CAN WE HUMANS FIND FULFILLMENT on the earth without destroying it? Can we design (or redesign) our buildings and communities so that we will leave a healthier world to our great-grandchildren? Can our appetite for food and natural resources be met in sustainable ways?
These are the questions at the heart of this issue. Exploring them will take us into areas like architecture, urban planning, energy use, agriculture, and community development.
These questions have been on a wild roller coaster of public interest in the past few decades. Before 1960, our society hardly even knew these questions existed. Then, in the ’60s and ’70s, "ecology," "environment," "population explosion," and "energy crisis" all rapidly became common concepts. Spurred on by this attention and awareness, all kinds of people experimented with appropriate technology, solar energy, organic gardening and recycling. But then along came the Reagan Era, and media interest in these questions seemed to evaporate overnight.
What happened? Did the need for concern disappear? Hardly, but people grew tired of hearing the bad news. Was the media being manipulated? Probably, but we’ll fail to see the whole picture if we just blame special interest pressures for the shift in public interest. Had appropriate technology failed? No, but it didn’t fully succeed, either. Technically, it was a remarkable success story. Of course, there were lots of experiments that failed or proved uneconomical – that’s to be expected – but a great deal was learned about how to live more efficiently. Yet implementing these technical successes turned out to be a social and political problem, and that is where the appropriate technology movement got stymied.
Aware of this history, we decided to do this issue on "sustainable habitat" as a way to discover what has been happening with these questions since they lost the limelight. What we have found is more good news than we expected. On the technical side, many of the biggest success stories have ceased to be news because they have become so much just a part of normal life. Even more heartening, there are the beginnings of progress on the social/political/economic side. What might be called "appropriate community development" is starting to take shape.
Which is not to say that there are not still massive – and growing – problems. But it looks like we may be on the verge of a new wave of creative movement that will blend the best technical learnings from the 1970s with the kind of social and human system sophistication that must complement the technical.
We offer this issue as a small contribution to the emergence of this much needed new wave.