Role of Nature in the Evolution of the Modern Cities

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My dissertation aims to explore; the importance of nature to an urbanite living the fast pace yet numbingly routine life in this concrete jungle. There is no one definition to the relationship of man & nature in the urban context of a city and requires a multi-fold exploration to arrive at any conclusion. My exploration begins with a study of the history and evolution of urban landscape vs. natural landscape in cities. Followed by, research on the effectiveness of existing arrangements of the green relief pockets found in the city and their relationship with urbanism in the city. This forms the basis of research for future propositions made by critics and professionals, leading to any comments that can be made on the relevance of improvement and alterations of the urban morphology. Through this layered researched, I aim to better understand the urban morphology in light of integration of natural relief spaces into the urban landscape and its impact on the urbanites and their social behaviours.

3.1 Role of Nature in the Evolution of the Modern Cities

In the modern era of development (19th to 20th century), the growth of urbanization[1] and the modern cities has been a very rapid process. Contrary to the past where human dwellings have peacefully coexisted with nature[2] (Refer to Figure 1), recently there has been a change of pattern. The new architectural layout of the human settlements is a network of cold concrete jungles with little concern for the role of nature in the urban landscape.

Artist’s Rendition of Safavid-era Isfahan, which is typically described as the pinnacle of garden cities interspersed with harmoniously-designed pavilions and spacious thoroughfares.

Modern cities came as an answer to the population growth after the industrial revolution[3]. Cities grew larger; became the back bone of the economy and following the movement of modernism,[4] came the alterations in the lifestyle of urban dwellers. Exponential growth of construction of high – rise buildings, modern homes etc. replaced and destroyed the natural landscape, paving way for more steel and concrete establishments.

This was the age of ‘man over nature’[5], where urban planners[6] followed the philosophy of generic patterns, with no attention to localized environments and natural landscapes. Nature was a malleable entity, carved, flattened, relocated and artificially recreated to accommodate the requirements of the built created by man.[7]

Therefore, the concept of green relief spaces and the importance of natural landscape is either; simply not considered, or an afterthought, treated as sheer ornamentation to the buildings. Leaving the cities, which house the larger numbers of population[8], with nothing more than hints of green spaces; causing man to lose all connections to his origins, i.e. nature, ‘[…] there were few who believed in the importance of nature in a man’s world, few who would design with nature’ [9]

Karachi faired not very different from this general description of modern cities. Furthermore, being the largest revenue producer and biggest of the few metropolitan cities of Pakistan, it entertains a high influx of rural-urban migration.[10] In order to accommodate the rampant expansion in numbers the city is growing beyond bounds (Figure 2) and destroying surrounding natural landscape in the process. [11]


These studies of the context of natural landscape within the urban landscape lead me to research of how this current composition of the urban landscape impacts its user.

2.2 Urbanism; Between the Urbanite and the Urban Landscape

The first text under discussion ‘A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception’,[12] a paper that uses the word play to ‘[…] interpret the idea of sociability and sensibility’,[13] and highlights the ability of architecture to limit human perceptual[14] interaction.

It touches upon various topics under the category of urban spaces of cities, their architecture and their influence on people. The feature corresponding to my particular field of study is the attempt to understand how the architectural composition impacts the everyday life of the urban dweller. The research proposes use of, new mapping techniques of Psychogeography[15] in the squatter settlement of Istanbul (Pinar Mahalle), as they reflect the, ‘[…] Personal routes, discoveries, psychological distances, and expressions […]’[16]of the player under observation. This brought forth two main areas of focus; the mundane cycle of everyday life experiences and the limited ‘multi-sensory perception in urban experience’[17]

Psychogeography, the collision of psychology and geography[18] is used as the method of reviving the urban experience of everyday life, in a manner that it arouses a sense of playfulness and awareness within the players, i.e. the users of the space. This playful enthusiasm gives way to the, ‘Theory of Drive’[19] which tests the geographical bounds limiting perception.[20] The dimensions of the boundaries of, ‘[…] social attractions and emotional zones of the urban geography’[21] need to be recognized so they may be extended to accommodate the players.

One dominant theme that stands out in the paper is the need for intervention or adaption of existing urban spaces to create more than just a visual experience, ‘Instead of mere vision, or the five classical senses, architecture involves several realms of sensory experience which interact and fuse into each other.’[22] This ability of architecture needs to be explored and integrated in design at the urban level so within these crowded cities some level of interaction and intimacy may be developed.

However, if these measures are not taken, people will remain stuck in a rut, detached from one another, missing out on common benefits and compromising on a complete multi -sensory perception of spaces.

The second short coming of the urban landscape highlighted by this paper is the cold, stagnant composition of the environment. The design format and layout is mundane, monotonous and lacks any form of relief space, visual or physical. Thus, the dire need of change in the existing format of these cities is made apparent.

Findings of this paper are limiting in terms of contextual relevance, however, couple of arguments discussed above are not far from the truth of Karachi’s cityscape. Furthermore, the methods employed for research can be carried forward as part of primary research techniques[23].

The paper also highlights the role of architectural design and layout of the city as a core participant in the game, defining the lifestyle of the players. Baig[24], supports this argument by saying;

‘It is not people alone who generate the city’s ethos; rather the inanimate objects, such as the urban landscape, also contribute towards forming the urban spirit.’[25]

The, ‘urban mizaaj’ (i.e. urban landscape) is dependent on the opportunities of lifestyles presented to the people by the, ‘inanimate objects’[26] around them. The largest percentage of inanimate objects of any city is buildings and their connections i.e. architecture, thereby under the theory of Architectural Determinism,[27] built environment becomes the chief dictator of social behavior and interactions.[28]

After understanding the impact of the urban landscape on human lifestyle, the next category attempts to research the relationship of the urbanite and the natural landscape; in order to establish whether some of the gaps of the above discussed relationship can be filled through the addition of natural landscape.

2.3 Relationship of the Urbanite and Nature

As the modern cities continue to progress towards a tech -savvy[29] future the modern man’s isolation from nature continues. Our technophilia[30] and technophobia[31], i.e. the love and fear of technology drives us to desire such a strong command over technology, that it becomes our slave. However, our increasing dependency on the technological advancements has reversed roles, and man has become a slave to technology. Robert Thayer[32], states that our love for technology can be demonstrated by, ‘current residential landscape, dominated by house, driveway and garage’[33] along the wide roads built to encourage the use and ease of automobiles. We then hide behind a green façade and proceed to live through this dense technological support system.[34]

The result of this isolation is the occurrence of the term ‘solastalgia’; the pain experienced when we withdraw from a natural place we love and cherish[35].Louv, in his books further argues the need for interaction between man & natural landscape and the consequences of lack of this interaction. In his first book, ‘Last Child in the Woods[36], he put forward the disadvantages on the development of children due to lack of exposure to, ‘Vitamin N’ (N - Nature)[37], causing a syndrome of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’[38]. This is not a medical diagnosis but it is used to create awareness of the detrimental effects of this divide. These theories stemmed many outdoor class room programs and incorporation of interaction with nature for children has now become a more popular idea.[39]

However, the impact of the book had a far more reaching impact than just the restructuring or new experimental techniques of education; it also stimulated the nostalgia of many adults. Adults either reminisced the memories of a different childhood, from that of their children or related to the symptoms of the alienation from nature.

He further supports his argument with simple examples such as, “Depressed people who were prescribed daily outdoor walks improved their moods compared to patients walking in a mall. Alzheimer patients exposed to natural light fluctuations experienced less agitation and wandering.”[40]

The deficiency that Louv discusses in his works highlights the importance of ‘Vitamin N’, to enhance our physical and mental health. This concept can now be tied back to the discussion in the previous section of relationship between urbanites and the urban landscape. The flaws in the urban landscape are having a detrimental effect on the city dwellers and can be countered with the integration of the natural landscape in the cityscape.

Testing this argument further, the next section entails a study of the connections lost between man, nature and cities; if there is a need to reconnect and how these connections maybe made?

2.4 Man and Nature within the Urban Landscape

My next text, ‘Design with Nature’,[41] begins with a comparison of the city and the countryside and the stark differences between the two. When exhausted with the over whelming city one retreats to the soothing country side. However, as much as urbanites crave the relief found in the countryside they need the city, whether for compulsion of work or to fulfill the need to be part of the fast pace life, thus, they are drawn back to it. This reflects the divide in the feelings of man, torn between the roads leading to city and countryside, coining the query of the author of this book, ‘It is my investigation into a design with nature: the place of nature in a man's world [...]’[42]

The author writes from personal experience of having grown up in the industrial years of Glasgow and highlights the pros and cons of the city vs. the countryside. From the beginning, the book distinguishes the two poles; nature vs. built, with man caught in the middle. This brings forward a very important field of thought, “[…] if we can create the humane city, rather than the city of bondage to toil, the choice of city or countryside will be between to excellences, each indispensable, each different, both complementary, both life – enhancing, man in nature.”[43] This extract highlights the machinelike, cold character of a city discussed in the first part of this research and how an escape to the countryside is merely a bandage solution. Therefore, it proves the need of integration of landscape within the urban context of the city.

Ian L. McHarg[44] categorizes the city and landscape architecture into multiple chapters, giving a detailed design methodology of incorporating nature in urban planning, its application and its need for implementation; by displaying the connections man finds within nature. Within these the more prominent section is of ‘The City; Process and Form’[45], where the author explores the relationship of the built environment with nature and how when the two are paired together they do not compromise their potential but rather enhance it. He speaks about how the morphology of human settlements should be moulded along the natural morphology. For example, when guidelines for stair treads can be defined, there should be rules against building on flood plains.[46]

‘We are becoming a land of great cities. Villages are stationary or receding; cities are enormously increasing […]’[47]

Similar to McHarg’s thoughts on, ‘city of bondage to toil, the choice of city or countryside’[48], Ebenezer Howard[49] at the beginning of his book, Garden Cities of To-morrow[50], talks about two magnets, the town and the country but in his analysis he proposed a simple cure, ‘Human society and the beauty of nature are meant to be enjoyed together,the two magnets must be made one’[51]. Thus, resulting in the third magnet the ‘Town – Country’[52]

Garden Cities of To-morrow goes on to giving model plans (Figure 4) and details for a workable system of town- country that developed with a central park at its heart. These ideas and proposals were put forth with the aim to combine the best of both worlds, bridging the gap of the rural with the industrial city. [53]

Critics consider Howard’s proposed system a rather utopian solution to urban problems, nevertheless, while the plans proposed may not be ideal, the ideas can still be translated into new derivations.

Bringing the research closer to home, to the city of Karachi, research work concerning open green spaces, neighborhood parks, nature belts etc. is being done.

‘Urban Open Green Spaces are an important agent contributing not only to the sustainable development of cities but are considered as one of the most critical components in maintaining and enhancing the quality of life especially of urban communities’ [54]

Muhammad Mashahid Anwar in his paper, ‘Recreational Opportunities and Services from Ecosystem Services Generated by Public Parks in Megacity Karachi-Pakistan’[55] sheds an interesting light on people’s perception and views on the various public green spaces of Karachi. Anwar carried out a survey, with audiences of two varying income groups and neighbourhoods, Defense Housing Authority and Gulberg Housing town. Results showed people’s intent to use green public spaces, their willingness to pay if it ensures a clean well maintained environment and the most popular usage of these public parks to be, nature appreciation, light exercise such as walking and relaxation. The overall survey proves people’s knowledge about the subject and their concern for it, as majority recognized its advantages of lower air temperatures, counter to air pollution, aesthetic enhancement, recreational output etc.[56]

The above texts study the urban settings of cities and the role of nature or the lack of nature in these cities. Psychogeography help determine boundaries of sociability of spaces and multi-sensory experience while ‘Design with Nature’[57] and ‘Garden Cities of To-morrow’ [58]highlights the need of the multi-sensory experience to feed off nature. Therefore, an overlap of these multiple layers can put forth a picture of how Karachi’s urban form can incorporate ‘nature’ interventions, by redefining the urban landscape composition.

[1] Urbanization: the process by which towns and cities are formed and become larger as more and more people begin living and working in central areas. [].

[2] Kaveh Samiei, ‘Architecture and Urban Ecosystems: From Segregation to Integration’, The nature of cities (New York City ,Sound Science LLC, Posted: May 26, 2013) [Last accessed: 12th March 2014]

[3] Response to, ‘The growth of modern industry from the late 18th century onward led to massive urbanization and the rise of new great cities, first in Europe and then in other regions, as new opportunities brought huge numbers of migrants from rural communities into urban areas.’ Samiei, Architecture and Urban Ecosystems: From Segregation to Integration:Separation of City and Nature’, The nature of cities.

[4] Modernism: a 20th-century divergence in the arts from previous traditions, esp in architecture. []

[5] Zahra Bidarigh Mehr, ‘Nature through the Ages’ SASTech GUILAN UNIVERSITY: The necessity of inspiring from mature in architecture (5th edition, Iran, 12th May 2011):4.

[6] Urban planning: thebranchofarchitecturedealingwiththedesignandorganizationofurbanspaceand activities[]

[7] Ebenezer Howard. Garden Cities of To-morrow.

[8] Urban areas hold, 52.1 percentage of the world’s population. ‘World Urbanization Prospect: The 2011 Revision’ United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division’, (October 2012)

[9]Ian L. McHarg, Design with Nature (United States, 1969):City and Countryside.

[10]Unknown author,‘The rising rural-urban migration’. (Updated: 1st September 2008, 12:00am) [Lase accessed: 6th January 2014].

[11] Sayed, ‘The population of Karachi has doubled in 15years’. The Express Tribune.

[12] Hasibe Akin and Tamer Sermet Ozgur, ‘City through Play / A Research on Design and Space: A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception’ Architectural Design Master Programme in Ä°stanbul Technical University (2012-2013 fall term)

[13] Akin and Ozgur, ‘A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception: Abstract’, p1.

[14] Perception: The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. []

[15] Psychogeography; "the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals ". Guy Debord, ‘An introduction to a critique of urban geography’(1955).

[16] Akin and Ozgur, ‘A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception: Reconstructing the Urbanism: The Play Element in City Life’, p5.

[17] Akin and Ozgur, ‘A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception: Maps, Journeys and Games in the Squatter Settlement’, p7.

[18] Akin and Ozgur, ‘A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception: Reconstructing the Urbanism: The Play Element in City Life’, p2.

[19] Theory of Dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful-constructive behavior and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.

Guy Debord, ‘Theory of Derive1956’ Situationist International Online # 2 (December 1958) []

[20] Response to‘[…] Psychogeography seeks to overcome the process of “banalization” by which the everyday experience of our surroundings becomes one of drab monotony.’

Akin and Ozgur, ‘A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception: Reconstructing the Urbanism: The Play Element in City Life’, p2.

[21] Akin and Ozgur, ‘A Game on the Urban Experience and Limits of Perception: Reconstructing the Urbanism: The Play Element in City Life’, p2.

[22] Juhanni Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses (West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Limited, 2005): 25-30.


[24] Noman Baig (PhD Anthropology, University of Texas). A doctoral student at Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity: Department of Religious Diversity.

[25] Noman Baig. ‘Mizaaj of the City’ (Unknown): 1.

[26] Response to ‘…buildings, individually and collectively… are able to recognize society: that it exists and has a certain form.’

Bill Hillier & Julienne Hanson, The Social Logic of Space (London: Cambridge University Press, 1984): p2.

[27] Architectural Determinism: a social theory which postures that all human behaviour can be derived interactions with one’s surroundings.

Varghese, ‘Architectural Determinism’, Housing People and Places: p1.

[28] ‘Urban form is dynamic, ever-unfolding through dialogues of statement and response. These dialogues are articulated by individuals and by groups, who, in transforming the city and nature, are themselves transformed.’

Unknown, ‘Special Addition: Nature, Form and Meaning’ LANDSCAPE JOURNAL, Vol.7 No.2 (University of Wisconsin Press, 1988): 108.

[29] Tech savvy: knowinga lot aboutmoderntechnology,especiallycomputers. []

[30] Technophilia: enthusiasm for new technology []

[31] Technophobia: fear of the effects of technological developments on society or the environment []

[32] Robert Thayer author of the book, Gray World, Green Heart; Technology, Nature and Sustainable Landscape.

[33] Robert Thayer, Gray World, Green Heart; Technology, Nature and the Sustainable Landscape (New York, Wiley,1994)

[34] Robert Thayer, Gray World, Green Heart; Technology, Nature and the Sustainable Landscape (New York, Wiley,1994)

[35] Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, ‘Book Review, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.’ Spirituality & Practice [‘]

[36] Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books; Updated and Expanded edition 22nd April 2008)

[37] Louv, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.

[38] Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder.

[39] Children and Nature Network: Together we can createa world where every childcan play, learn and growin nature. - See more at:

[40] Hank Lentfer, ‘Book Review,The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv’. Orion Magazine (Posted: Sept/Oct 2011)

[41] McHarg, Design with Nature.

[42] McHarg, Design with Nature: City and Countryside, p2.

[43] McHarg, Design with Nature:City and Countryside, p4.

[44] Ian L. McHarg(1920 - 2001): founder and professor of landscape architecture and regional planning at Penn, and the author of such books as Design with NatureandTo Heal the Earth []

[45] McHarg, Design with Nature, The City: Process and Form.

[46] Anne Whiston Spirn, ‘Ian McHarg, Landscape Architecture, and Environmentalism: Ideas and Methods in Context’, (Environmentalism in Landscape Architecture, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection Washington,nc.2000)

[47] Ebenezer Howard. Garden Cities of To-morrow: Introduction (Sonnenschein & Co.Ltd. 1902): 1.

[48] McHarg, Design with Nature , The City: Process and Form.

[49] Ebenezer Howard (1850 – 1928) founder of the English garden-city movement, which influencedurban planning throughout the world. []

[50] Howard. Garden Cities of To-morrow.

[51] Howard. Garden Cities of To-morrow: Introduction, p1.

[52] Howard. Garden Cities of To-morrow: Town Country Magnet, p5.

[53] Response to, ‘Town and country must be married, and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization’. Howard. Garden Cities of To-morrow: Introduction: 3

[54] Dr.Farkhunda Burke, Syed Nawaz ul Huda, Muhammad Azam, Salma Hamza and Qamar ul Haq, ‘Classification and Standardization of Parks North Nazimabad Town- Karachi, Pakistan’ Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences (2009).

[55] Muhammad Mushahid Anwar, ‘Recreational Opportunities and Services from Ecosystem Services Generated by Public Parks in Megacity , Karachi-Pakistan’ SINDH UNIVERSITY RESEARCH JOURNAL ,vol. 44 (2012)

[56] Anwar, ‘Recreational Opportunities and Services from Ecosystem Services Generated by Public Parks in Megacity, Karachi-Pakistan’,p24 – p27

[57] McHarg, Design with Nature

[58] Ebenezer Howard. Garden Cities of To-morrow.