woensdag 15 september 2010

The Garden Cities of Xingu

Kuhikugu, the forest city of the Xingu is the Transition Town of the future, here are some sources.

Listen to Michael Heckenberger et al (Amazonia 1492: Pristine Forest or Cultural Parkland?) :
Was the Amazon a natural forest in 1492, sparsely populated and essentially pristine, as has been traditionally thought? Or, instead, were parts of it densely settled and better viewed as cultural forests, including large agricultural areas, open parklands, and working forests associated with large, regional polities. Despite growing popularity for the latter view, entrenched debates regarding pre-Columbian cultural and ecological variation in the region remain unresolved due to a lack of well-documented case studies. Here, we present clear evidence of large, regional social formations [circa (c.) 1250 to 1600 A.D.] and their substantial influence on the landscape, where they have altered much of the local forest cover.  

We use a definition of early urbanism that is not limited to cities, meaning megacenters (5000 or more persons) distinctive in form and function from rural or suburban communities, but that also includes multicentric networked settlement patterns, including smaller centers or towns.

Rather than ancient cities, complex settlement patterns in the Upper Xingu were characterized by a network of permanent plaza communities integrated in territorial polities (~250 km2). This dispersed, multicentric pattern of plaza towns (~20 to 50 ha) and villages (<10 ha) was organized in a nested hierarchy, which gravitated toward an exemplary political ritual center. We refer to these hierarchical supralocal communities as galactic clusters, inspired by Tambiah’s “galactic polity” model, which draws attention to the basic similarities between small-to-large centers and the “radial mapping” of satellites in relation to an exemplary center. The galactic clusters existed within a regional peer polity composed of geographically and socially articulated but independent polities that shared basic features of techno-economy, sociopolitical organization, and ideology.

Long ago, Howard proposed a model for lower-density urban development, a “garden city,” designed to promote sustainable urban growth .The model proposed networks of small and wellplanned towns, a “green belt” of agricultural and forest land, and a subtle gradient between urban and rural areas. The pre-Columbian polities of the Upper Xingu developed such a system, uniquely adapted to the forested environments of the southern Amazon.
The Upper Xingu is one of the largest contiguous tracts of transitional forest in the southern Amazon [the so-called “arc of deforestation”], our findings emphasize that understanding long-term change in human-natural systems has critical implications for questions of biodiversity, ecological resilience, and sustainability. Local semi-intensive land use provides “homegrown” strategies of resource management that merit consideration in current models and applications of imported technologies, including restoration of tropical forest areas. This is particularly important in indigenous areas, which constitute over 20% of the Brazilian Amazon and “are currently the most important barrier to deforestation”.
Finally, the recognition of complex social formations, such as those of the Upper Xingu, emphasizes the need to recognize the histories, cultural rights, and concerns of indigenous peoples—the original architects and contemporary stewards of these anthropogenic landscapes—in discussions of Amazonian futures. proposed a model for lower-density urban development, a “garden city,” designed to promote sustainable urban growth. The model proposed networks of small and wellplanned towns, a “green belt” of agricultural and forest land, and a subtle gradient between urban and rural areas. The pre-Columbian polities of the Upper Xingu developed such a system, uniquely adapted to the forested environments of the southern Amazon.

In pre-Columbian villages, we can expect that the landscape was much more densely occupied and used more intensively and according to more rigidly defined divisions and schedules. Where today (2006) there are three villages of about 500 people (with only one of 350 a decade earlier), there were over 20 settlements in at least two clusters, with the larger first-order settlements ranging over 10 times the residential area of the modern Kuikuro village. These multi-centric settlement hierarchies encompass a small territory of about 400 km2. It is hard to say what the exact scale of communities or regional populations was, but the size and configuration of the settlements themselves is quite clear. Plaza villages, like today, were critical social nodes and tied into elaborate socio-political networks. Primary roads and bridges are oriented to plazas, or more accurately, are ordered by the same spatial principles, which also order domestic and public space, creating a cartography and landscape that was highly partitioned and rigidly organized according to the layouts of settlements and roads.

These areas of heightened alteration and management (saturated anthropogenic landscapes) can be readily seen in altered forest signatures on the landscape, as seen on the ground or in satellite images. The anthropogenic footprint of late prehistoric occupations is still clear today, even in the areas little used by contemporary Kuikuro communities. Rather than some delicate balance forged from millennia of almost changeless human use of the landscape, with almost imperceptible impacts on the forest, indigenous groups in the southern Amazon have a remarkable and indelible footprint. The scars of previous occupations, clear on satellite images, provide graphic testimony to what was lost, and underscore the need to consider human factors in the constitution of biodiversity and ecological zones.

Diagram of Ebenezer Howard's Victoriana Urbanism.

“Anthropologists made the mistake of coming into the Amazon in the twentieth century and seeing only small tribes and saying, ‘Well, that’s all there is.’ The problem is that, by then, many Indian populations had already been wiped out by what was essentially a holocaust from European contact. That’s why the first Europeans in the Amazon described such massive settlements that, later, no one could ever find.” 
As we walked back into the Kuikuro village, Heckenberger stopped at the edge of the plaza and told me to examine it closely. He said that the civilization that had built the giant settlements had been nearly annihilated. Yet a small number of descendants had survived, and we were no doubt among them. For a thousand years, he said, the Xinguanos had maintained artistic and cultural traditions from this highly advanced, highly structured civilization. He said, for instance, that the present-day Kuikuro village was still organized along east and west cardinal points and its paths were aligned at right angles, though its residents no longer knew why this was the preferred pattern. Heckenberger added that he had taken a piece of pottery from the ruins and shown it to a local maker of ceramics. It was so similar to present-day pottery, with its painted exterior and reddish clay, that the potter insisted that it had been made recently. 
As Pinage and I headed toward the chief’s house, Heckenberger picked up a contemporary ceramic pot and ran his hand along the edge, where there were grooves. “They’re from boiling the toxins out of manioc,” he said. He had detected the same feature in the ancient pots. “That means that a thousand years ago people in this civilization had the same staple of diet,” he said. He began to go through the house, finding parallels between the ancient civilization and its remnants today: the clay statues, the thatched walls and roofs, the cotton hammocks. “To tell you the honest-to-God truth, I don’t think there is anywhere in the world where there isn’t written history where the continuity is so clear as right here,” Heckenberger said.
Some of the musicians and dancers were circling through the plaza, and Heckenberger said that everywhere you looked in the Kuikuro village “you can see the past in the present.” 

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