiential destruction and ecological cri-
sis (Fisher 2002, 82).
3. How does Sustainable Urbanism position itself with regard to a hermeneutic approach?
a. Overcoming alienation (Fisher 2002, 36);
b. Risking being changed (Fisher 2002, 38);
c. Being creative (Fisher 2002, 40).
4. How does Sustainable Urbanism engage the notion of the Natural, either as
a. The natural world (Fisher 2002, 94);
b. An essential quality, way, character or order (Fisher 2002, 103);
c. The life force or sacred power (Fisher 2002, 110)?
5. How does Sustainable Urbanism frame the meaning of life, and how is that related to the
following ecopsychological approaches?
a. A sense making journey (Fisher 2002, 120);
b. Involving ever-widening spheres of participation with the world (Fisher 2002,
c. “Singing the world”, i.e. seeing language or human expression as arising out of
nature (Fisher 2002, 126);
d. “One flesh”, i.e. that we are part of nature (Fisher 2002, 128).
6. How does Sustainable Urbanism frame the human lifecycle as a natural phenomenon,
for example by
a. “Returning to nature” as a way of fostering human development (Fisher 2002,
b. Fostering play for children as their essential task in maturation (Fisher 2002,
c. Fostering initiation into a sacred adult cosmos (Fisher 2002, 147)?
7. How does Sustainable Urbanism address the need to make sense of suffering in a techno-
logical world by
a. Drawing attention to the reality of suffering under technology (Fisher 2002,
b. Seeing nature as something in its own right, rather than an object of technology
(Fisher 2002, 163);
c. Preserving relations with the world that technology tends to undercut (for ex-
ample through post-cards of nature or CDs of nature sounds) (Fisher 2002,
d. Seeing how technological society frames human nature as identified with lack or
deficiency (Fisher 2002, 168) or an inflated ego, through goals such as fame,
romance, money and progress (Fisher 2002, 169);
e. Resisting the ‘decoupling’ of human society from the society of nature (Fisher
8. How does Sustainable Urbanism position itself with respect to ‘counterpractice' against
the de-naturing effects of technology by
a. Refusing of the ideology of technological progress, and its focus on ‘the future’,
as especially ‘improved by technology’ as better than the present (Fisher 2002,
b. Developing practices of deliberate contact-making with nature such as spiritual
or artistic practices (Fisher 2002, 178);
c. Attempting to see nature not as just objects but as ensouled and capable of
speaking to us (Fisher 2002, 179)?
9. How does Sustainable Urbanism position itself with respect to providing venues for
‘coming back to life’ that allow people to
a. Develop an understanding of how their lives have been deformed by their socie-
ty (Fisher 2002, 180);
b. Recover their own nature and experience (Fisher 2002, 181);
c. Develop the capacity to act on that understanding (Fisher 2002, 181);
d. Develop a culture that is responsible to the human life-cycle (Fisher 2002, 185);
e. Be nurtured by non-violent, caring environments (Fisher 2002, 184)?
4. Analysis: A Radical Ecopsychology Analysis of Sustainable
The purpose of this section is to briefly evaluate how Sustainable Urbanism is seen from an
ecopsychological perspective. Sustainable Urbanism is examined through the lens of each of the
four tasks of Radical Ecopsychology.
4.1. The psychological task
Ecopsychologists contend that our society has a “deeply ingrained habit of ignoring the psycho-
logical significance of the human-nature relationship” (Fisher 2002, 8). In this section, I examine
the Sustainable Urbanism literature with a view to verifying this statement in this context. I ex-
amine how Sustainable Urbanism defines the human-nature relationship, how this is reflected in
the framing of its discourse, and what this means from an ecopsychological perspective.
The reader is hard-pressed to find a definition of nature in the Sustainable Urbanism literature.
Rather, authors make brief mention of abstract concepts such as “ecosystems,” or “natural” ele-
ments such as “air, earth, water, and living organisms” (Spirn 2004). “Green spaces” or “wild
spaces” denote nature as space – empty, lacking structure or psychic dimension. Sometimes the
color green is used interchangeably for “nature” (Lachmund 2013). The notions of “sustainable
development,” “ecological footprint” and “carrying capacity” refer to nature indirectly, implying
that nature has no reason for being in itself (characteristic 7b), but is rather essentially a manufac-
turer of resources whose rate of production must not be exceeded (Farr 2008; Gaines and Jäger
2009). In all cases, references to “nature” are restricted to elements of the “natural world” (char-
acteristic 4a) and do not include nature as “way” (Characteristic 4b) or “sacred power”
The ideas of carrying capacity, biodiversity, climate change and peak oil demand little contact
with the natural world (characteristic 2c) for them to be understood. Three out of four (all except
climate change) are quantitative descriptors, thus having little qualitative dimension. The urban-
ist in his cubicle can theoretically refer to any of these abstract models of the natural world and go
to work applying an “ecosystems approach” (van Bueren 2012, Hough 1995, Grant 2012). Ben-
ton-Short and Short attempt to open up the framing of sustainability as “not simply an ecological
issue [but also] a political and economic issue” (Benton-Short and Short 2008, 259) but here also
fail to extend participation to the natural world (characteristic 5b).
The epitome of nature is wilderness. In the literature review, I discussed the psychological signifi-
cance of wilderness as “the essential element and the primary setting of the journey of the soul”
without which a “mature human species” (Plotkin 2003, 15) cannot exist. The urban ecology
relatiuonship toward wilderness, on the other hand, is more distanced and utilitarian. Beatley
(2008, 15) writes that large areas of wilderness are “essential” for “conservation of larger wildlife
and biodiversity.” Chris Baines similarly writes:
Urban wild space is clearly important for wildlife and for casual recreation, but it has other
important roles to play in response to climate change. For example more frequent rain storms
and flash floods are predicted and wild spaces can provide the temporary holding ground for
storm water run-off (Baines in Jorgensen and Keenan 2012, xiv).
Sustainable Urbanism argues for the integration of nature into the city in simplistic physical
terms, as something to be either “preserved” “implanted” or “interlocked” with the urban fabric
(Lachmund 2013, 44). This is inevitable when the definition of “nature” is restricted to elements
of the natural world (characteristic 4a) and means that the “internal relation” between nature and
subjectivity remains hidden.
Psychologically, nature exists mostly for human benefit, which is expressed in the language of
environmental psychology and biophilia. The deeper relationship between sanity (human nature)
and the natural world is not thematized and thus the idea of “alienation” from nature (character-
istic 3a) remains also untouched, despite a long tradition of it in earlier urban discourses (see the
section A Brief Ecopsychology of Germany and the Ruhr later in this paper). Many of the “benefits”
of “contact with nature” are described in terms of visual contact, or even “contact” with a picture
of a natural scene, and sometimes “multisensorily” (Beatley 2008), thus, for the most part side-
stepping the possibilities of embodied interaction with nature (characteristics 2a/2b). Benefits
include “restoration,” renewed ability to concentrate, improved “mood,” reduced stress and accel-
erated recovery from illness (Kellert et al. 2008; Kellert 2005). Douglas Farr highlights the ability
for nature in the city to provide “human delight” (Farr 2008).
In all these cases, the described effects of nature on the human mind does not suggest any deeper
connection between self and world (characteristics 5b/5d). The focus is on the “performance” of
the human organism rather than its maturation through the lifecycle, which, for ecopsychologists
implies a continuously deepening relationship between nature and human nature (characteristic
6). The awe, ineffability and clearly spiritual and transformative dimensions of the wilderness
encounter (characteristic 6c) receive no attention. Sustainable Urbanists are therefore unable to
investigate how such experiences might influence planning.
The psychological approach of Sustainable Urbanism is thus mostly behavioral and not experien-
tial. While “paired choices” of “good” and “bad” urban environments “communicate the look
and feel of spaces” (Farr 2008, 69) do appeal to everyday experience of place, Sustainable Urban-
ists have no methods for cultivating a “return to experience” in itself, in the sense of characteristic
At the same time, psychological concepts are being applied to Sustainable Urbanist discourse. An
example is the adoption of the psychological concept of “resilience.” This demonstrates a certain
realization that there is a basic unity between the human (psychological) and man-made systems.
But more work needs to be done to determine the ecopsychological dimensions of this concept.
Another example that I will return to in detail is the claim that American society in particular is
“addicted” to the automobile. Here, the psychological aspects of this clearly psychological claim
are badly neglected within Sustainable Urbanism.
4.2. The Philosophical Task
The philosophical task of ecopsychology is return “soul” to the world, to allow the environment
to speak meaningfully to our experience. This task is explicitly phenomenological and hermeneutic,
meaning that it attends to and interprets experience.
To the degree that Sustainable Urbanism defines itself according to the discourse of energy effi-
ciency or the “three E’s” (Canizaro 2010), it restricts itself to the strictly dualistic philosophy of
positivistic science, automatically excluding phenomenology (characteristic 2) and hermeneutics
(characteristic 3). This is true of the Farr (2008) variety of Sustainable Urbanism, to the degree
that if focuses on “weights and measures.”
Sustainable Urbanism broadly embraces the philosophy of humanism, that is, the development of
human potential. This is seen in the genuine concern for a better “quality of life” in Sustainable
Urbanism, which is differentiated from technological “development.” However, in doing so, Sus-
tainable Urbanism fails to develop more deeply an understanding of how humanity is part of the
natural world (characteristic 5d). Instead, objectified nature is mostly kept at a distance, within
the bounds of instrumental rationality in a way that restricts it from revealing nature’s potentials
as a sacred power (characteristic 4c) or ensouled (characteristic 8c) which could support a deeper
naturalistic philosophy within Sustainable Urbanism (characteristic 6c).
Phenomenology and hermeneutics, by going in-between or beyond dualism of subject and object
tend towards holism. Sustainable Urbanism, however, tends toward an analytical approach that
cannot be holistic. McHarg’s (1969) methods, which are still used frequently by Sustainable Ur-
banists (Farr 2008; Palazzo et al 2011), exemplify this analytical approach toward land. The
splitting of subject and object in Sustainable Urbanism is not complete, as I will seek to demon-
strate in the Discussion section, however, there is not yet an explicit development of a hermeneu-
tic approach to Sustainable Urbanism. A phenomenological-hermeneutic approach to
biomimicry in architecture, however, has been attempted in a masters thesis by Lance Klein
In the Sustainable Urbanist view of nature, the non-human living world, while having an abstract
“right” to its own existence, is primarily worthy of protection from an anthropocentric perspective.
Nature provides food, other resources and ecosystem services. Problems in the human relation-
ship to nature are conceptualized in terms of control, efficiency, the distance needed to transport
“natural resources,” productivity and other measureables. An extreme example is Rem Koolhaas’
“Eneropa” map of Europe as nothing more than a giant energy-producing system.
Figure 3: “Eneropa.” (Rem Koolhaas 2010).
The anthropocentric and dualistic perspective also means that knowledge in Sustainable Urban-
ism is un-impacted by place, or placeless. Where the environment does not impact on subjectivity,
it cannot impact subjectivity differently in different places.
4.3. The Practical Task
Lachmund writes that the “intellectual technologies” of a profession, be they “planning schemes”
(Lachmund 2013, 7) or “evening walks in a garden” (Harvey 2000, 199) shape knowledge and
decision-making, and determine the kind of possible outcome. Blühdorn (1997, 95) writes: “de-
spite all skepticism with regard to the success of the Enlightenment, both critical theory and
ecological thought firmly rely on reason itself as the prime diagnostic and therapeutic tool.” Sus-
tainable Urbanism, as a potentially critical form of ecological work, is no exception. Here I
examine the nature of the “intellectual technologies” inherent to Sustainable Urbanism in terms
of their effects on planning outcomes.
Sustainable Urbanism (and planning more generally) employs a wide range of practices, including
the creation of analysis maps, plans and other forms of visually apprehended data (whether an
ecological footprint analysis or an index of sustainability criteria), site visits and evaluations, the
creation, interpretation and use of various kinds of documents, including planning guidance and
laws, usually presented in the form of texts and illustrations, the formulation of strategies and
policies, and interactions with other human beings.
From an ecopsychological perspective, the pattern that connects these practices is the predomi-
nance of vision and abstraction in creating, interpreting and communicating ideas about
sustainability. Thus an ecopsychological analysis of Sustainable Urbanist practice must look at
these “intellectual technologies” in terms of their effects on planning outcomes.
Much of Sustainable Urbanism is communicated visually, through “visions,” texts, photographs,
pictures, and computer graphics. Vision supports an analytical treatment of the world, in which
concrete things are perceived distinctly separate, while downplaying the invisible relations be-
tween them. It is fixated on the image, and is unable to bodily enter the experience of a place
Because it is disembodied, vision also tends to support what Andy Fisher calls “the ideology of
technological progress” which “derives its ideological strength from its abstract and future-
oriented character, that is, from the manner in which it deflects attention away from the concrete
and present moment…. Felt experience thus becomes largely irrelevant as the present tense is
progressively replaced by… futurism” (Fisher 2002, 157).
These tendencies should be kept in mind when we note the dominance of vision in the planning
profession. Sustainable Urbanism frequently uses “visions” as a way of generating plans for ac-
tion. Examples range from the “SustainableCitiesNet.com” archive of visions to the European
Commission Regional Policy Paper “Cities of Tomorrow: Challenges, Visions, Ways Forward”
(European Union 2011) to “sustainable city visions” for countless individual cities. Techno-
futuristic visions “to advance sustainability” presented at the Sustainable Living Hub at The
Guardian newspaper online include Vertical Farming (VF) (see below) and “idealized utopian”
(Canizaro 2010) ideas for flying hotels powered by hydrogen and solar power (Sherwin, 2013).
Sustainable Urbanism, as a project dominated by the efficiency and 3 E’s discourses, uses a wide
variety of quantitative tools that are by nature abstract. These range from the LEED-ND standard
to the Sustainable Cities Index (Forum for the Future 2010). These chart factors such as ecologi-
cal footprint, biodiversity, air quality, recycling, Floor-Area Ratios (FAR) and quantitative urban
green space requirements. These quantitative tools function by abstracting particular qualities of
nature in a way that disconnects us from the embodied and holistic experience of individual plac-
es. None of the analytical tools I looked at mention embodied approaches to assessing or
Having said this, tools that evaluate the qualities of the urban environment have the potential to
be ecopsychological to the extent that they engage a sense of the natural (characteristic 4b). For
example, the urban transect, used to contain sprawl, charts urban density (a quantitative de-
scriptor), but mixes this with the qualitative descriptor of character. An example of this will be
given in the case study.
A significant practice of Sustainable Urbanism is political implementation of Sustainable Urban-
ist policies. According to Farr, this includes “talking points” (Farr 2008, 67), “paired choices,”
(Farr 2008, 69), and “agendas” (Farr 2008, 72). Here the community of participants move with-
in an almost exclusively human sphere, where the influence of place on subjectivity has no role
(characteristics 3/5b). Interactions are not place-based, but rather take place between human be-
ings, often in rooms separated from the site such that it cannot impact on subjectivity.
With the rise of Sustainable Urbanism, nature is being more talked and written about. Nature is
being remembered. This is a first step toward recollective and therapeutic practices, which are the
two essential parts of ecopsychological practice. But to be grounded in the reality of nature, these
practices must include increased contact. Without it, the discussion around nature becomes dis-
connected, disembodied and futuristic. Contact gives us a “feel for” the “concept” of nature. As
Fisher writes, referencing Gendlin, “without having a ‘feel’ for a concept it is only some verbal
noise, lacking in meaning; it is in the dimension of feeling that the meaning of the concept is ex-
perienced (Fisher 2002, 56). The Sustainable Urbanism discussion around food in cities serves as
Sustainable Urbanism sees the opportunity for increased efficiency by growing food in cities (Farr
2008, 179) by reducing oil dependence and food miles, sparing water and land, supporting local
economies, and reducing pesticide use (Ladner 2005). Because land space is at a premium in the
city, a proposed option to create space for urban agriculture is vertical farming (VF), that is, the
creation of stacked farms inside skyscrapers. Some of the claimed advantages of VF include:
1. Year-round crop production;
2. No weather-related crop failures due to droughts, floods, pests;
3. Elimination of agricultural runoff by recycling black water;
4. Returning farmland to nature, restoring ecosystem functions and services;
5. Reducing the incidence of many infectious diseases that are acquired at the agricul-
6. Converting black and gray water into potable water by collecting the water
7. Adding energy back to the grid via methane generation from composting non-
edible parts of plants and animals (Despommier 2012).
Let us compare this to Ecopsychologist Craig Chalquist’s claim that the act of growing a garden
teaches us lessons for life. His lessons are:
1. Abandon perfectionism. Pests and weeds invade even the most cared-for garden. It
cannot be controlled and a gardener must live with that.
2. Things take time to grow. Gardening requires patience and trust in the powers of
growth to keep their own schedule. There is no rushing nature.
3. Detach from outcomes: When you plant seeds, you never know what’s going to hap-
pen. Your efforts sink into the ground, sometimes reappearing as new growth and
4. Everything contributes. Even weeds. Nothing in the natural world is wasted.
5. Everything self-organizes. The wisdom hiding in the ground resembles the wisdom
within instinct, intuition, the gut – if we allow ourselves to trust it.
6. Things decay and die. The garden teaches that some things need to go away.
7. When you taste something that grows in the garden and it's bitter, you spit it
out. The garden teaches me that there are things my body doesn't find nutritious
and that I should not let it into my system. Trust the senses. If there are people in
your life who are tearing you down psychologically, remove them from your life.
8. The living world will have the last say after you are done with it. The forces of life
and cycles of seasons always have us firmly in hand (Chalquist 2010).
The comparison serves to articulate the difference in worldview between an efficiency-oriented
and an ecopsychological approach urban agriculture. From an ecopsychological perspective, the
claimed benefits of VF highlight the goal of improvement on nature (the ideology of technologi-
cal progress) (characteristic 8a) (nos. 1, 2, 4, 6) and an anthropocentric relationship to nature
(characteristic 7b). Implementation of VF does nothing to help people remember (the recollective
practice) or heal (the therapeutic practice) their alienation from nature because it reinforces the
illusion of technological salvation, while precluding any embodied exposure to the reality of actu-
For the ecopsychologist, however, growing food functions as both a therapeutic and recollective
ecopsychologcial practice. Working in the garden is already well-known to have therapeutic effects
(Kaplan 1973). Gardening supports life as a sense-making journey (characteristic 5a) and “return-
ing to nature” (characteristic 6a). Gardening can remind people how human life is a natural
phenomenon, just as vegetable growing is (characteristic 5). The lessons that the gardener learns
can become wisdom for her own life, with the personal traits needed to be a good gardener, such
as trust, patience and generosity serving her well in the human realm, too. Conversely, she learns
that for the natural world to flourish in her hands, it must be treated with the same “humanity”
that she bestows on her fellow human beings. Both realizations point to the recollection of conti-
nuity of human and natural worlds (characteristic 7b). This realization of being connected to
something larger can be both affirming (characteristic 9b) and healing (characteristic 9e)(thus
functioning as a therapeutic practice). Out of this can flow a counterpractice that engenders con-
tact with the natural (characteristic 8b) in a way that informs us and teaches us valuable lessons
(characteristic 8c) and can empower us to engage in environmental work that stems directly from
this experience (characteristic 1d).
4.4. The Critical Task
Sustainable Urbanism is not without criticality, indeed doing “battle” (Harvey 2000, 169) in par-
ticular with an established system dominated, ostensibly, by the automobile. Sustainable
Urbanists object to automobilia on the grounds that it enforces a “lifestyle” that is fossil-fuel de-
pendent, with a large ecological footprint, and that it enforces an indoor lifestyle that leads to
obesity and environmental ignorance (Farr 2008). Speck cites Frumkin et al’s seminal Urban
Sprawl and Public Health (2004) that sprawl has produced deteriorating air quality, an epidemic
of obesity, increased rates of traffic fatality, driving-related stress, road rage and the erosion of
Farr’s critique extends to the network of institutions that hold automobilia in place. These in-
clude building ordinances that discourage walking, such as fire stair enclosure requirements that
discourage climbing stairs, excessive parking requirements, and road and infrastructure subsidies
as well as technologies such as mechanical heating and cooling systems that make the indoor en-
vironment more comfortable. He notes also that more time spent indoors means bigger houses,
which in turn means increased disconnection from the outside environment.
The limits of this critique build upon the limits we have seen in the first three tasks. The lack of
attention to experience, the dualistic philosophical stance and the lack of developed recollective
and therapeutic practices in Sustainable Urbanism lay the groundwork for a style of critique that
bares these same marks. The critique here excludes embodied and place-connected experience,
staying within the confines of positivistic science.
However, an ecopsychological critique is not distant from the one offered by Sustainable Urban-
ism. Douglas Farr goes so far as to say that “we have become addicted to driving” (Farr 2008,
23), but does not develop a psychologically grounded critique of this addiction. Critiques of the
unsustainable city, by drawing attention to its inhuman scale also make reference to the body. In
this way, human nature becomes the measure of things. It is also a short leap from this referencing
of the body to making embodied experience the point of reference.
5. Discussion: Forwarding Ecopsychological Potentials in Sus-
The purpose of this section is to investigate how an ecopsychological approach can deepen our
understanding of selected Sustainable Urbanist themes. Because these themes tend to cut across
the four tasks, they are presented according to theme, not task. The result is a presentation of an
ecopsychological approach to Sustainable Urbanism that works by drawing on and extending
germinal ecopsychological themes in Sustainable Urbanism.
Ecopsychological practice connects embodied experience of the natural to the natural world be-
yond, with the goal of fostering an ecological society. To briefly recount the three types of
ecopsychological practice: Therapeutic practices focus on the emotional and spiritual aspects of our
alienation from nature and the resulting ecological destruction. They “provide supportive or ther-
apeutic contexts for people to find their footings in life and turn their attention to the real work
of creating a life-centered society” (Fisher 2002, 13). Recollective practices work to help us re-
connect and remember how we are connected to nature, “how our human psyches are embedded
in and nurtured by the larger psyche of nature and … relearning the essentially human art of re-
vering” (Fisher 2002, 13). Finally, counterpractice works “to provide a focus for our lives among
the dispersing effects of our technological society” (Fisher 2002, 177) through “deliberate con-
tact-making” (Fisher 2002, 178) with nature in its various senses of the word.
There are already a number of existing Sustainable Urbanist practices that have implicit ecopsy-
chological dimensions. For example, as we have seen, Chalquist’s lessons of the garden
demonstrate how embodied interactions (characteristic 2b) with the garden such as waiting and
watching or watering plants help us to recall how the self and the natural world are connected.
This section is itself a first attempt at a recollective practice. Here I attempt to remember the land-
scape already walked by scholars connected with Sustainable Urbanism, how they have made
attempts, as yet unheard ecopsychologically, to connect humans to nature with regard to the built
environment with a view to creating a sustainable relationship between them.
5.1. Walkable Urbanism
5.1.1.The Ecopsychology of Automobilia
A central part of the Sustainable Urbanism agenda is resisting and transforming what Joel Kovel
(2007) calls “automobilia,” that is, the complex system of the automobile, its accompanying ur-
ban forms industries and social relationships. Sustainable Urbanism draws on substantial
psychological literature on how automobilia changes person-world relations. Research shows that
especially for children, automobiles turn space into a set of disconnected islands (Lehner-Liertz
2003). Automobile life, particularly for women, has not made human life easer, but rather more
“frantic” (Kay 1997, 22). According to James Howard Kunstler, “the car is the … connection to
the outside world, but to be precise it connects the inhabitants to the inside of the car, not to the
outside world per se. The outside world is only an element for moving through, as submarines
move through water” (Kunstler 1994). New Urbanist Jeff Speck’s view complements Kunstler’s.
He writes that “while battle was never declared, many American cities seem to have been made
and remade with a mandate to defeat pedestrians,” becoming places “in which pedestrian life is
but a theoretical possibility” (Speck 2012, 15). Kay writes that “the outside world dominated by
the road bores, and television or computer games beckon” (Kay 1996, 25). Farr also notes how in
the suburban environment, television and video games take up time that people used to spend
An ecopsychological approach helps us understand what this means for the human-nature rela-
tionship. For example, we can investigate Speck’s claim that “American cities seem to have been
made and remade with a mandate to defeat pedestrians.” Fisher writes that humans expect a
sense of “natural connectedness” between self and surround. When this surround “refuse[s] to
receive me” (Fisher 2002, 79), the psychological response is shame. Thus, an environment made
to “defeat” pedestrians, ecopsychologically, is inherently shaming. In trying to adapt to shaming
situations, humans repress “our world-bound energies or intentions… contracting … ourselves
against our own internally directed expansion into the world” (Fisher 2002, 80). Thus, if there is
a natural instinct to connect with the world, the pedestrian finds herself shamefully repressing
this urge, retreating into the private realms of house, screen, and automobile.
Consistent repression of our own bodily impulses results in a disembodying of our consciousness.
Robert Romanyshyn writes that for the driver, this disembodiment is almost a necessity:
since in driving we must, in large measure, trust in and give ourselves over to the automatic
reactions of the body. At 55 miles per hour on a crowded expressway a person has little or no
time to think about his or her next move. On the contrary, the car in this context fairly well
invites the driver to divorce himself or herself from the body, leaving the car and its motion in
relation to the other cars in the hands (and eyes and feet) of the body, while the driver either
projects himself or herself further up the road anticipating what may occur, or wanders off in
daydream and fantasy to another time and place (Romanyshyn 1989, 145).
Thus, I argue, the ecopsychology of automobilia tends towards fragmentation of self-and-world,
shame and disembodiment. From an ecopsychological perspective, a fragmented kind of sustain-
ability theorizing is thus completely congruent with life in this milieu. I argue, therefore, that
stepping out of that milieu is needed to re-connect, gain emotional balance and re-enter embod-
ied relationship with the natural world, as a prerequisite to naturalistic urbanist practice.
5.1.2.The Addiction Perspective of Automobilia
Sustainable Urbanist Doug Farr writes plainly: “we have become addicted to driving. Most
Americans rely on cars to meet the most basic needs of life” (Farr 2008, 23). Kay writes: “the na-
tion is in ‘lifelock’ to the automobile … so securely that we can barely perceive how both the
quality of mobility and the quality of life have diminished” (Kay 1996, 19) and “we cannot see
our personal and global dilemma or perceive an escape from it” (Kay 1996, 285).
In this section, I take up the theme of automobile addiction ecopsychologically. As we have seen,
addiction is an explicit theme in ecopsychology: Chellis Glendinning claims that western civiliza-
tion is at heart an addictive process that perpetuates suffering (characteristic 7a) while at the same
time destroying nature (characteristic 2e). Here I extend the argument begun by Farr, using
Glendinning’s description of addiction, while drawing on well-known literature in the urban dis-
course. Glendinning writes:
As an outgrowth of trauma, addiction is an attempt to avoid confronting the pain that lies at
the heart of the traumatic experience. Its hallmark is an out-of-control, often aimless, compul-
sion to fill the lost sense of belonging, integrity and communion with substances like
alcohol…. trying desperately to satisfy real needs .... Secondary sources actually do produce a
hint of satisfaction, although never full satisfaction - and so one becomes obsessed with them
(Glendinning 1994, 98).
Automobilia appears to fit this pattern. First, social behaviour regarding automobiles appears
compulsive. According to Kay (1991, vi) “the motor vehicle embodied the American Way of life”
long before World War II. This was characterized by obsession with the car a status symbol, as
instrument of power and war-fighting object (Diekstra et al 2003, 256), as extension of the ego
to the point of “fusion” (“I am what I drive”) (Diekstra et al 2003, 259), the “need for speed,”
and the urge to “whirl dizzily in a cloud of exhaust” (Kay 1991, 21, quoting Erma Bombeck).
Road building and oil imports received massive subsidies, regardless of demand and of proper
understanding of the consequences and cars were “given free rein to trample any place, sacred or
profane” (Kay 1991, 68).
According to Glendinning, the “real needs” seeking satisfaction, from an ecopsychological per-
spective, are the sense of belonging, integrity and communion that arise through contact with the
natural world. According to Kay (1996, 251), the building of roads in America was purportedly
“all to get back to nature.” Cars allowed unprecedented access to the world outside the city and
following World War II, the “automobile vacation” into the “outdoors” became a mass phenom-