I know that the nature we are concerned with ultimately is human nature. That is the point of the beautification movement, and that finally is the point of architecture. Winston Churchill said, ‘First we shape our buildings, and then they shape us.’ The same is true of our highways, our parks, our public buildings — the environment we create. They shape us.
-Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson
Environmental champion and First Lady of the United States during the presidency of her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Population boom in cities in mountainous regions of China has led to a project to level more than 700 mountains in China’s Gansu province and other provinces, to make room for urban development. Two years into the project Chinese scientists at Chang’an University have questioned the undertaking.
This is reminiscent of an ancient Chinese fable, ‘The Foolish Old Man who Removed the Mountains’. In the tale, a 90-year-old man convinces his disbelieving neighbour that he can dig away, stone by stone, two mountains that block the way from his house. Because he succeeds (albeit with the help of deities) the fable is often cited — including by Mao Zedong — to illustrate the power of perseverance. But in our view, China should heed the story’s title: earth-moving on this scale without scientific support is folly.
The tearing down of mountains was embarked on with little review of the cost and benefits of land creation. In Yan’an, much of the soil excavated from mountains and used to fill the valley is loess, a silty soil that subsides when wet. Building on loess, loamy deposits, is not the best choice.