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Concrete Jungle

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

Niles Eldredge
Sidney Horenstein
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Concrete Jungle
    Book Description:

    If they are to survive, cities need healthy chunks of the world's ecosystems to persist; yet cities, like parasites, grow and prosper by local destruction of these very ecosystems. In this absorbing and wide-ranging book, Eldredge and Horenstein use New York City as a microcosm to explore both the positive and the negative sides of the relationship between cities, the environment, and the future of global biodiversity. They illuminate the mass of contradictions that cities present in embodying the best and the worst of human existence. The authors demonstrate that, though cities have voracious appetites for resources such as food and water, they also represent the last hope for conserving healthy remnants of the world's ecosystems and species. With their concentration of human beings, cities bring together centers of learning, research, government, finance, and media-institutions that increasingly play active roles in solving environmental problems.Some of the topics covered inConcrete Jungle:--The geological history of the New York region, including remnant glacial features visible today--The early days of urbanization on Manhattan Island, focusing on the history of Central Park, Collect Pond, and Manhattan Square--The history of early railway lines and the development of New York's iconic subway system--The problem of producing enough safe drinking water for an ever-expanding population--Prominent civic institutions, including universities, museums, and zoos

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95830-2
    Subjects: Geography, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE: The Yin and Yang of Cities
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Regarding Broadway: The Urban Saga and the New York Microcosm
    (pp. 1-27)

    Times Square pulses twenty-four hours a day. Flashing neon signs light up the night sky as crowds of New Yorkers and tourists dodge cars and buses, despite occasional crackdowns on jaywalking. We may find similar displays in the streets of Shanghai, London, Paris, and Tokyo, but somehow it is New York, with its Forty-Second-Street-and-Broadway anchor point for Times Square, that seems more than any other to be the crossroads of the world.

    The new millennium brought a sanitization effort to the tawdrier side of Times Square, with sex shops, streetwalkers, and X-rated movies shunted downtown or to peripheral streets and...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Forest Primeval
    (pp. 28-64)

    Think of New York City, and you think first of buildings and streets—of steel, glass, building stones, pavement, and of course, concrete. Everywhere. Especially when you think of Manhattan’s closely spaced streets lined with skyscrapers, an image of unremitting human construction leaps to mind.

    To be sure, there are trees and even parks—some of them fabulous. There are more than half a million trees lining the streets of New York, and over seventeen hundred municipal, state, and federal parks and recreational areas in New York. Manhattan’s Central Park, although not the oldest or the largest public park in...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Landscape Transformed
    (pp. 65-106)

    Up to the point of sustained European contact, Manhattan Island and its surroundings offered a vista of rocky, hilly, and deeply forested terrain, with interspersed areas of wetlands and grasslands. Although Native Americans may have cleared land for settlements and agriculture here and there,¹ postglacial New York was as yet mostly unscathed by human hands. With the official advent of the Dutch settlement in 1624, all that was to change abruptly. What follows are vignettes of some of the most telling moments in the cutting, draining, and leveling that transformed the primeval forest and glades into settlements with agriculture and,...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Growth of the Concrete Jungle
    (pp. 107-130)

    When Beatle John Lennon was murdered on December 8, 1980, the news got out fast. Fans flocked to the scene of the shooting—the Dakota, that enormous apartment complex where Lennon lived with Yoko Ono and their son, Sean, along with other celebrities and wealthy Manhattanites. Now a standard stop on tourist bus routes, the Dakota still looks a bit more impressive than its surroundings. But the building, standing at the corner of Seventy-Second Street and Central Park West—down five blocks from the even more massive American Museum of Natural History and across the street from the world’s most...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Fouling, and Cleaning, the Nest
    (pp. 131-159)

    Like most cities, New York has a history of pollution that is long and dirty. We are standing on the Hudson River docks in Chelsea trying to get a cheap lunch of oysters freshly dredged from the Hudson. Today, a probing search might turn up piles of empty shells; but in the 1880s, oyster barges lined these shores and oyster shacks stood at street corners. We have already encountered Peter Kalm, the Swedish botanist and early student of Linnaeus, who came in 1748 to check up on immigrant settlers in Glassboro and Swedesboro, New Jersey, and to look into exploiting...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Invasion and Survival
    (pp. 160-190)

    We are in the few remaining dockyards across the Hudson in West New York, the jumping-off point for many of Europe’s invading plant and animal species. Colonists have always brought their favorite plants and animals with them, and some other species have simply come along for the ride. Some of the greatest killers of species are simply the invaders that people bring with them, and many of the species surrounding New Yorkers are such invaders. Pigeons, house sparrows, and starlings all came from Europe, as did viper’s bugloss, chicory, Queen Anne’s lace, and many other weedy plants that grow up...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Resilience, Restoration, and Redemption
    (pp. 191-220)

    If we have learned any lessons at all from the study of evolution, we humans who seem to prize stability above all else must recognize, however reluctantly, that change is inevitable. Earth’s natural features—its geography, atmosphere, and climate, and all its living population, from microbes to humankind—remain ever in flux. Geneticists scanning change on the molecular level see a constant flicker of mutation and variation even while the vast, ever-mingling gene pool of a huge population such as humanity negates the present potential for further significant human evolution. And looking back on the long history of Earth (4.65...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Cities, Globalization, and the Future of Biodiversity
    (pp. 221-254)

    Cities are the apotheosis of environmental destruction. They can be cleaned up, and to some extent their natural settings can be restored. Pockets of original habitat can still be found in cities, such as the acres of midwestern prairie land found between abandoned railroad tracks in Chicago, and the native species still found in Inwood Hill Park in New York. Native animals and plants regularly—and apparently increasingly—reinvade old haunts that are now converted to the concrete jungle. No city represents a 100 percent environmental transformation. But most cities come pretty close. As the world’s human population expands, and...

    (pp. 255-264)
    (pp. 265-268)
    (pp. 269-270)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 271-276)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-278)