Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Urban Ecosystems and Nature Writing

Yesterday, Grist published an opinion piece by Jenny Price that encouraged nature writers to focus more on cities to revive the connection between nature and the everyday lives of our predominantly urban population. She wants to see five questions addressed: "what and where are the wild things," "how do people use nature as resources," "how do people transform the landscapes they live in, and how does the nature ... act back," "how do different people encounter nature differently," and "how do people imagine and understand nature." (Follow the link above to see the full explanations for each of these.)

I think that it is useful to be reminded that nature is a key part of urban life, and her suggestions for themes are sound. At the same time, I think that some of what Price seeks is happening already, so that Price's frame for the column is a bit overstated. As one of the comments on the opinion piece suggests, "there is a lot of great nature writing about cities - it's just hidden." That comment referred to local resources and guidebooks. Since I am not well-read in contemporary nature writing, I cannot speak for what one would find in print. But I would venture that Price would find more urban nature writing by looking online, particularly in the blogosphere. Just among bird bloggers, I see many that are based in cities and write frequently about urban birding experiences. Aside from this blog, based in Washington, there are blogs based in a DC suburb, Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. And, of course, there are a boatload in New York: 10,000 Birds, Birding Life, Brooklyn Parrots, City Birder, Nova Hunter, Origin of Species, Pale Male Irregulars, and Urban Hawks. This list is probably incomplete, and there are many city-based nature bloggers outside of the birdwatching sphere. Together they help to answer at least the first of the questions Price proposes, and many work towards other One could argue that the influence of these blogs is limited, but it is not negligible, either.