The Importance of Parks

via: http://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taksim_Gezi_Park

As anti-government protests continue in Turkey people all around the world are beginning to see that the people of Turkey are not just protesting the demolition of a city park, but rather protesting the government itself. The demolition and rebuilding of a commercial mall in the spot where Gezi Park now stands is, so to speak, the straw that broke the camels back for the Turkish protesters. As news agencies around the world so obviously point out, this isn’t just about a park.

Why can’t it be? I don’t want to attempt to even pretend that I have any extended knowledge of politics and history of Turkey that even makes me remotely qualified to comment on the protests – but I do think I am qualified to point out the importance of municipal parks. I’ve recently been staying with my partner and her father in an apartment that is a short walk away from Toronto’s High Park. Wandering through the park almost daily now, and drawing on research I have done of municipal parks in the past I have been thinking more and more on how important public natural spaces are to cities.

The practical reasons are numerous and varied. From examples such as Central Park being highly valued for cooling down New York City, as well as almost countless environmentalist reasons for having parks anywhere. Yet the social and political reasons are less general. While Central Park’s head designer, Frederick Law Olmsted had a certain vision of what his park would become, he was vocally opposed to what it became in reality. That is a public space for people of all classes and ethnicity’s to come together and use the park in various ways. While I would have to agree with Olmsted that children ought not to be allowed to trample around and pull out handfuls of plants as they please, his Victorian styled recreation intentions depart greatly from the reasons why I and most others enjoy public municipal parks.

Public parks are not only a space where one escapes from the hustle and bustle of city life, but as well from the socio-economic hierarchy that pervades it. While it is true that someone can drive into the park with their expensive sports car to find a parking spot, they are met with the reality that driving just isn’t fun at the twenty kilometers per hour speed limit that is enforced within High Park for example. It is also evident to anyone who has been to a municipal park on a sunny Saturday afternoon that driving, let alone trying to park, is nearly impossible which leads to most visitors to the park relying on public transportation no matter whether they have a car or not.

This lack of any social hierarchy is extended upon, especially among families. Weekend wear at the park is nearly uniform in its practicality, as well as its quality. Only a fool going to the park with their children would wear one of their “good shirts”, lest they wish to ruin it with ice cream, grass stains and who knows what else can happen in an afternoon in the sun. The philosophical value of public parks aside from the lack of social hierarchy can be best defended by looking at Martha Nussbaum’s defense of “Other Species” and “Play” being central capabilities within her capabilities approach to human development. Due to this I will not attempt to elaborate why public parks are important in this respect.

To return to Gezi Park in Turkey however, we have to see what the intention of turning a public park into a commercial retail space entails. To support such an action would be to devalue all the activities and events that happen in parks, it would also support the elimination of space where socio-economic hierarchy lacks power. I believe it obvious why a mall, opposed to a park, is highly dependent on as well as reproductive of further social divide as well as consumerism.

Within democratic elections all candidates should be asked what their opinion of public parks is. What Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shown is that he does not value what parks are and do. It is because of this action alone that it is clear to me that the protesters in Turkey are just and the world ought to stand in solidarity with them. For anyone to devalue municipal parks so much that they would go so far as to remove them from the world are truly committing a wrong.

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Abortion and Animals

I have been thinking recently of a discussion on abortion and the term “pro-life” that I had with a friend and (at the time) fellow philosophy undergraduate. In a nutshell we both came to the agreement that, I as far-vegetarian (I don’t buy leather, eat gelatin, etc) and they a vegan, could potentially take a “pro-life” argument seriously if it was coming from a vegan or vegetarian.

While I can think of plenty of ways an argument could go about, the pro-life argument would probably be quite secular in nature, or at the very least not rooted in the typical context that those opposed to abortion operate in today. What this reveals however is that in the abortion debate that is seemingly unending (in the United States of America most obviously) is that those interested in animal rights end up losing no matter what.

Of course, it is safe to assume that the typical “pro-life” supporter and the typical “pro-choice” supporter both eat meat (this is a statistical fact) and do not think much of the topic of animal rights at least when discussing abortion but their positions both ultimately on the face of it support that animals do not have rights and the entire abortion debate is inherently quite anthropocentric. On the pro-choice side you will be hard pressed to find a supporter who at least would not call a fetus a potential human, and ultimately if a potential human can be terminated in an ethically defensible way then it stands to reason that animals do not mean much in the grand scheme of things. In other words, if a potential future member of your own species is not considered something inherently important and sacred so to speak, then members of other species probably do not have much importance.

Conversely, the pro-life side of the argument rests (most commonly) on a religiously founded form of anthropocentrism. Abortion is wrong in the eyes of the pro-life supporter because it is ending either a potential, or fully realized human life.

 

This seeming lose-lose situation for the animal rights supporter is somewhat remedied by dividing humans from animals, or by placing heavy importance on utilitarianism or the wishes of the mother. Of course an easy fix is by identifying abortion as a specific human problem, and any concerns of reproduction should be left to individual species to work out (be it through evolution, instinct, or what have you).

The issues for the animal rights supporter still remain. I will make the assumption (I could very well be wrong, but I would be surprised to find so) that most vegetarians and vegans are of the pro-choice camp when it comes to the abortion debate. Yet the heavy anthropocentrism still remains in that if humans are allowed to end potential human lives, the idea of ending other animal lives seems quite trivial. While the easy fix above gets around this for the animal rights supporter, it doesn’t solve the problem of how the abortion debate reinforces anthropocentrism quite heavily.

 

It would appear that aside from the easy fix, a form of utilitarianism could also rectify this, such as Peter Singer’s. Singer however remains a controversial figure on the topic of abortion, and even remains one within the realm of animal rights (the most damning and common critique of him would be his position as a “welfarist”). While I am personally drawn to Singer’s ethics, I do not think it be necessary on this topic. The animal rights supporter can easily rectify their beliefs with a pro-choice position if one views abortion as a human problem, and that generally concerns of reproduction should be left to individual species.

This however raises issues of activities that humans participate in, such as population control and encouraging breeding of endangered animals. An obvious answer to these issues is that of Singer’s utilitarianism or variations there of. Yet I would take my easy fix and apply it more generally, as in many cases population control and encouraged breeding are viewed as ways of fixing problems, problems caused by humans. So to take the easy step one step further, we should just leave animals to their own devices and stop interfering with them all together.

 

[Two examples that come to mind in terms of population control and encouraged breeding is that of white tailed dear and pandas respectively. White tail deer have had their populations culled due to them over-eating their sources of food and killings were done in order to avoid mass starvation, what is often not talked about however is that the reason the white tail deer population needs to be culled in the first place is because they lack natural predators, namely wolves which humans have effectively killed off. Giant pandas are endangered due to hunting and habitat loss, direct actions taken by humans. The general position I propose should not be taken as an abrupt abandoning of the help we lend to animals now, but rather a policy of non-interference in that similar problems that we experience now do not arise again in the future.]