Friday, February 23, 2007

Where the Model came from

In Spring 1977, I offered and voluntarily led a course General Systems Theory in which I secretly hoped to: (a) disprove that a sustainable city was possible in isolation; (b) demonstrate the multiplicity of interconnections in such a system; and (c) expose students to comprehensive problem solving, broadening their specialist (major) roles as economist, chemist, philosopher, an so on. About 30 Students signed up for the class.

After 14 weeks we concluded that cities are inter-dependent. We developed interesting systems for transportation and distribution. We developed a world model. Papers were written individually and in teams. I wrote the distribution section, and helped with a couple other sections. I was pleased with how well the students rose to the challenge. We made their set of papers into a book and the college covered the reproduction cost.

After it was over, I knew something was missing. Driving home from Spokane the following summer, I realized we'd left out "Area" -- I had grown up in the enigmatic "Inland Empire"! (A similar personal revelation is described by Donald W. Meinig in The Great Columbia Plain; a historical geography, 1805-1910.) I realized there were many other areas around the world, and they seemed far more important in the scheme of things than states or counties. This was a real breakthrough for me. The Bay Area, Puget Sound, the Columbia Basin, and so on.

Sometime later, I made a popular calling card with a person-to-planet hierarchy to give people whenever I might comment on a presentation (Neal Pierce for example). I hoped to at least encourage people to apply such a framework whenever something was being reviewed or re-structured, creating incremental, rather than revolutionary change. Or, simply to raise consciousness here and there.

We'll revisit the GST class in a blog entry on March 9th. If any of the GST students reading out there, I'd love to hear from you!