The Ecology of the Big Apple

New York Magazine has a feature piece by our good friend, Robert Sullivan on the new “ecological hot-spot” that is New York City. Essentially, it is a review of the work that has been done, and is being done to understand the ecology of the Big Apple, with all its disturbances, responses, and resilience. He outlines recent issues of note–coyotes on the West Side Highway and mussels in the muck, and explains why urban areas, often left alone for ecological conservation purposes, are actually far more bio-diverse than we ever would have assumed.

via NY Magazine

His writing merits no paraphrasing, so below I paste a few excerpts that I found to be of particular interest. But the entire article is certainly worth a read, as we work to re-envision ecological thought in an urban world.

He touches briefly on the merit of ecosystems as infrastructure, something of particular interest to me. “Our trees, in effect, are not just ornaments in a recreational facility; they are also civic lungs, cleansing and cooling the air and absorbing rain runoff. This has obvious implications from a land-value perspective, as it would cost billions of dollars to build man-made systems that perform as effectively as Alley Pond Park. “These areas are ecological systems that need protection and enhancement,” says Adrian Benepe, the current Parks commissioner, who was director of the NRG in the nineties. “They are infrastructure.””

And he of course reminds us that this is a fundamentally new way of thinking about nature. “Understanding nature as infrastructure means thinking about it less as a painting to restore and more as a process to encourage. River-cleanup parties, those classic old-school conservation outings, may help in attracting humans to a restoration site, but they don’t necessarily do much for nature.”

And finally, finding common language between nature and the city. “Scientists believe genetic diversity is as important to species survival as sheer numbers. It has a lot to do with the mix, in other words, and if it is characteristic of human nature to look at things metaphorically, then it turns out that the city serves the same function for nature as it does for human beings. It is an intersection, a place where outsiders arrive to set up camp anew, to commingle, to move on, carrying influences and encouraging dynamism elsewhere. Like cities in the seventies, our global ecosystem is in trouble; we are flirting with environmental bankruptcy. If we are to save nature—which is to say, save ourselves—then we need to embrace that which is around us.”

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