Vol 12, No. 1, January 2016



What does contemporary urban planning have in common with J.S. Bach’s two booklets composed in 1722 and 1742 on the Well-Tempered Clavier? Judging from a recent publication by Jonathan F.P. Rose, the answer is: just about everything. Working from the realisation that modernist urban planning is in need of substantial revision, Rose a developer, town planner and innovative thinker on the concept of the city, has courageously opened up a different way for us to understand the need for linking urban dwellers up into communities who are able to comfortably and meaningfully experience the environments in which they live (Rose 2016).

The music of Bach was responsible in the 18th century for introducing a new system of tuning musical instruments dating back to Pythagoras (~570 to ~495 BCE). The latter, as mathematician, was responsible for a theory of notes based on ‘the harmony of the spheres’. Bach, working from Zhu Zaiyu’s Fusion of Music and Calendar (1580) transmitted to Western Europe by Matteo Ricci and the subsequent work of Andreas Werckmeister (1687), changed the way we today understand music. Bach’s well-tempered clavier is not only exquisite and fine to listen to, but most inspiring for those who can simultaneously think and listen to music.

At a recent session of the Long Now Foundation in San Francisco, Rose discussed The well-tempered city: What modern science, ancient civilisations, and human nature teach us about the future of urban life. The presentation was well received by some of the leading buffs in the United States preoccupied with contemplating the past and future on time scales extending 10 000 years.

Sub-Saharan Africa is currently one of the fastest urbanising continents on the globe, and many of our urban social-ecological problems stem from an apparent inability to learn from the past and integrated with our anticipation of what we need to have to move successfully from the present into the future. Rose’s thinking is succinct. He writes with great clarity. Perhaps we in southern Africa can explore some current North American experiments in urban renewal, development and planning. As a planner, developer and creative thinker, Rose has worked internationally in collaboration with local authorities and not-for-profit organisations to add value to the quality of human lives in an urban environment. He is sensitive to the concept of integrated urban environment where there is space for community formations that accommodate the needs of the wealthy and the less than wealthy, as well as intellectuals and those engaged in industrial and commercial activities in our cities. Interestingly, he argues that after nature (the most complex system we know of) cities are increasingly becoming more complex. We need to comprehend and find solutions to issues of complicatedness in the world’s urban spaces. The city is still a great magnet for humankind in all parts of the globe. It will remain the case for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we need to explore useful ways of cohabiting in these spaces. Rose’s work is worth exploring for those of us who have an interest in wandering along the less explored transdisciplinary avenues of intellectual thought.

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