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Blurring the border between urban development and nature

April 19, 2018

Generous Cities Summit at ASU discusses urban biomimicry that would balance the effect of development on nature

Cities and the natural world seem to be at opposite ends of a spectrum, at least according to the dominant thinking of city dwellers like Woody Allen and mankind in general for the past 11,000 years: Keep the wolves out and the Thai takeout close.  

Country folks, on the other hand, readily extol the virtues of clean air, water, greenery and birdsong.

But what if cities were fundamentally indistinguishable from the wildland next door? What if buildings were made of carbon-sequestering concrete and released air three times cleaner? What if streets were made of permeable asphalt and birds nested in plants growing up the sides of skyscrapers?

That’s the idea behind the Generous Cities Summit hosted by the Biomimicry Center  at Arizona State University.

The two-day event, which kicked off Thursday morning, is bringing together sustainability scientists, urban designers, architects, ecologists, software developers, and government and business decision-makers to consider how cities can take inspiration from the natural world and produce the same benefits nature does.

Our current building stock already consumes 40 percent of all global energy used, and those buildings are responsible for nearly one-third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Can you be in dense groups and not destroy the ecosystem?” asked keynote speaker Janine Benyus, adjunct faculty in the School of Sustainability and biomimicry advocate.

Images of cities draped in greenery and shining with water features flashed across the screen behind her.

“We’re part of the natural world, so our part has to function too,” Benyus said. By function she meant filter and store water, sequester carbon, pollinate, cool, and shelter wildlife, among other tasks.

Using “nature as measure and model,” humans can become producers of ecosystem services, Benyus said.

It’s going to mean a change in urban design and architecture — and a change in worldview, she said.

“How many ecological functions can we get per square foot? … How many services can we meet? You design into that framework.”

Top photo: Cofounder of Biomimicry 3.8 Janine Benyus addresses the audience during the Generous Cities Summit hosted by the Biomimicry Center at the ASU Tempe campus on April 19. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News

You can never have too much tuba

April 19, 2018

Burning Brass ensemble formed to showcase the talents of players of some real heavy metal (instruments)

Burning Brass turns it up to 11. 

The newest ensemble at Arizona State University packs some serious heavy metal. Not the "big hair, makeup and screaming guitars" kind, though: the "trumpets and horns that used to call cavalry into battle above the boom of the cannon" kind. 

“I would say the brass players tend to be the heavy hitters, the trumpets have the melody and the trombones have other loud stuff,” said conductor and doctoral student Melanie Brooks. 

“There can’t be enough tuba; you have to have more tuba.”

Four months ago a group of ASU tuba, euphonium, trumpet and horn players met over pizza and settled on a name for their new brass ensemble: Burning Brass. The group — 19 students and alumni with one conductor— formed to showcase the talents of brass players and raise funds for a brass scholarship at ASU.

Brooks, who just defended her dissertation, is like most in the group: balancing gigs, rehearsal and her own instrument and work.

She saw a challenge in conducting the group of instruments that often play a supportive role to the winds and strings. Brooks, a saxophonist, not only studies the music and leads her players, she also loads instruments and arranges a U-Haul for performances. To the conductor, it's worth the trouble. 

“This is a good chance for them to shine as their own entity,” said Brooks.

For graduate student Brianne Borden, who has loved the trumpet since she could drown out her brothers’ instruments with it, the challenge has been preparing for their first performance as an ensemble.  

"We are often accused of, and guilty of, being loud and overly confident and strong," said Borden, who hopes that the group can show the softer side of brass.

“I think the kind of default assumption of brass is that it's loud," she said. "We do have both of those components … but you can be both of those things and have the softer and more gentle and lyrical side."

The group will be playing its first concert at the Church of the Epiphany in Tempe and raising funds for a new scholarship. 

For those in the audience, Borden is sure they will experience an emotional response and be pumping their fists — very metal.

Burning Brass

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 20.

Where: Church of the Epiphany, 2222 S. Price Road, Tempe.

Admission: $10 online, $12 at the door.