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The Unsettled

“The city is an edifice at the centre of human centeredness; thus to take responsibility for the city is equally to take responsibility for our anthropocentric being.”
Tony Fry [1]

In his recent book, City Futures in the Age of Changing Climate, design theorist Tony Fry challenges the very notion of "city" believing it encapsulates the essence of all that is flawed in our current mode of living — unsustainable levels of production and consumption with an expectation of immediacy.

He suggests the history of “settlement” is relatively short — humans are believed to have existed for 160,000 years, with settling starting only around 10,000 years ago, and the presence of cities emerging a mere 7,000 years ago. The development of cities is inextricably linked with surplus and exchange and what Fry calls the formation of a “world within a world” in which humans have created their home “independent from their environment.” [2]

He also suggests that the future may hold a return to a different, involuntary nomadism as we are forced to become "the unsettled." In addition to the forces of displacement that we currently face — war and famine — will be added environmental destruction due to climate change resulting in the appearance of Environmentally Displaced People (EDPs). His research indicates that 10% of the global population is at risk from environmental catastrophe with the possibility of 150million people becoming EDPs should global warming predictions come to pass by 2050. [3]

With this in mind he suggests it's time for a radical rethink. He asks “How do we know a city is needed?” [4]

He suggests a new possibility inspired by the first ancient city, Petra, built by the Nebatean pastoral nomads over 2500 years ago into rocky cliffs in Jordan. This city was “a place of passage” rather than a complete settlement, with nomadic groups using it as a way station for supplies and worship. Fry believes its function was “predominantly infrastructural.” This offers an interesting proposition for a city of the future — “the city as a resource with only a service population supporting a community of movement (neo-nomads).” [5]

His text is a passionate call to rise to the challenge of climate change by re-evaluating our cities which can only be done by re-evaluating our anthropocentric perspective.

1] Tony Fry (2015) City Futures in the Age of Changing Climate, Routledge, London/New York, p 1

2] p 4

3] p 6

4] p xii-xiii,

5] p 7-8



Welltuned City is a web-adaption of one narrative stream from the larger interactive installation Sounding the Future. © Gail Priest 2014-16