Practical Beauty: Aquaponics Theory Applied

When I first heard of aquaponics, I wasn’t impressed at first. This was still in my freshmen year of Allegheny when I was first discovering my love for environmental topics. In those early years in Meadville, I was more focused in the giant ideas rather than small scale practical solutions. “What’s the big deal about fish and plants?” was one of the many questions I had about it. By the time my sophomore year came around, I was actively and excitedly teaching about it in a local elementary school.

If you are unaware, aquaponics is combining two types of food production (specifically fish and plant growth), to minimize inputs and maximize outputs. Normally in aquaculture (fish farms), a lot of money would have to be spent on filtering out all of the waste that fish naturally produce. Likewise in hydroponics, which grow plants suspended in water so that places without great soil can still produce fresh greens, tons of fertilizer have to be applied.

Aquaponics then combines these two systems so that overall it is easier to care for than two separate systems. The plants filter out the water for the fish, which in turn add fertilizer. Once you get one going, fish food becomes the only input into the system.

What if we made other systems like this? Just like how a natural process (plants and fish interacting) is harnessed in a completely artificial structure, could we utilize natural processes in our largest artificial structures; cities?

For example, the youtube channel In a Nutshell (video above) showcases why we should beautify our cities. Not only does it look nice, but it simulates our brain. People living in cities they find beautiful are generally happier. Patients in hospitals recover faster if in a more beautiful setting. Beauty, in a very real way, serves to better humanity.

But we need to be careful about how we design our beautiful cities. Architects who design from above, without ever considering how people will actually live in that situation, are said to embrace “bird $#!+ design.” Yes, it would be beautiful for people flying over your city, but what about those beings that have to live there, every day, for years?

One of the best examples of this I have seen is in Singapore. The picture below was one I took in high school, and I remember being awestruck. It is not a spot that was designed for tourists (like the Merlion); rather this is along a sidewalk and road that we saw many people casually strolling on. Yes, there are trees beside the road (which is typical in cities), but there are also vines along the supports for the bridge. This is meeting our need for beauty by allowing a non-human organism to do what it does best. In this case, vines to grow up.

In what ways can you think of how we can beautify cities? Should we design them for non-human residents too?