The concept of “ecostructure” includes cultural, social, and economic elements as well as technological– places, institutions, physical facilities, and related services that have come to be called infrastructure. These elements provide the underlying structure and essential support for our economy and society. Development of ecostructure necessarily cuts across traditionally distinct disciplines and encompasses all levels of economic development.
Ecostructure as a word and concept was published and seemingly coined independently in 1992 by me (in the Journal of the American Planning Association) and Stewart Brand (in Whole Earth Review). Others have subsequently adapted the term to their own purposes. The following statement reflects my own (and, I hope, Brand’s as well) original concept.
Today’s infrastructure, as traditionally understood, is a loose collection of roads, pipes, towers, dams, and other facilities. We depend on these facilities for the productivity of our economy and the quality of our everyday lives. We nevertheless often face an inherent conflict between our desire for infrastructure’s services and our discomfort with infrastructure located “in our own backyards.”
The traditional view is changing. More than a decade of public discussion and academic studies have expanded our understanding of infrastructure. We have come to recognize that infrastructure is a complex system of services and facilities; it is at once physical, social, and economic, an essential component of our environment and an instrument of our relationship with our global home. While its provision is largely a local matter, infrastructure has strategic national importance and international impact.
Infrastructure is a crucial element of the legacy each generation receives from its forebears, to be used and held in stewardship, and then passed on to its children. As humanity enters the new millennium, we are increasingly aware of the need to manage carefully this valuable legacy. The need is acute particularly in what we broadly call “urban places,” the cities, suburbs, metropolitan areas where growing numbers of people reside and where infrastructure is most essential. These urban places embody humanity’s greatest achievements, but they are spreading farther than ever before across the countryside, encroaching beyond shorelines and other boundaries, into areas once exempt from human use.
As we learn more about the impact our activities have on the lands, the waters, and the other life with whom we share the planet, we are learning too that this impact extends to our own lives through the environment we create for ourselves. We continue to debate the precise meanings of such concepts as sustainable development, the unity of man and nature, and the relationship of the economy and the environment, but we realize such concepts must play a fundamental role in shaping our living patterns and our infrastructure.
From this realization springs the search for ecostructure. Ecostructure is an environmentally benign application of art and science, technology and culture, to provide the essential support for humankind’s sustainable future, a future that offers progressively greater well-being and opportunity to generations to come. If we are to achieve sustainable development, it must be founded on ecostructure.
We must learn to build ecostructure. Ecostructure’s enabling principles will be drawn from many sources, applying all of our understanding of both the physical, social, and economic processes that govern human activities and the ways these processes influence and are in turn influenced by the world around us. Certainly engineering, economics, and the sciences have leading roles to play, but they must work with others. Artists in various media, historians, and philosophers help us consider the values that shape our society and the choices we make in deploying and using technology. Designers and community leaders help us make difficult choices, to guide our actions in ways that seem most likely to bring lasting benefits. Together we can form the vision of what these benefits may be and then act to realize that vision.
*[In an editorial article published in the Journal of the American Planning Association. I called for development of “a new generation of environmentally friendly infrastructure technologies (“ecostructures)” …” (p366). (Lemer, Andrew C., “We cannot afford not to have a national infrastructure policy,” APA Journal, Vol 58, no 3, pp 362-367. (Summer 1992)) Brand, writing in the Whole Earth Review about the environmentalism of the Army Corps of Engineers, suggested “The natural and engineered infrastructures together constitute the world’s economic infrastructure—the ecostructure.” (p 58) (Brand, Stuart. “Army green – military’s environmental policy role,” Whole Earth Review, pp 58-59. (Fall 1992))]