Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tuscany v Tassie

For those who don’t know, I am planning a trip to Europe in June. The attraction of Europe for me, a simple Aussie, is the history of human society that is embedded in the environment there. The rivers, still often beautiful, have been subjected to thousands of years of human tinkering. No one would even know the original path of some developed rivers. Even the countryside is not ‘natural’, but the product of thousands of years of agriculture in various forms. The cities obviously are the product of man, but still capture humanities path through history to the present. This humanised environment is beautiful and enticing to me.

Then I consider the wild areas of Tasmania and New Zealand. My Dad is a fan of this environment, hiking the tracks in the fresh mountain air, with none of the bustle of city living. But even in this environment, humanisation (for want of a better term) is occurring. Huts are built. Tracks are formed on the side of steep ravines, and fallen trees are transformed in to nifty seating for a weary wanderer.

When I go camping, it is partly to get closer to nature, but in doing so I change it. I instinctively humanise the landscape as I go - remove fallen branches to make some nice open space, forge a track through to the beach, and make a fire place. I want to go out to nature, but then subconsciously change it as soon as I get there. The result then, for me at least, must be better than the landscape in its original form.

At this moment I believe there must be an instinctive desire to humanise our environment, whether we value natural environments or not. But how does this impact our lives in contemporary urban society?

One important thing that springs to mind is that this humanising desire explains why people apparently ‘over value’ design. I live on the darkside with a Mac laptop. Yes, in my opinion it is more functional, but I must admit, in the beginning, the design really appealed. When the initial decision was made, I simply paid for looks. It was humanised.

More specifically, does this kind of desire explain the premium people are willing to pay to own their own home? Yes, home ownership is more secure, but does security explain the massive premium people are willing to pay? Or does the ability to customise, to humanise, to personalise our space contribute to this willingness to pay? I don’t know; it is just a suggestion.

To put the whole thing in reverse, would there be outrage at the suggestion that you couldn’t personalise your office space at work? Would a premium be paid for home ownership if regulations forbade different colour paint, renovations or extensions, and no changes to the garden?

Then again, maybe I’ve picked up on something that is explained by deeper causes and possibly has an evolutionary explanation.

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