The Crisis in South African Cities within the context of the entrenched dysfunctional relationship between Urbanists in the Public, Private and Academic Sectors

(This Paper was first presented on 5 August 2014 at the International Union of Architects – World Congress in Durban. – It was presented at the “Parallel Academic Sessions” after a lengthy process of abstract approvals and double blind reviews.)

Close to half of South Africans now live in towns and cities. There is no evidence of the slowing of this trend. The 2011 Census shows us that rural provinces like the Eastern Cape have a declining population while urban centres like Gauteng show massive growth in population at rates very difficult to plan or develop for.
The growth pressure on South African cities in the last 20 years has of course been the engine driving change in the country, because where there is growth there is a drive for transformation. This has necessitated a profound “re-visioning “and re-imagining of what were old colonial and apartheid cities. This urbanization pressure has created the perfect opportunity for change. Nowhere else on the globe since the rebuilding of Europe after World War 2 has there been a need for urban spatial transformation as here, in post-apartheid South Africa.  There are great obstacles to change including our limited resources, our old paradigms and our vested interests. Not surprisingly the process of spatial and physical transformation has been a flawed process.  No matter how you look at the current reality in South African cities, twenty years into democracy, all can still, without exception, be described using the terms “Town” and “Township”. (Those of you from outside the country are reminded of Apartheid spatial planning’s dictate that black residents be located outside of “town” in dormitory “townships”.)

All of our cities are currently characterised by:
• Inner City areas facing decline, degradation, increased vacancies and deflated rentals.
• Middle class suburbs remain crime affected and under siege from roaming criminal gangs.
• Government subsidised housing is very poorly located, very poorly serviced and of very poor quality.
• A lack of spatial integration (denying, particularly the poor and new urban immigrant’s access to critical urban resources and the urban economy).
In spite good policy documents, South African cities have continued to become massive sprawling, polluting, fossil fuel dependent, urban regions that experience high levels of crime because of shortcomings in the urban economy and the weak social infra-structure. These cities are in many ways monuments to inefficiency, social dislocation and environmental degradation.
To this day, our cities remain memorials to apartheid’s most visible and viscous social engineering projects; divided between rich and poor, black and white and well serviced and poorly serviced. But what is perhaps worse, is that far from turning around this inherited pattern, the forces acting on our model of development since 1994 have rather perpetuated and reinforced the failed pattern.
As we speak, this pattern is playing itself out in the city that has been home to my family and to my architectural career. The Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area will, in the coming months see massive new sprawling developments beyond Motherwell to the east and outside Sherwood to the west of the metro. The process is now well underway to obtain approval for a new R6 Billion “mixed residential” development beyond Motherwell, along the road to Addo and construction has already commenced on massive new regional shopping centre to the west along the N2.
Curiously this crisis in South African Cities continues at a time when there are skills and resources available in the public, private and academic sectors to address these challenges and in fact to transform our cities into vibrant models of  balance, harmony and sustainability.
It is therefore the position of this paper that the most significant obstacle to meaningful urban transformation in South Africa lies not in a shortage of academic “know how”, not in a shortage on public sector investment, not in a shortage of private sector mobilisation but rather in the entrenched dysfunctional relationship between these three sectors.
Each of these sectors operates increasingly as a “silo”, separate from each other with no mechanisms available for true collaboration. The public sector has become driven by a number of imperatives that require it to “procure” the “services” offered by the private sector in a standardised mechanism designed to “procure” other “goods and services”. The obvious fact that public and private sectors can best serve the urban crisis by contributing the best from their ranks to collaborate in providing, vision, leadership and direction is of no concern to the faceless authors of our public sector’s “supply chain management” procedure. The unavoidable nett result of this strategy is a contested, completely unproductive standoff between the public sector “urban silo” and the private sector “urban silo”.  No vision emerges from this standoff; no leadership emerges from this standoff.  Only “safe”, “compliant”, “cost effective” implementation.
In a similar way urbanists in the “academic silo” come under increasing pressure to focus not on the South African urban crisis, but rather on “purer” academic pursuits. A youngster with a Phd that deals with some arcane branch of architectural theory is much more likely to assume a professorship in Architecture than a practitioner with 20 years’ experience in city building. This trend seems unstoppable with a momentum developed from very high up in the South Africa’s higher education community.  Architects who teach are now actively discouraged from participating in private practice. Those from private practice, who give of their time to the university and share their experience generally, do so as volunteers. Academics offering to serve the public sector are treated the same as their private sector counterparts, as a commodity to be bought through a “procurement system” with the same resultant frustration.
While in architectural practices everywhere we find that the energies of the brightest minds are committed to pure commercial pursuits. Top Architects, in top firms dedicate a disproportionate amount of their time on bids, tenders and RFP’s. When the projects are moving, architects at the top of their game commit most of their valuable time and energy in “managing risk”, resolving conflict and ensuring cash flow. Very little time here for reading, studying, engaging or developing the perspective that we know is required to see the bigger urban picture.
In this way the silos grow more and more isolated and positions within them become more and more entrenched. Urbanists of otherwise impeccable credentials begin to withdraw into cynicism and isolation. Great ideas are shelved. Big visions parked. Energy diverted.
Is there any solution? Is there any alternative to these dysfunctional relationships? Is there any way out of this urban crisis? Of course there is. These challenges were made by people like you and I and they can be overcome by people like you and I.

In light of the above, we put it to this conference that the following are now accepted as “common cause” by the three “sectors”; academic, public sector and private.
• Firstly, progress in addressing the crisis in South African cities is significantly dependent on the effective collaboration between “Urbanists” located in the public, private and academic sectors.
• Secondly, effective collaboration is substantially obstructed by current public “Supply Chain Management” procedures.
• Thirdly, effective collaboration is significantly obstructed by current Higher Education human resource management practices.
• Fourthly, the burden of Research and Development required to address the Urban Crisis is not shared in any helpful way by the Architects located in the private sector.
If the above can be taken as consensus, then this paper then makes the following propositions which it calls on the conference to debate:
Proposition Number 1
This paper argues that Architects in private practice have a meaningful role to play in developing vision and solutions to many of the challenges that face our rapidly growing cities. It is further argued that practicing architects are, as a by-product of their professional practice, daily exposed to up to date, complex data that informs and frames the questions and challenges that make up the urban crisis.
The limiting challenge however is that a formalised structure to support and facilitate the assimilation, processing and sharing of this data does not exist to the same extent as this exists in South Africa’s Universities. Universities all have a long established, structured set of incentives that promote research and debate.
Architects in South Africa are organised, primarily though the South African Institute of Architects. A number of programmes are run by this voluntary association to ensure the “Continuing Professional Development” of its members. In its turn, the regulating authority, South African Council for the Architectural Profession (SACAP) determines what is deemed to be an adequate amount of “Continuing Professional Development” in any given 5 year cycle. Within this environment, very little emphasis is placed on ensuring that research outputs of the profession are captured in any meaningful way.
The proposition put forward in this paper is therefore that:
The South African Institute of Architects is best placed of all institutions to formulate a systematic research process that captures the collective wisdom emanating from the work of practicing architects in the rebuilding of South Africa’s cities and that it will be failing in its mandate toward “Architects and Architecture” if it does not develop programmes to address this challenge.
Proposition Number 2
This paper points to the uncontested fact that University Architecture departments through the country have displayed a “drift” away from professional emphasis toward a greater academic emphasis. This is evidenced by the growing proportion of junior and senior teaching staff at Architecture departments with little or no professional exposure or credibility. This weakness arises from the fact that Architecture departments are located within universities where they experience significant pressure to conform to “uniform standards” which align the seniority of teaching posts with equivalent academic achievement. There exists no framework at any South African University to equate professional achievement with appropriate post-graduate qualifications meaningful to selection panels considering applications for teaching posts in Architecture departments around the country. While the South African Council for the Architectural Profession is mandated to accredit schools of architecture, no part of its directives to schools of architecture include the need for teaching staff to have has any contact or exposure to the profession of architecture.
The proposition therefore put forward in the paper is that:
The South African Institute of Architects is best placed to ensure that The South African Council for the Architectural Profession, develops expands its guidelines for the accreditation schools of Architecture to include minimum levels of professional experience for various categories of teaching positions.
Proposition no 3
While some architectural services procured by the public sector are of a routine and basic nature, others call for the Architect to provide significant leadership and vision. No evidence or research has been presented by the public sector at any conference or in any publication to suggest that leadership and vision can best be obtained from private sector architects using the current supply chain mechanisms uniformly adopted by Local, Provincial and National government departments. In fact, the documented evidence of Architects failing to provide adequate leadership in public sector projects grows as procurement process dictated by National Treasury become more uniformly employed.
This “supply chain” practice continues in spite of a number of workable examples where leadership and vision is procured by the public sector using free, fair and transparent processes. These examples include the long list of Director’s General, Municipal Managers, Chief Financial Officers and CEO’s of development agencies who are all procured in interview and shortlisting procedures without the need to submit a competitive financial offer.
The proposition therefore put forward in the paper is that:
There is no institution better placed than the South African Institute of Architects to commit to a comprehensive research project to test the hypothesis put forward in this paper that:
“Current South African public sector supply chain management processes, do not match the best Architectural skill and talent with the tasks that most require these skill and talents.”

This paper calls on this conference to debate the above three propositions with a view to accepting, rejecting or refining the position. The intention is then that this paper, in its refined form, becomes a call to action for South African Institute of Architects, to step into a leadership position in the task of ensuring that the energies of South Africa’s architects are best directed to the growing Urban Challenge facing this country and this continent

The End of Excellence?

(This Piece first appeared in The Herald on 25 July 2014 and is based on a talk I gave at the Athenaeum that week)

I have never visited Paris, but I have, just last night, visited a fantastic exhibition of excellent buildings and spaces at the grand old Athenaeum, in Central Port Elizabeth, entitled; “100% Paris”. You can still catch it. It runs until 25 July 2014. The exhibition is part of a collaborative between the Alliance Francaise, The ECIA, the NMMU School of Architecture and the MBDA. The ECIA’s Regional Awards programme is on Exhibition and so is some very interesting work by the MBDA and NMMU on the Baakens River Valley.

Visiting exhibitions and events of this sort always gets me thinking and this time was no exception. I gave a small talk on behalf of the ECIA and there was some very stimulating discussion that followed. The event got me thinking about “Excellence” and especially excellence in the built environment. What is it? What is its purpose? Has its time passed? Is excellence and means to an end? Or is excellence an end in itself? It got me thinking about “The End of Excellence”.

Because, as I said at the talk last night, I am quite sure, if you were to ask anyone who ever visited, Paris, or London or any other beautiful city, to speak of what was most memorable of their visit, they would speak of the built environment. They would speak of the bridges, the steeples and the spires. They would speak of the parks, the walkways and the avenues.

I am pretty confident, that after having returned from London or Paris,  you would not speak of how neatly the accountants prepare their balance sheets, or with what precision the doctors sew up their stitches after an appendectomy.  Yes, of course these disciplines are indispensable to our civilisation, but we must confront the truth that there is something very significant and lasting about the impression that the built environment makes on us.
So, what about Port Elizabeth? Yes, we have some beautiful places. We have the Donkin Memorial, City Hall and Feather Market Centre. We have an extraordinary collection of buildings, parks and spaces in Central. There are some parts of our city that are truly excellent, but  many of these are all very old buildings and places.  So, I ask: are we still able to create excellent spaces? Or, have we moved into and era beyond “ The End of Excellence”?

I ask this because, excellence is under threat. Around the world it is being beaten up and kicked in the teeth. Excellence is being bludgeoned simultaneously by a gang of three thugs. I am not afraid to name them.

Thug number 1 – “Mediocrity”

“Mediocrity” is a politically correct thug. “Mediocrity” says that perusing excellence is unfair because then not everyone gets a chance. “Why should people that are un-talented, unmotivated and generally useless not also get a chance?”

Thug Number 2 – “Competition”

“Competition” is dressed like a respectable accountant, but still very much a thug. “Competition” says that “if it can’t be measured, it can’t be managed”.  “What makes Central better than Charlo? What makes the North End Stadium better than the Boet Erasmus? What makes Architect A, better than Architect B? Show me the calculation! Is it longer? Is it heavier? Does it have more light bulbs?”

Thug Number 3 – “Compliance”

“Compliance” is a mouse-like, lawyer-like, thug? Compliance says “excellence” what is this? Where in the rules does it say we have to create an excellent city? “Compliance” says, we have made rules designed for stopping corruption and thievery, “What more do you want?”.
The sad news is that these three thugs have taken over public and private sector property developers. The people that build our cities are now controlled by these thugs or have become their agents.  Where excellence still happens, it happens because of the super human efforts of isolated individuals in the public and private sectors, who, in spite of the odds being stacked against them, see to the delivery of excellent buildings and spaces. Even today. Even in our city.

 The private sector routinely deliver s mediocre buildings and spaces because it appeals only to the mediocre tastes and expectations of you and I, the people who frequent their mindless malls, rent spaces in their sterile office parks. The public sector routinely delivers a mediocre built environment, for the same reason as the public sector, but they but they are also absolutely determined to see the each and every individual participant in the long sequence of events that leads up to anything getting built, is equally as mediocre, “So that everyone can get a chance.”
The private sector explains that it has no choice, it must remain competitive. It explains that the stock market will punish it if it were to waste money on creating an excellent built environment. “So as long as our competitors can get away with building poor environments, then so will we.” The Public sector, explains that “We are dealing with tax payer’s money here. There must be competition, to show that we paid bottom dollar.”
The private sector says to the public. “I have done everything you have asked of me. I have got the EIA, the TIA and the HIA. I am exhausted. I have complied. Where does it say I have to develop excellent buildings?”  The public sector says pretty much the same, but is even more exhausted by the complex internal compliance procedures required to so much as move a pencil from one desk to another. There really is no time and energy left to champion such niceties as “excellence”.
Yes, it is sad. Yes, it is demoralising. But it is the brutal truth. Excellence everywhere is under attack and none so more as in the built environment. But, I ask:  Is it the End of Excellence?
My attempt is to convince you that it is not the end. Yes, we are under attack from these three mindless thugs. Yes we are bleeding. But there are things we can do. 

And while there are still things that can be done, it cannot be the end.

“Fullness of Health”, for me, my family and for the Land.

I am quite sure I have more people popping in to the farm over the weekend “just driving past” that I have at my house in Walmer. I think its fantastic. I think its curious. Its definitely something about the rural setting that reminds us about being civilised, about being friendly, about being helpful, about being neighbourly. This interests me.

I spent this morning with the chainsaw again. This time working along the stream, from the dam wall toward the Oak tree. Most of what I was cutting though was Ink Berry. I cuts very easily. The Idea is to cut a path so that I can run the temporary electric fence through as I have done elsewhere. Slowly, slowly, I am beginning to make the land accessible. Beginning to make it manageable, beginning to put myself into a position where I am able to help the land achieve the “fullness of it health”.

I have set myself the objective of achieving the “fullest possible health” for this land. What does that even mean? Perhaps my objective for the land is the same as my objective for me and for my family. The fullest possible personal health. The fullest possible family health. “Health” is the correct term to use when setting an “Holistic Goal” for the land (as Alan Savory would suggest we do). “Health” instead of efficiency, or productivity, instead of profitability. “Health” because the land is a living system. It’s an organism, really, and if it healthy it is much more likely to be to us, efficient, profitable and productive.

I did some work on the dam yesterday. Introducing a “collar”
I have posted a video here:

The basic idea is to draw the water into the overflow from a little bit below the surface so as not to drain the dam of its most oxegenated, warmed water. (or its duckweed) This simple device will make the dam healthier!

Time to knuckle down to work and have a braai

(This column first appeared in the Weekend Post n 24 May 2014

I was planning to write this column on Workers Day, but I was too busy working. Make no mistake, I took the public holiday. Like everybody else, I was out of the office, but I was physically working with my gumboots and my chainsaw, clearing alien vegetation that has come to clog up the dam and the stream. Call me crazy, but I love to do physical work. I love the feeling of using my muscles, my arms and my legs. I love the rhythm of thinking and doing. I love the feeling of physical exhaustion in the evening.  I love the supper time retelling of the achievements of the day and I Iove the deep satisfied sleep that follows it. It seems strange to me therefore, that I have put so much time and effort in my life to ensure that I don’t have to do any physical work at all. My twelve years of schooling in maths, literature, history and science required no “doing”, no lifting or pushing. It did though; prepare me for another five years of study at University which would eventually deliver to me the degrees I required to become an Architect and be guaranteed of never having to push a wheel barrow, thrust a spade into the ground or cut firewood.
On leaving University, life as a young professional was clear, nobody ever handed out a rulebook, but the understanding was that we must put in time at the office to earn our money, but if we put in too much time we will break down, so we must take some of that money to buy “leisure”. That leisure must not involve doing anything productive or meaningful.  We may choose from a vast array on mindless sporting or cultural pursuits. We may participate or spectate. If the mindlessness of the leisure becomes unbearable, we may numb ourselves with alcohol, sugar or nicotine. This is just how it is.
I can see how in the headlong rush to get to the ‘top of my game” I have moved further and further in my career, away from actually doing any work. Like lifting a pencil, to sketch a chimney detail or calculating the fall and cover of a drainage installation. All of that is “outsourced”, because that is the law of competition and the law of competition says that, if I am an expert at running an architectural practice, I can’t be “wasting” my time actually being an Architect. I must spend my time delegating , checking what others have done, motivating, admonishing, fighting with debtors, apologising to creditors because that’s what we do when we get to the top of our game.
Does any of this ring true for you in your life? Perhaps, what each of us needs to do is sit back and look at the route we have walked to get where we are in our careers. Each of us needs to get down and do the dirty work of thinking through how we have been conditioned to look down on anyone doing physical work. Even in our homes, when we can’t resist the instinct to get our hands in the soil that we are married to, we make every attempt to dress up our gardening activities as “leisure”. We call gardening a “hobby”; we don’t call it “work”. When we can absolutely not resist the instinct to grow fruit and vegetables, a productive pursuit, we hide these away in the back yard.
So, what I am doing in my life about my dysfunctional relationship with work? I suppose, I am slowly beginning to participate, wherever I can, in actually doing stuff. I am also looking for family traditions and practices that involve real work, even if it just taking the time to cook the mother’s day meal.  Some families in our region are fortunate to belong to a tradition where work is still honoured. If you drive through the streets of New Brighton or NU 7, on any given Saturday you will find clan groups participating in “Imisibenzi” (literally translated as “works”). These traditional functions mark a range of special occasions, but what is interesting, is that everybody attending the function, works. From the slaughtering of the beast, to the processing of the meat to the brewing of the beer and the peeling of the carrots. Hosts and guests work together. Honouring tradition and honouring the idea of work and how it is in fact not separate from leisure. To a lesser degree, but not entirely dissimilar, on any given Sunday in the suburban backyards of Summerstrand and Sherwood we find  family groups around the braai, spicing the meat, turning it on the flames. The hosts and the guests working together, some in the kitchen with the potato salad and toasted sandwiches and others outside with the chops and the wors. These are important traditions to hold onto, where the tendency is toward the American situation where 43% of all meals are no longer prepared at home and where work is generally regarded as something you sell in exchange for cash.
So more and more I come to see that any activity that helps me understand that work is not separate from leisure and that work is more than just a commodity for sale, is where I want to be spending my time.
In fact, I think I am going to braai tonight. It’s the least I can do!

Look after what we have got.

(I wrote this Column for the 9 April 2014 edition of Port Elizabeth’s daily newspaper, “THE HERALD”)
It was a windy, wet Wednesday. The sound of the angry sea crashing over the rocks was not even audible over the noise of the lone excavator as it crushed and smashed the last remains of what was the Seaview Hotel. Like a deranged beast, like an angry elephant, swinging left and right with its devastating mechanical trunk. The once gracious and manicured Minhetti was no more.
My son sat in the car, dry from the rain, as I stood by the gate, by the sign “Dangerous – Demolition in Progress”. I was not sad nor sentimental, not angry nor frustrated. I did not really even like the Seaview Hotel all that much the once or twice that I had been there. But I was filled with and uneasiness that stirred somewhere deep inside my innards. Over the course of my short life I have not yet been able to figure out what these deep feelings of uneasiness mean, or even whether they are of any significance. I have learned though, that it is normally I sign that I should step back and ponder. So here I sit, this morning, pondering over a fine Cappuccino in an average mall café.
I ponder over how we commit large amounts of energy into showing how frustrated “we” are that “they” demolished “our” hotel, or made potholes in “our” roads. Or how “they” built Greenacres, killing “our” beloved, historical Main Street. We know that it is too late, but still we commit the energy to raise our voice. Like the English complaining about the weather. Is this not a form of insanity? (Knowing nothing can come of our whinging, yet whinging anyhow!) But then I ask myself: ”If it is too late to save the Seaview Hotel, then what is it not too late for?”
I am sure each and every one of us has a best building or favourite neighbourhood, about which we are sentimental. But not each of us has a newspaper column in which to talk about it!
I do.
So, without any shame, I tell you: “Now is the time to take action to save Central, Port Elizabeth.” Framed by Govan Mbeki Avenue, the Baakens Valley, Rink Street and Russell Road, Central is home to the most extraordinary collection of rich and poor, young and old, sinner and saint. All framed in beautiful avenues, delightful squares, quaint lanes and irreplaceable buildings. How long will those of us that find meaning in Central wait before we find the energy to stand up, make a noise and take action? Will we wait for the last heritage cottage to be burned by damp and freezing vagrants? Will we wait for the last antique shop to flee to Walmer? Will we wait for the last coffee shop to tire of hastily hosing vagrant urine of its veranda every morning before the first customers arrive? Will we wait for the last office dweller to driven to Newton Park by the grime, dirt and continuous harassment by street people, drug dealers and petty thieves? When the last housewife, loses her last child in the hip high grass in any number of once perfect parks and playgrounds? Will it be after the bulldozers come, to clear the land, to flatten the monuments? Will it be then that we say “But how could “they” do this to “us”? How can “they” rob “us” of this enduring example of how city living can be tolerable, bearable and even enriching. How can “they” rob “us” of this model of authentic living that was our only contribution to the country’s emerging thinking on the future of the city?
I am sorry my friends, but I must offer to you that we are all delusional. Sadly we have come under the spell of a compelling lie, a myth that there exists such a thing as an “us” and a “them”. We can understand why the politically powerful may find it useful to perpetuate this myth, but it serves no purpose when we are needing to get things done. Right now, the thing that I am motivating, needs to get done, is that we save Central. If you are with me, then let us agree on one action we can take right now, as you put down this newspaper. Go find out more about the excellent initiative underway right now to establish a Special Rating Area (SRA) for Central (basically you pay a bit more rates to get better cleansing, security maintenance etc.)  It’s a “no brainer. SRA’s have been set up all over South Africa and the world.  Jo’burg’s got them. Richmond Hill has just set up an SRA, proving it can be done in our region.
If you do not live, work or invest in Central, all is not lost. Make a point of having a coffee in Parliament Street once a week. Make a point of buying an antique in Lawrence Street once a month, make a point of taking your kids to the Donkin Reserve once a term, make a point on attending a church service once a year in any one of the most beautiful Gothic revival churches. The point I make is, that our energy can be much better spent by expending it before the demolition than after the demolition.
Now that you are clear about what needs to be done: get out and do it! (Please)

Of Simplicity and Beauty

So, it’s Christmas Eve. If you are reading this you have probably survived the malls and the shopping chaos. You have probably spent more money than you had planned. You have probably bought a whole lot of stuff that you don’t really like for people who don’t really want more stuff. But this is our tradition, or rather this is what we have been lead to believe is our tradition. Even those of us who do not come from the land of snowy pine trees, jingle bells and basted turkeys have kind of begun to play along with the “season” and obediently do year after year what is expected of us.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the year-end break. I love floating in the pool, not shaving and pottering aimlessly around the backyard in those moth-eaten khaki shorts that my wife told me to throw out some time before the 1994 elections. But, when I am quiet with myself and think about it, I see that what I love most about Christmas holidays is that there is less “stuff”. There is less driving, less school, less work,  less email, less meetings and less clothing (at least in the backyard).
It is perhaps in this time that I slow down my mind enough to ask myself: “If having less makes me so happy, why do I spend so much of my life energy trying to get more? “ A curious question actually, and I am not sure that I can answer it for myself completely in my own life. But what I am more interested to talk to you about in this column today, is our cities and the buildings in them.  Because it seems to me that the ways in which we have complicated our lives with more and more stuff, is reflected back at us in the shape and form of our cities and buildings that grow more and more complex, less and less efficient and further and further away from the ideal of “natural beauty” that remains embedded somewhere deep inside each and every one of us.
So, what I am dwelling on in my mind these holidays is the question: “Can we find beauty in the process of simplifying our cities and the buildings in them?”.  For me, this quest for simplicity must be a one that understands the city as a living function whole; perhaps in the same way that the beauty of the flower or the butterfly comes out if the simplicity of the design solution as a response to the “whole”. The design of the honey bee colony seems to me to be the simplest, most efficient way of pollinating flowers while feeding honey to young bees. Therein lays its beauty. But our cities are not like this. Our buildings are not like this. Rather, they invent complexity. They reflect in-elegant clumsy solutions of our busy cluttered minds.
The most efficient and simple way to put bread on the table is surely not to be a worker in a giant bread factory in order to earn just enough wages to buy bread. The most efficient and simple way to deal with rainwater can surely not be to pay taxes to build a bureaucracy to run a massive storm water systems to lead perfectly good drinking water off our roofs through complicated concrete channels to the sea, while catching other rainwater deep in the mountains in expensive dams and piping it hundreds of kilometres right to your toilet where you flush it into yet another pipe that takes the water away again to be collected in one big smelly lake before being dumped again, in the sea.
No, of course it does not make sense. But we have become so tired from working so hard to accumulate more “stuff” that we have forgotten that it even had to make sense in the first place. But before you think that I am going on about bread making or water reticulation, I am not. I am asking myself for example: “ Is there a simpler more beautiful way to educate my children?”, “Is there a simpler more beautiful way to provide quality food for my family?”, “Is there a simpler more beautiful way to provide shelter for my family?” “Is there a simpler, more beautiful way to see to it that my family is clothed?”
The sad truth is that I, like you, know that there are simpler and more beautiful ways to do all these things. We also know therefore that there are simpler design solutions for the buildings and cities that must accommodated these things.
 I, like you know, that if we were to have the courage to change, we would be much happier people on a much healthier planet.
 But……where to find this courage? Perhaps it is here, in my backyard somewhere? Perhaps in the cool shade of the Avocado tree?