Wild Nights: Nature returns to the city by Anne Matthews

My review below considers the entire book, but much of Matthews’s research focuses on the New York-northern New Jersey area.  Eugene readers not familiar with New York City might particularly find more interest in the chapters, “The Shores of Brooklyn,” “The Old Neighborhood,” and “The City of River Lights,” with their more general discussion of ecology and urban planning.  And these are relevant to the issues we deal with here.

For most urban dwellers, encounters with nature are a mix of wonder: a glimpse of a peregrine falcon swooping down on a pigeon; frustration: deer wrecking suburban gardens; and loathing: rodents carrying plague vectors.  Matthews examines the history of wildlife in our cities, and the ways we have encouraged or damaged species.  Migrant songbirds often find city towers fatal, but the striped bass is coming back to a cleaned-up Hudson,

Who wins, who loses?  We continue to crave contact with the green and the wild. Incentive zoning attempts to maintain small public spaces, hopefully with shaded seating, maybe a water feature.  Matthews observes high school boys in baggy pants carefully feeding gray squirrels.

The research is detailed and fascinating, but the topics meander and I was often unclear as to her point.  The last chapter offers a fearful vision of the consequences of global warming.

Reviewed by Sarav


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