Two Books for Earth Day from University of California Press (Part Two)

Part Two: The Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future

Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future by Niles Eldrige and Sidney Horenstein is more of a micro-approach to the planet, whereas dodging extinction is a macro-approach. Eldrige’s expertise is steeped in natural history, while Horenstein is a geologist and environmental educator. He also took many of the black and white photos throughout the book, which accompany photos from The Natural History Museum, which I assume he had access to as a former curator.

This book has some overlapping with dodging extinction (reviewed yesterday, scroll down to next posting), such Chapter 7’s title: “Resilience, Restoration and Redemption,” which parallels Barnosky’s Chapter 7, “Resuscitation.” However, this book focuses on one city, New York City, as a microcosm for large cities in general. The Preface clearly tells us that: “The story of cities and their relation to the world is a mass of contradictions.” Further, the authors postulate that they are the “most extreme examples of environmental destruction, because their very act of their construction utterly destroys habitats.” Additionally, cities eat up resources, such as food and water, beyond their limits. At the same time, ironically and paradoxically, the Preface claims to represent “the best hope for conserving healthy remnants of the world’s species and ecosystems…”

This Yin and Yang of Cities (title of the Preface) threads throughout the book, as  Eldridge and Horenstein  give us a detailed description of New York City from eons before we know it as a metropolis and take us through the decades into the 21st century, with its contradictory threat to the environment and wake-up calls to remove waste dumps, cleanup waterways, and provide green space in the heart of city life. (Actually, the comprehensive history of this book could be used as a text for both environmentalists and historians.)

From the “Forest Primeval” (Chapter 2) to “Landscape Transformed” (Chapter 3) to the “Growth of the Concrete Jungle” (Chapter 4), the authors then move on to the “Fouling and Cleaning of the Nest” (Chapter 5), evolving organically to  more positive information  in “Invasion and Survival” (Chapter 6) and “Resilience, Restoration and Redemption” (Chapter 7). This evolutionary progression of the topic ends with Chapter 8 describing a more global viewpoint that culminates in “Cities, Globalization, and the Future of Biodiversity.”

The Concrete Jungle is written in a more conversational style than dodging extinction, and is a little less academic in its approach, so the reading is smoother and the information is easier to grasp for a layperson. But like dodging extinction, this second book takes us from the pessimistic approach to a more optimistic outlook, despite the fact both agree that human overpopulation and all the environmental ills stemming from that, including taking away animal habitats to grow crops, to the burgeoning world population and building cities, to the polluting of waterways from industrial runoffs, to many corporate giants running the world with only a nod to the environment, is purportedly leading us down the path to the Sixth Extinction.

The authors also claim that cities are both the best and worst of civilization and thus we need to address the problems associated with cities from every angle, so that cities actually become the loci of biodiversity, environmental stewardship, and the saving of endangered species, human beings, and the planet. Both books think we can do it. The final sentence in The Concrete Jungle is a powerful statement: “Only we can save the ecosystems and species still clinging to life here.” Hopefully we will do just that before it’s too late for all of us sharing Mother Earth.

The Concrete Jungle is published by the University of California Press.  It has 275 pages with 76 illustrations/photos; nine pages of Notes, References, and Further Reading. This hard cover book costs $34.95

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