It is instructive to remember that the birth place of homo sapiens has long been traced to East Africa from where they spread globally, competing with and dominating other species in their perpetual struggle for survival. Family, clan, tribe, habitation, city are the different forms in which they organized socially and in space for a better chance at survival against elements of nature, famine, disease and war. Do they bode well for this planet or will they destroy it and themselves in this ceaseless struggle of competition and domination? 

This is no longer a rhetorical question and the possibility exists of a war that will not ‘end all wars’ but could end life itself. The evolution of the city through history has been a part of this drive, covering the globe as ever-increasing multitudes evolved particular living patterns. The efforts for larger physical areas to exploit, numbers of people to enslave, and the formation of large armies to achieve these objectives has been the story of growth and spread of various political states, large and small. A number of scholars (from German urbanist Hans Reichow, 1948 to present day work at IAC, Pakistan) agree that a city is best viewed as an organism: breathing, living, surviving and subject to decay and death; that the city is a biological process that unfolds following the laws of nature in its growth and survival. The city lives and survives in a hinterland, its context. A mutual interaction, between the city and its hinterland, is assumed and the city fits in the context. Cities are no longer simply regarded as spatially extended material artifacts but as complex systems that are analogous to living organisms. The city is just another form evolved for survival. It is also postulated that the birth of city is part of the evolutionary process as humans continue their struggle for survival in ever-increasing numbers, that it is a mutation of a sort which is a necessary step in the never-ending process of human life on Earth. The claims that the city is analogous to a living organism, is recent and arose from the growth of biology in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

A city must be creative enough to operate in the present while holding to a vision for its future. The larger challenge is how a community is defined in pursuit of the city’s vision and who gets to define it? The challenge is to consider a simpler (rhetorical) question of the “living city”; namely, is it a sentient being, and can it “learn” from its experiences? Or, in other words, for educators, can environmental education make a difference here? The answer to this and so many other questions lie in the way that each of us conceives and nurtures our own home or community and in the way that the educational process unfolds, either at school or in informal settings across the city. Learning is a continuous process that occurs throughout the day while we work or play, not just in school settings, and it definitely occurs here “at home,” which consists of several components: ecology, economy and culture, which together form a multidisciplinary model that considers ecological, social and values-related perspectives that act on local communities and form the true context for teaching and learning. So, then what do we or our cities of Pakistan learn? Globalization is breaking down barriers and has effectively ended the overemphasis on specialization. For some years now, educationists and research scientists have shown the limits of over-specialization and the harm it can do to the integrated human fabric. 

Why don’t we say enough is enough… this has to change; in brief, let us focus on humans and not just roads, under-passes and such other gimmicks. Let the city be a healthy organism, cognizant of all its denizens, a caring and just city, not just a beautiful city in parts.


Pervaiz Vandal