NATURE 3.x: The Changing Nature Paradigm and its Emergence in the Public Realm

EARTH PERFECT? Nature, Utopia, and the Garden Symposium and Exhibitions,
Paper prepared for the Earth Perfect symposium. 
University of Delaware, Wilmington, DE 2013

Matthew Tucker
University of Minnesota

Anthropocene, paradigm shift, nature, socio-ecological narratives, climate change


North American models of the human relationship with nature are manifested and expressed in the physical environment, including the landscapes of private gardens and public parks. Throughout the 19th and 20th century, a pictorialized version of nature was rendered in our imagination, ethics and the landscape (Cronon etal, 1996; Crandall, 1992). However, the current Anthropocene epoch offers a new context of awareness for emerging issues of socio-cultural importance related to the designed physical environment. These issues of “massive change” include, but are not limited to, climate change, carbon sequestration, river and coastal flooding, sea-level change, urban heat island effect, public health, soil and water contamination and environmental justice.

As defined by Kuhn, paradigm change is catalyzed by anomaly or crisis (Kuhn, 1962). This paper proposes that the aforementioned issues of are catalysts that challenge accepted paradigms of human relations with nature. In turn, the garden and public park are challenging the role humans had/have in addressing these issues. Reflecting a shifting human-nature paradigm, new models of an urban environmental ethos (Light, 2010) and landscape (Belanger, 2009; Czerniak and Hargreaves, 2007) are necessary. These new models speculate upon and reflect changing socio-cultural values and policies specific to the role, physical form, location and aesthetic expressions of the landscape of the public realm. This paper explores the emerging issues driving this change, speculates on definitions of a new changing nature paradigm specific to the designed landscape, and provides a representative cross-section of contemporary park and garden precedents that express the changing paradigm, as evidenced in projects from the public realm.