Context is everything.
The New York Times reports with unease that the FDA has approved statin drug Crestor’s use in a preventive capacity for those not currently diagnosed with cholesterol problems.
The degree to which this represents innovation in medicine is a topic to be debated elsewhere. What matters to me is that such use of pharmaceuticals is indicative of something larger. Something fundamental to our future: An ever-growing commitment to the path we’re presently on.
Problem is, that path is built on a 20th century belief that the wisdom of the ages must be supplanted–not augmented, but supplanted–by technological invention. In the end, we’ll have easy fixes for everything. And we’ll be better off for it.
But if our underlying systemic health remains largely unaddressed and unchanged, are we really? And, if not, is innovation in service of a broken model a sustainable pursuit?
For those focused on community and growth issues, it’s a question worth answering because we tend to apply a similar approach to our built environment. As communities grapple with seemingly endless economic questions, we’ve developed a general consensus that what’s needed is innovation. Innovation will create the green economy. It will uncover new sources of energy. It will improve our personal mobility, foster increased convenience and reduce the personal energy required to get things done.
It will perpetuate our current model and allow us to continue doing all the things we’re accustomed to doing. Which may make us feel better, but will it make us healthier–in mind, body and spirit?
What if, instead, we applied our penchant for innovation holistically, with different goals in mind? Goals informed not by symptomatic response but by natural interdependencies and the cultural wisdom they’ve fostered. Like efforts towards agricultural production that also consider the role of food in our health, in the health of the planet and in our relationships with others? Or efforts towards urban planning that consider our natural inclination to connect with other people and not just the science of how we buy things. Or efforts towards transportation that foster different options for different challenges, and that also consider local economies, public health and our ability to remain gracefully in the communities where we’ve put down roots? Or efforts towards architecture and construction with an eye not just towards curb appeal but also to permanence?
The list, like the interconnections that define it, seems overwhelming. And that’s because it requires us to acknowledge–and contend with–something people like me do everything in their power to overcome: complexity.
In short, I’m talking about innovation in concert with nature rather than in defiance. Recognizing that human communities are ultimately natural systems, what role should we, as smart growth advocates, play?
Master chemist or holistic healer?