Love them or hate them, ecological diversity isn’t something we often associate with cities. And yet, that just what this New York Magazine article does. Turns out that in addition to those grubby species that do extremely well in crowded, over-constructed, garbage-rich environments (I am looking at you, pigeons), a number of other wild creatures are drawn to all that cities offer:
(The coyote) was as at home in the city as she might have been anywhere else. This can sound backward. You would expect coyotes to be perfectly happy living in the wilderness, if not in Rye Brook then at least a few hours north on the Taconic, far beyond Westchester County. But people who study coyotes are finding that the creatures are drawn to cities, with their large woodland areas, small rodents, and lack of large predators.
The article draws interesting parallels between the dense human diversity of modern NYC with its pre-urban past:
Like most large cities, New York was built where river meets ocean. But the network of waterways and islands that make up our harbor—the Hudson, Bronx, Passaic, Hackensack, and Raritan rivers; the creeks, kills, narrows, and tidal straits; the bays, inlets, basins, and coves—is one of the most intricate and ecologically complex estuaries in the world. This variety of place attracted a variety of species, all living in proximity, and as a result, New York was vibrant, dense, and diverse before it even was founded. We were a natural capital first.
Ultimately, however, the authors go perhaps too far:
An ecological feedback loop is a natural extension of the idea that nature exists in the city, but it requires a change of thinking that is equally profound: There is no difference between urban nature and rural nature. It is all one ecology, adjusting and cross-pollinating in the face of change. This can be disturbing, since local stresses threaten to disrupt wildlife hundreds of miles away. But it is, in fact, a hopeful idea. If New York City’s ecology has taught us anything, it is that nature likes intrusions—counts on them, even. Change makes for vibrancy. We are not just a city of bedbugs and rats; we are a wellspring for regional vitality.
I’ll grant that it is all one ecology, and that differentiating between human and the animals, what is built and what is natural, isn’t helpful or even true, but whatever “vibrancy” nature gains via “intrusions” and “change” related to the urban is a pale shadow of what existed before concrete smothered forests and streams became streets.
Still, these ideas are reminiscent of other unintentional examples of when places written off as lifeless or ecologically useless turn out to be exotic habitats (such as military firing ranges and the DMZ supporting species that had otherwise gone locally extinct).
Also, my vote for best line in a piece of journalism this week: “(The New York Police and Parks commissioners) are quietly ironing out interdepartmental coyote protocols.”