What Makes A ‘Metropolitan Version of Nature’?

Metropolis Magazine examines the 21st century efforts at creating wild places in cities, exemplified by the Buffalo Bayou Promenade in Houston and the Passaic River in Newark.
February 7, 2014, 11am PST | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Writer Karrie Jacobs starts the article by contrasting today’s efforts at creating wild or natural environments in cities with the escapist goals of Olmsted’s Central Park. “What’s happening today is different. Twenty-first century metropolitan nature is about embracing the city, not fleeing it,” says Jacobs. (To be fair to Olmsted's perspective, recent research suggests that a more immersive park experience is necessary to overcome the "cognitive strains" of urban life.) 

Jacobs quotes a luminary no less than Robert Hammond, “one of the activists who conjured the High Line into being,” to further that point: “Central Park was meant to be an escape…On the High Line, you’re in nature, but you can hear the traffic; you can see the Empire State Building.”

Jacobs admits that she’s most ”most fascinated by the taming of harsh neighborhood cleavings created by overhead roadways and rail lines,” and identifies the orientation of the High Line, rather than its form or even structures, as the idea most worth emulating in other cities:

“Every city doesn’t need an elevated linear park, nor should every old railroad viaduct be converted for recreational use. But there are features of our cities that we commonly regard as eyesores that should instead be valued as part of our unnatural natural environment. We can find ways to immerse ourselves in these oddities as if they were the uncanny rock formations of some southwestern canyon. Even the most obstructive, no-man’s-land-generating form of urban infrastructure—the elevated expressway—can, with skill and imagination, be incorporated into metropolitan nature.”

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Published on Thursday, February 6, 2014 in Metropolis Mag
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