Animal infrastructures

Animal infrastructures — “The growing temptation will be to turn to engineered animals, rather than to existing equipment or inanimate machines, to perform future urban work for us.”


Courtney Humphries, “The city is an ecosystem, pipes and all”

Courtney Humphries, “The city is an ecosystem, pipes and all” — “Cities may strike us as the opposite of “the environment”: As we pave streets and erect buildings, nature comes to feel like the thing you find somewhere else. But scientists working in the growing field of urban ecology argue that we’re missing something. A city’s soil collects pollutants, but it also supports a vast system of microscopic life. Water courses beneath roads and buildings, often in long-buried streams and constructed pipes. And city ecosystems aren’t static; they change over time as populations grow, infrastructure ages, and different political structures and social values shape them. Seen this way, the city is a distinct form of “environment,” and an important one.”

Cost-benefit analysis is a technical process in the guise of analysis.


How do you know if projects like the Auckland Rail Link or the Puhoi-Wellesford Highway are worth doing? Someone does a cost-benefit analysis. But as Jarrett Walker writes:

The problem with Cost/Benefit analysis is that it requires you to convert all the costs, and all the benefits, to the same currency. That means you must know, with imperial confidence, the cost in dollars of such things as:

  • each minute of each customer’s time
  • a particular ecosystem to be destroyed or preserved, which may involve various degrees of endangerment (of species, and of ecosystem types)
  • historic or cultural resources to be destroyed or relocated, or preserved.

Assigning dollar values to some of these things is ridiculous, and we should reject the idea that dollar value provides any kind of common denominator for valuation. Cost-benefit analysis is a simplistic model that gives only an impression of rigour and fairness.

Should communities talk about how to weigh competing values that are in conflict?  Or should they let those decisions be made inside a technical process in the guise of analysis?