Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 1, No 1 (2005)

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Scientific Paradigms and Urban Development: Alternative Models

Martin Fichman, Edmund P. Fowler

Abstract


Urban sprawl’s negative impacts have been amply demonstrated, starting as long as 30 years ago, and most North American urban plans have, somewhere, reference to sprawl as bad policy (or, perhaps, absence of policy). Yet North Americans continue to tolerate the construction of more and more suburban subdivisions. This paper suggests an answer to this paradox. We argue that sprawl’s attractiveness – if one can call it that – is buried deep in North American cultural predispositions, which we trace to quite specific interpretations of the mechanistic worldview that emerged from 17th and 18th century revolutions in natural philosophy. North American culture is a scientific culture as well as a suburban one. If mechanistic science and its peculiar view of nature is so pervasive and if suburban sprawl is both pervasive and dysfunctional, then this particular form of science and its cultural roots need to be carefully examined. We do this from the perspective of the 21st century, when quantum physics and new discoveries in the ecological and biological sciences are suggesting that many commonly accepted assumptions about physical reality inherited from 17th and 18th century science are flawed.

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