cover image Urban Jungle: The History and Future of Nature in the City

Urban Jungle: The History and Future of Nature in the City

Ben Wilson. Doubleday, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-54811-3

“The city is an ecosystem,” contends historian Wilson (Metropolis) in this thorough exploration of urban ecology. He studies metropolitan “edgelands”—“the middens and rubbish dumps, the abandoned sites and empty rooftops, the strips of land behind chain-link fences”—suggesting they act as life support systems and mitigate the effects of climate change. Wilson covers the founding of the first cities in Mesopotamia around 5000 BCE, where the bounty of food sources afforded by the wetlands freed up time to develop infrastructure and trade, and continues through to the present day. He describes how developments in such seaside locales as Staten Island’s Oakwood Beach are being dismantled so that the marshes can return and serve as a buffer between rising sea levels and communities further inland. Wilson is optimistic about the progress being made to ameliorate ecological damage, detailing such “rewilding” projects as the transformation of a garbage dump into a park in New York City and Amsterdam’s efforts to function “as a healthy local ecosystem” by achieving zero waste. Wilson’s account of these efforts makes a convincing case that the natural world extends farther than commonly acknowledged, and the trivia is delightful (London pigeons take the tube to travel between their nests and food sources). Stimulating and wide-ranging, this will change how city dwellers view their relationship with nature. (Mar.)