cover image Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York

Gotham Unbound: The Ecological History of Greater New York

Ted Steinberg. Simon & Schuster, $32 (560p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4124-6

Describing an island estuary that became one of the world’s most densely populated cities, this fascinating, encyclopedic history views three centuries of continuous transformation of greater New York City through an ecological lens. Brooklyn-born Steinberg (Down to Earth), a professor of law and history at Case Western Reserve University, offers plenty of fodder for New Yorkers’ dinnertime chatter, whether it’s getting to the origins of place names like the Meadowlands or the surprisingly controversial nature of the street grid layout. But his broad vision tells a story of common rights and private property, land grants and landfills, drainage and dams, plumbing and garbage, eutrophication and mosquito control, politics and doublespeak, salt marshes and wetlands, and the deep ecological importance of the points where land meets sea. Steinberg contextualizes New York’s planning choices since the 1970s—when new land was still being created from trash as environmentalism began its rise—and the rise of hazards like heat waves and flooding, helping readers understand events like Hurricane Sandy as more inevitable than shocking. Furthermore, by examining conceptualizations of the green metropolis as ecologically efficient and analyzing how open-space projects are developed, Steinberg’s work strives to makes readers more thoughtful dwellers of the unique urban biome they have created. B&w illus. (June)