lems—for example, it has been retrofitting its vehicle fleet to reduce diesel and other fuel-based emissions. But a constraint is that pollution comes from different areas, moves around, and knows no boundaries, he noted. The city of Houston occupies only 617 square miles in an 8,000-square-mile ozone nonattainment region. Although the city can’t do it by itself, said Ayres, it is going to do what it can to serve as a catalyst to encourage local governments and other entities to get involved as well. There’s a great need for communication and partnership—between urban and suburban, and between the public and private sectors.
Jane Laping, executive director of Mothers for Clean Air, took Ayres’s expression of environmental reality to its logical conclusion. This is a global community, she said. We don’t just live in Houston, and we don’t just live in Texas or the United States. We live on the planet Earth. People in Texas know that we get dust from the Sahara here, and we get smoke from fires in Central America. We all depend on each other, and we have to help other communities learn from what we have learned.
Similarly, Laping suggested that in the human-centric vision and preoccupation with modern technology that enhances our power even more, we seem to forget that other forms of life also occupy this planet and that we in fact depend on them for life. Humans cannot continue to degrade the environment, push out animals and plants, and use their space, she said. We need them for our own survival.
Another need for survival, suggested a participant, centers on the spiritual. It is very difficult to come together to care about something if what is there has been done carelessly, he said. Because values such as beauty, proportion, scale, and harmony have great meaning to people, the degradation of the physical environment and the loss of quality in architectural social capital have an accumulating effect on the spiritual and mental health of the community. Public health would therefore be well advised to spend a lot more time and effort in trying to understand what community mental health really is and what role it plays in social cohesion.