Why Are Phoenix and Minneapolis Starting to Look Alike?

It's not the proliferation of chain stores and restaurants making some of America's most geographically distant cities look more and more alike. Ironically enough, local vegetation is to blame, as the country heads towards ecological homogenization.
November 28, 2012, 9am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Maggie Koerth-Baker investigates the effects of ecological homogenization, as normative approaches to how natural landscapes "ought to look," have caused places like Baltimore, Minneapolis and Phoenix to become "more like one another ecologically than they are like the wild environments around them."  

As Koerth-Baker notes, the topic is the focus of "a huge, four-year project financed by the National Science Foundation to compare urban ecology in six major urban centers — Boston, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Miami, Phoenix and Los Angeles. The purpose of the study is to determine how much cities are homogenizing and to create a portrait of the continentwide implications of individual decisions we make about our backyards."

"Why does any of this matter to anyone who’s not an urban ecologist?"

"'If 20 percent of urban areas are covered with impervious surfaces,' says Peter Groffman, a microbial ecologist and one of the study participants, 'then that also means that 80 percent is natural surface.' Whatever is going on in that 80 percent of the country’s urban space — as Groffman puts it, 'the natural processes happening in neighborhoods' — has a large, cumulative ecological effect."

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Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 in The New York Times
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