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urban ecologies conference 2

Exciting news, dear readers!

Your Urban Geographer is taking his urban theorizing out of the blogosphere and into the world at OCAD University’s Urban Ecologies Conference this June! Yes, a spring-time return to my beloved Toronto is near.

As a “Poster Presenter”, I will be creating a whimsical and interactive experience featuring a series of animations/GIFs that I have been developing since my 2011 Fuller Lecture. You can read my proposal to the Urban Ecologies Conference here.



Clips from my 2011 Fuller Lecture – “Everything is Everything”

The broad theme of the presentation will be the accessible expression of the theories of Urban Political Ecology. Though the sub-field is a highly convoluted, academic, jargony time, at it’s heart is the philosophical, deeply poetic and very important concept that humans are not separate from the ecology that surrounds them. Urban systems are natural systems, and if we shift our thought, we can build them to be more agreeable with their surrounding non-human ecosystems, and never hostile. We can also begin to address the social injustices that occur as a result of our inevitable impact on the planet, rather than focusing on conservation (which treats nature as something other to us – a commodity – to be exploited).

Ecology is urbanization, and urbanization is ecology” said Michael Hough, an important nature-culture landscape architect. He is the author of Cities and Natural Processa book that will figure prominently in my research for the presentation.

So, readers, I look forward to this project and sharing it with you! I am excited to think broadly about nature-culture and urban ecology while focusing on specific examples from my personal geographies in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax.

See you at the Urban Ecologies Conference in June!

tree& in this vein, Christopher Hume recently wrote an excellent homage to the late Michael Hough, a Toronto-based landscape architect that intuitively understood the interdependencies of nature and cities, and tirelessly promoted this philosophy.

“Ecology is urbanization,” he declared, “and urbanization is ecology.”

See also tuin./town.

Cross-posted from the Pop-Up City

Amazingly, this is a project that beautifies public spaces, broadens the services offered by a city, and makes use of the most locally sourced fertilizers possible!

When Nature Calls is a project by Columbus, Ohio based industrial designer Eddie Gandelman. It is a public urinal that uses filtered pee as fertilizer for plants growing in an attached planter. When properly filtered, urine provides a number of essential nutrients that are vital to healthy plant growth.

'When Nature Calls' by Eddie Gandelman

Most urinals are a guaranteed eyesore in public space, cluttering otherwise open squares and adding unwanted odors to the aromas of the city. This design however, not only beautifies the urinal itself, but contributes to the aesthetics of its surroundings, filters urine to be smell-free, while providing a nice, shady oasis for its users.

'When Nature Calls' by Eddie Gandelman

The concept of using urine as fertilizer is nothing new. (Beyond peeing on the shrubs after a night of drinking, gardeners have been doing it for centuries.) But as urban agriculture becomes more of a reality and serious business, and people are becoming more concerned with sourcing materials locally, cities have to come up with systematic ways to gather and distribute useful, locally sourced waste – without having everyone peeing everywhere. Rather than a centralized solution, the When Nature Calls urinal offers individual, site specific resolutions to the question of collecting and reusing human waste.

'When Nature Calls' by Eddie Gandelman

And what about number two: Could solid human waste ever be used to fertilize a cities greenery, or to boost the productivity of urban farms? Composting toilets, though gaining in popularity, are for the most part completely banned in cities around the world. The taboo of poo is, understandably, hard to get over. But given enough time to decompose, humanure is a good source of fertilizer for plants such as trees, where the fruit is grown far from the ground.

Ingenious interventions such as this urinal represent the city’s progression toward a model of a circular economy – where there is no waste, no end to a product’s life cycle and everything can be reused – even pee!


I am pleased to present to you a sampling of clips/animated GIFs from my presentation Everything is Everything (Urban Political Ecology: Politicizing Urban Natures). The animation is based on a body of academic literature and my thesis work at McGill University. It is a playful visualization that is multi-disciplinary, informed by history, philosophy, geography, ecology and geology.

I am continuing to develop the presentation, and am currently expanding it by animating poignant examples of urban-nature from my native Toronto. The examples there are abundant, and the results will be inevitably whimsical.

I will keep you updated with my process, but for now enjoy clips from Everything is Everything as presented at the 2011 Fuller Terrace Lecture Series‘ evening of talks themed “The Nature of Things


Though trees and modernist buildings seem diametrically opposed, they are both the result of the processing of material from the earth. Both their designs are repetitive, and logically follow from basic units:


Our cities are built on top of and out of the earth. The quintessential wood paneled houses of Halifax are made from the trees that used to cover the Peninsula. The glass and steel that compose the city’s skyscrapers, though from farther away, are too the result of natural processes:


As human populations (i.e. western imperial societies) grew and spread over the surface of the planet, so did their systems of reason and rationality. At first, Nature was conceived as terrifying, something to be revered and despised. But as untouched Nature began to become scarce, receding in the face of increased population and technology, it became something to be desired, enjoyed, conserved. Nature is a fluid concept:


The world is complex, and it’s often hard to draw a line between where the natural ends and the artificial begins:


Like the bees, we gain our energy from fruits and vegetables, which stem from flowers. The bees use their energy to build their hives, and we, our cities:


I am excited to announce that I have applied to be a presenter at OCAD’s upcoming Urban Ecologies conference in Toronto this June.

My proposal is to do a presentation similar to the lecture I gave during Halifax’s Fuller Terrace Lecture Series’ 2011 season. There, for an evening of talks under the theme “The Nature of Things”, I spoke about the history of the concept of nature, and society’s entrenched nature-culture binary which works to obscure the questions that matter most in contemporary environmentalism: who are the winners and losers of humans’ inevitable impact on the planet.


Clip from “Everything is Everything” – an animation/presentation about nature and cities.

For the lecture, I created a whimsical animation as an easily accessible version of the concepts of Urban Political Ecology – the body of literature that informed my undergraduate thesis, which in turn inspired the lecture. I used examples from Halifax to illustrate these concepts and relate them to the audience’s day-to-day experience of the city. Indeed, cities are places where the supposedly natural and non-natural come together most poignantly.


Halifax, as animated for the presentation.

I present to you my proposal for the upcoming Urban Ecologies conference at OCAD. The base of the presentation will remain similar to that which was presented in Halifax – but the examples will be customized to my native Toronto, where instances of nature-culture are abundant: the Don Valley Brick Works, the system of ravines that run through the city, the “re-naturalization” of the Don River, and the Leslie Street spit.

Enjoy – and whether I am accepted or not, see you at the Urban Ecologies conference in June!

Daniel Rotsztain Presentation Written Abstract Proposal Daniel Rotsztain Visual