December 16th, 2013

Increasing Noise Levels Affects Birds in the City

Noise levels are creating several problems for songbirds in urban cities. Due to the noise, it has become difficult for songbirds to communicate. A study conducted by Canadian researches found that due to the anthropogenic noise in these areas, the biodiversity of songbirds has been decreasing. Not only are they having problems in creating houses but due to the noise, female birds have been unable to find suitable males for themselves. The dominant frequencies of noise on the road which easily masks the low frequencies of the birds, this in turn is affecting the number of birds mating which is in direct relation decreasing the songbird population. This survey was conducted in Edmonton and the study found that the number of species decreased as the noise level increased. Along with affecting mating rituals, noise levels in the city are resulting in the death of baby house sparrows. A study conducted  “found that birds nesting in noisy areas were less effective at feeding their chicks as those that nested in quieter places”. Noise interrupted the communication between adult birds and their fledglings, resulting in the parents being unable to feed their young adequately. Urban cities need to acknowledge the existence and value of nature as an integral part of the city. Nature and man can co-exist in urban spaces if the needs of both are recognized.
December 16th, 2013

Controlling Access to Public Spaces through Unpleasant Designs

I recently came across an article that relates to a topic we studied towards the beginning of the semester. ‘Secret city design tricks manipulate your behaviour’ explains how streets and buildings in modern cities are designed to manipulate certain people and thus control their use of the space. These designs are only noticeable by the people they target – otherwise masking their appearance in what looks like city aesthetics and architectural modifications. While I had heard of benches with rough surfaces that prevent people from sleeping on them, I did not realize that these designs extended to uneven boulders under bridges to prevent the homeless from seeking shelter there and sidewalk walls with ridges in them to stop skateboarders from sliding on them. Controlling citizens’ use of public spaces through infrastructure and design is a “fill in for the disappearance of benign authority figures in public spaces, such as bus conductors and park wardens”. Contrary to Jacob’s perspective of making streets available for different uses and thereby having multiple “eyes on the streets” to increase safety, hostile architecture restricts people’s access to public spaces. It makes public spaces feel physically unsafe, and leaves the people on the street helpless because they cannot overcome these manipulations. “One of the problems with these designs…is their implacability. “They are non-negotiable. If you have a policeman prohibiting people to sit somewhere, you can still fight with this policeman, or argue with him, you can do things. When you have a bench that has armour, you can’t really as a human do anything about it.” 

“Unpleasant designs” in modern cities that control which citizens use public spaces raise the question of citizenship – to whom does the city truly belong? 

December 12th, 2013

Study Break! – Julian S.

While I’m sure that everyone is hard at work studying for our final …
if you have a chance, take a STUDY BREAK and check out these fascinating pics of “What Cities Would Look Like Without Any Lights.”

Photographer Thierry Cohen has made these amazing and scientifically accurate images.

Check out the article here

And here’s his site


Lights off

Lights off

December 6th, 2013

“Guerilla Gardening”: Small Actions Tackling Big Issues

“Seed Bombing” or “Guerilla Gardening” is a movement happening in many countries throughout the world. In short, people are planting wild flowers or vegetables that would grow easily without much care in neglected areas within an urban space. They do this by creating golf sized ball made of natural clay and wildflower seeds that can be easily thrown and planted. The welcome page on states, “This blog began in October 2004 as a record of my illicit cultivation around London. It is now also a growing arsenal for anyone interested in the war against neglect and scarcity of public space as a place to grow things, be they beautiful, tasty (or both!)” People are using this means of green graffiti as a way to change the spaces around them. While it can be seen as a small act, it is political in their motives. It has spread in the United States in recent years, spurred by the “green” movement and the increased demand for locally grown, healthful food. Some people view it as a mix of urban gardening and food justice. “’I think it’s also a democratic statement and an experiment in re-creating space,’ says Columbia Heights environmental consultant Tristanne Days, 24, as she carefully assembles seed bombs. ‘We’re making the city what we want (Washingtonpost).’”

This movement is a small way in which people are changing their environment. It is a protest to they way certain spaces are being used in their city. People focus mainly on abandoned spaces or spaces that have not been taken care of. It’s bringing change and awareness into their own hands. Seed bombing is a way for people to change an urban space on their own, in a small but powerful way.

December 6th, 2013

Roadkill isn’t about Murder

It’s about clean-up.

In Boynton Beach, Florida the search is on for a company that will divest the streets of such eye-sores. Complaints about roadkill littering the streets for days have been frequent.The commissioner is ready to do something about it.

Before now, I’ve never taken the time to consider the way society deals with this issue.

Boynton Beach wants the dogs, cats, deer, racoons, birds, and other  animals killed by vehicles (most common) to be removed from the public eye as soon as possible.  But then why don’t the drivers who are responsible for the mess clean it up themselves? Why aren’t they responsible for animal cruelty? Is it because the animal was in human territory? If animal abuse is so horrid, what makes this situation different?

Nature, in this situation, appears as an unwanted invasion of human space. Like we pave over grass with tar, we shovel animal corpses off of our streets. These animals are free to roam their own environment (excusing domesticated animals) and are admired for doing so by many city-folk. But animals should know not to set paw on tar or concrete. Shouldn’t they? It’s very dangerous for critters to enter a space where one ton cars speed to their destination.

I’ve seen yield signs warning drivers about potential deer-crossings, but this warning leads to no punishment. These hit-and-runs have become so frequent, they hold no more shock value. Nature, in this way, is an inconvenience. We do not mourn these animals like we do our pets. Roadkill is just common scenery, an expected thing to see on roadsides0- especially congested highways. Roadkill is dirty, and cities are meant to be clean. Life and death are natural concepts, occurring in all landscapes. But this ugly side of nature is not to be a disservice to city travelers, it is to be cleaned up by professionals.,0,6985354.story

December 6th, 2013

A Forest Blooms in Times Square – Julian S.

Since class, NYC botanist Marielle Anzelone ‏has directed two more tweets to me.

Just to recap, I tweeted to her:

@marielle_anz  Since the High Line do you think more NYers consider the permeability of boundary between city&nature?

And she responded with:

@JulianSeltzer No I don’t. It’s gorgeous, but it’s an artifact. The plants that came into the tracks on their own were replaced w a garden.

AND, here are two more tweets she has sent my way.

1st, she wrote:

@JulianSeltzer And my @nytopinion NYT op-eds … & … & …

She shortly followed with:

@JulianSeltzer The notion that nature doesn’t survive in the city is wrong. See this …

Well, I did “SEE THIS.” Perhaps WATCH THIS would have been more accurate. The YouTube video is of Anzelone speaking at discussion about urban nature at the Nature of Cities session at the Municipal Arts Society of NY Summit, 2013.

*My critique is at the bottom (before the links).

The first question was for Anzelone (I’ll paraphrase): How do your efforts to connect the people of NY to the nature around them —especially through an understanding of native plants— add up to a better NY?

Unsurprisingly, her comments go straight to the heart of our recent class discussion.

She started by saying that urban planners need to take her field of work more seriously, and make an effort to keep up a dialogue with ecologists.

Further, she thinks we define NYC badly. She feels that most define NYC as a world solely comprised of “hardscapes and humans.” For her, that definition becomes an incredible “ideological hurdle to overcome” when trying to have a dialogue about nature in urban landscapes.

Anzelone goes on to share a fact that she hopes will challenge people’s conceptions and definitions of the NYC. She states that NYC has more “forests, marshes and meadows than any other city in North America.” But more importantly, she argues, “This nature in the five boroughs is overlooked and ignored.”

She then draws a case-study from her New York Times Op-Ed, which focuses on several plants that have gone extinct from NYC.

She writes in the Op-Ed:
“Of 1,357 native plant species documented in New York City’s history, only 778 remain here. There are various reasons for their disappearance, but always the causal factor is human — a pest we accidentally introduced, a habitat we made unwelcoming or destroyed altogether. Our urban lives are impoverished in their absence. Here is a selection of plants that have vanished from the city.”

In the video, Anzelone tells the tale of one particular wildflower that has almost gone extinct in NYC: Torrey’s Mountain-mint, a rare wildflower found in Staten Island. The wildflower was not preserved by the city and instead a big-box store was built over the patch were it grew. It was from this experience that Anzelone went on to start New York City Wildflower Week.

Overall, Anzelone concludes, “It is sad that a world class city doesn’t embrace and celebrate its natural heritage” and the place to start is by “reimagining the street tree.” Anzelone proposes that we can make such trees more a part of the botanical heritage of the city if we surrounded it with native ferns and shrubs.

But she thinks that even that wouldn’t be enough. To truly make that point, she suggests — what if twenty of these trees were put in Times Square in the middle of the night, creating the effect of a “pop-up” forest?

1) I think of all Anzelone’s points stated in video, the one that applies most directly to our class discussion is this: even those who have lived in New York for their entire lives are often astounded by the amount of nature they miss or fail to appreciate. —AND that point returns to the original question posed to Anzelone: how will efforts to connect people to urban natures lead to a better city?

2) I think Anzelone comes extremely close to the answer our class arrived at with one key difference. Anzelone wants to force nature throughout the city. She wants her idea of a pop-up forest to be on every city block so that people will have more green space to look at and feel more connected to the nature.

This seems to counter the ideal of density. From my perspective, that seems like a ploy to make the city more like the suburb. Ironically, that could lead NYC to be less sustainable than Anzelone hopes. While certainly green space and park space should be a priority for any city, the idea of constructing thousands of mini-forests throughout Manhattan and the other boroughs seems like an enormous waste of space, time and resources.

3) Anyway, after all this (I’ll be sure to send her the link to this blog), I have a new question for Anzelone. Although she seems critical of the High Line due to the way they cleared plants to make way for new plants … I wonder what she thinks of this idea for a “High-Line-like” bridge in London.

Since the bridge will be built explicitly for the project (i.e. not a project that utilizes existing, languishing infrastructure) does this seem to resolve her main issue with the High Line?

4) Here’s my tweet to her:

@marielle_anz Do you think this solves native plant replacement issue? MY longer opinion

Summary of Links:
- Nature of Cities session at the Municipal Arts Society of NY Summit, 2013:

- “When New York City Bloomed,” by Mariellé Anzelone & Wendy Hollender Op-Art From March 26, 2011

- About Torrey’s Mountain-mint

- New York City Wildflower Week

- About the new London “High Line”

- Marielle Anzelone’s Twitter

- MY Twitter

FINAL Shameless Plug—I’ll follow back any member of this class who follows me before the end of the semester.

December 6th, 2013

Majora Carter and “Greening the Ghetto”

After our discussion in class on nature and the city, I was curious about further exploring the relationship between urban social inequalities and public infrastructure/ accessibility of parks and other natural elements within American cities. Through this interest, I was able to learn about Majora Carter, an environmental justice activist, and the grassroots-based work she has accomplished regarding this topic in South Bronx, NYC.  Carter has been apart of an initiative to implement a green movement in South Bronx through urban renewal and renewed infrastructure. Carter has coined the term “Greening the Ghetto” through this movement, and has encouraged the significance and necessity of more parks and strategically planned greenery in South Bronx and other minority neighborhoods within urban America that lack urban policy and green infrastructure. In Carter’s TED talk, she states that “race and class are extremely reliable indicators as to where one might find the good stuff, like parks and trees, and where one might find the bad stuff, like power plants and waste facilities.” As Carter was raised in South Bronx herself, she speaks a lot of her own experiences in flawed urban policy and the lack of nature she experienced during her childhood. Carter stated another significant statistic on how closely tied environmental justice and social inequalities are, stating that “As a black person in America, I am twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution poses the greatest risk to my health. I am five times more likely to live within walking distance of a power plant or chemical facility — which I do.” Through her fundraising and activism, Carter has formed the Majora Carter Group, an economic consulting and planning firm, and was able to create one of the first riverside, waterfront parks in the South Bronx within the past sixty years (complete with bike and pedestrian paths, and open space within the neighborhood). Carter’s own experiences and work has proven that there are still many significant inequalities with regards to “green” accessibility and infrastructure within urban American spaces, and particularly among marginalized communities of minority race/ low socio-economic status.

December 6th, 2013

Art-based initiatives against Street Harassment

As someone earlier mentioned when discussing Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s graffiti artwork as a response against street harassment and particularly catcalling towards women, there have recently been many art-based initiatives to further express issues of sexual harassment in many urban American spaces. In response to a lot of attention that Fazlalizadeh’s work has been receiving, there have also been a few initiatives that have piggy-backed off of her initial idea and instead have created more alternative, interactive ways of further approaching street harassment and sexual harassment against women in public, urban spaces. In Oakland, California, a group called the Design Action Coalition created stickers projecting similar messages as found in Fazlalizadeh’s work such as “My name is not ‘baby’,” “Stop telling women to smile,” and “I did not ask for your opinion on my body” that they printed onto smaller scale black and white stickers. These stickers were them placed on a variety of different surfaces across Oakland to spark initiation and awareness surrounding perpetuating issues of gender-based harassment in urban spaces. While these stickers may not necessarily alter the opinions of those who partake in street harassment or catcalling, they do in many ways offer a sense of solidarity in letting members of the community know that they are not alone in experiencing street harassment or catcalling. Just like Faslalizadeh encourages members of other communities to spread her message and place up her posters in other urban areas outside of NYC, this coalition is also encouraging interaction and participation in further fighting against this very real, very present issue for women in urban American cities.

December 6th, 2013

ForageSF Promotes the Culture of Foraged Food


ForageSF was started in 2008 as a way to support local foragers in San Francisco. Their idea was to create an environment to make foraging a “viable full time profession.” They have many projects including: the Underground Market/Batch Made Market (a venue for food entrepreneurs to present their food), the Wild Kitchen (an underground supper club that hosts a communal dinner with 8 course meals—each course highlights a sustainably foraged local ingredient), and Forage Kitchen (a Kickstarter funded space that allows people to co-rent the kitchen as a space to cook). Through each project, ForageSF strives to provide opportunities for small food makers to become successful and to highlight the importance of using locally grown resources.


I found ForageSF initially by Google-ing urban foraging. A plethora of hits came up and I was particularly attached to ForageSF because of how much it seemed to (1) establish itself (2) be successful. I never thought that foraging could be a sustainable business. Iso, the founder of ForageSF, posted in the blog in May talking about the fact that foraging was not a trend—in fact, it is part of a global food movement. Some examples he mentioned were a chicken coop in the Bronx, urban gardens/educational spaces/cafes in Helinksi, and a company in Berlin that takes food that is usually thrown away and turns it into jams and preserves.


The voice behind the blog post reminded me of the same passion I heard in the video clip we watched with Slavoj Zizek. He proposed, “…the challenge is to remake relationships, not dismantle it.” Instead of ignoring urban nature or perpetuating the divide between the wilderness and the city, Iso continues to challenge society to blur these lines. He says,

People look to our ideas and create their own, and the freedom of our bubble inspires others to see the ability in themselves to create the change they want to see in their own world. What is great about all this is that we’re not the only bubble. We’re part of a global community of people, all with their heads down working hard to reshape the world into one they want to exist. I truly do believe that if we all keep it up, the world will be a very different place when we’re done.

It was shocking to hear that there was such a large community that was this dedicated to local and sustainable food, especially communities that came together to celebrate meals that highlighted foraged foods. If we can continue to blur the lines between the urban city and the natural world, I only wonder what the culture of food will be like in 20 years from now. Who knows, maybe we will all be eating foods made out of dandelion greens.




Here’s the link for ForageSF:



P.S. There is a website called Falling Fruit where users can post where they are foraging food in the area. Pretty cool to explore what’s around us! Maybe we’ll start a ForageBoston one day…

December 5th, 2013

Green Roofs

I came across an interesting urban phenomenon called green roofs, which are building elements designed to support living vegetation in order to improve a building’s performance. They have been popular for a while in Europe and Australia and are considered both visually appealing and ecologically responsible. In fact, Linz, Austria made all roofs over a certain area legally required to be green roofs in 1985.

Intensive green roofs can even hold trees. They’re said to improve building heat and sound insulation, water resistance, city air quality, and even vermin resistance. However, they are complicated and expensive to install, which might be why we don’t see them as often in America.
A technical guide to the benefits of green roofs and walls emphasized the sustainability of green roofs and increased efficiency to the buildings as well as the importance (without explanation) of introducing nature to the city, as we have discussed in class. But a 2013 article about waste runoff polluting Brooklyn’s water system suggests that green roofs would better absorb rainwater and perhaps prevent this problem. I found this idea interesting in that we have discussed the logic behind many people’s belief that the introduction of ‘nature’ to cities is healthy and beneficial to the environment and the psychological state of city residents, but this offered a concrete example of how incorporating plants into the design of a city’s large public structures can actually make a city cleaner and healthier. It also strikes me as a little poetic that people can exploit what we see as the purely natural elements of our environment to support what we see as the purely artificial elements.

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