What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs

What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs, a collection of essays, has just been published by New Village Press (who sent me a copy). Several of the essays are very good, such as those by Pierre Desrochers, Janette Sadik-Khan (in charge of improving New York City’s streets), Daniel Kemmis, Robert Sirman, and Mary Rowe, but my favorite was the one by Janine Benyus. Benyus came in contact with Jacobs when Jacobs phoned her to ask her to speak at the 1997 Toronto conference Jane Jacobs: Ideas That Matter. Benyus was thrilled to be speaking to the person whose writing she’d studied to learn how to write. Benyus wrote about increasing appreciation of the value of biomimicry, learning how nature has solved this or that problem to help us solve the same problem.

[On the Galapagos Islands] I watched a quiet engineer named Paul stand motionless before a mangrove as if in deep conversation. He finally called me over and pointed: “This mangrove needs fresh water but its roots are in saltwater, which means it somehow desalinates using only the sun’s energy. No fossil fuels, no pumps. Do you know how we do it? We force water through a membrane at 900 pounds of pressure per square inch, trapping salt on one side. When it clogs, we apply more pressure, more energy.”

Then Paul asked the question I’ve been working to solve ever since: “How is it that I, as a desalination engineer with a five-year degree and twenty-year experience, never once learned how nature strips salt from water?”

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