Archives For Urban Naturalism


“Toward an Urban Naturalism”

A Review of
Crow Planet:
Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness.

by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.

 Reviewed by Chris Smith.


Crow Planet:
Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
Hardback: Little, Brown Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

As many of you will know, I have for some time now been exploring and reflecting on what an urban naturalism might look like.   Thus, I was very excited to find Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s new book Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, in which she too ponders what it might be like to be a naturalist in the city.  As a means to probe the depths of this question, Haupt has chosen the crow, a bird whose presence in almost any environment, even ones that have been highly humanized, is a reminder of the reality that “no matter how urban or suburban, … no matter how drastically removed we as a culture and as individuals may have become from any sense of wilderness or wildness or the splendid exuberance of nature, we will nevertheless be thrust, however unwittingly, into the presence of a native wild creature on a near-daily basis” (11).  Haupt takes this ubiquitous presence of the crow as a sign of hope that humanity will not destroy the tenacious complexity of wild life.

    Over the course of the book, Haupt names and describes essential facets of an urban naturalism and does so using stories from her own experience of watching crows.  First and foremost, the presence of crows is an energizing one, spurring even the most ecologically-sensitive of us out of a hopeless lethargy.  They remind us that even in the grittiest of cities we are a part of nature and we must seek to reconcile the whole of our lives with wild life in all its manifold forms, wherever we are.  Noting our tendency to sentimentalize Nature and ignore the “ravenous uses of natural resources” in our everyday lives, Haupt writes: “When we allow ourselves to think of nature as something out there, we become prey to complacency.  If nature is somewhere else, then what we do here doesn’t really matter” (35).  Continue Reading…


A Brief Review of
The Curious Garden.
Written and Illustrated by Peter Brown.

Hardback: Little, Brown, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed By Chris Smith.

For the last couple of years, I have been starting to explore what an urban naturalism might look like here in Indianapolis.  Unbeknownst to me, in New York City, Peter Brown was at the same time fleshing out a similar vision in the form of a picture book, The Curious Garden.  This little volume, published earlier this year and filled with Brown’s own rich color illustrations, traces the story of a young boy, Liam, whose home city begins as a dull, dreary place, “without gardens or trees or greenery of any kind.”  In contrast to most of this city’s children who spent their days cooped up inside, Liam loved to be outdoors, splashing through the rain and exploring the urban terrain.  One day, in the midst of his explorations, Liam stumbles upon an old elevated railway bed that is no longer in use (which, as Brown notes in his afterword, is loosely based on NYC’s High Line).  Liam finds that up on this railway bed, there is the very tiniest in-breaking of color, in the form of a few wildflowers and other plants.  He feels compelled to begin nurturing these few plants, and as he cares for them – a trial and error process – they begin to spread along the railway, thus beginning a process that will ultimately transform the city out of its dreary darkness into a vibrant green and multi-colored locale.  Brown has taken a minimalist approach to the text here and much of Liam’s story is told simply and creatively through the illustrations.  In reading and re-reading The Curious Garden, I was struck by Brown’s idea that the transformation of the city is already at work in nature and that our job as humans is to seek out these burstings forth and to nurture them as they expand.  This fruitful combination of attentiveness and diligent care provides a solid foundation, I believe, for the practice of an urban naturalism.  The Curious Garden is, by far, the best book for children (of all ages) that I have found this year, and with time it will undoubtedly reign – with Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way For Ducklings and a handful of other books – as one of the finest ecological picture books of all time.


Restorative Commons: Creating Health and Well-Being Through Urban Landscapes

Foreword by Oliver Sacks.
Edited by Lindsay Campbell and Anne Wiesen.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been picking my way through this excellent book, which seems to be right in line with the “urban naturalism” that I’ve been exploring for the last year or so. ( )

I mention it here because it is a valuable resource that will be of interest to many of our readers and because it is also FREE! (either in print or as a PDF e-book)

This new book “explores human health in relation to the urban environment drawing attention to sites and programs that utilize restorative design, foster civic stewardship of natural resources, and promote resilient neighborhoods.”

From the introduction by Lindsay Campbell and Anne Wiesen:

“Parks, community gardens, building exteriors, rights-of-way,
botanical gardens, urban farms, vacant lots, public housing campuses,
and closed landfills offer unique opportunities for restoring social
and ecological function in the public, urban sphere. These fragments
of the commons must be considered as individual and unique, and
simultaneously as parts of a larger system. Even a jail’s yard can serve
as a restorative space for the inmates and staff. Cooperation with land
owners, developers, designers, building managers, and tenants will be
required to work creatively at the critical junctures where public meets
private urban land: including apartment and office building interiors,
front yards, and rooftops.  Humans are unique in that we actively
participate in creating conditions for our own health through the design of our buildings, neighborhoods, and cities at a
global scale.
innovative design is a key approach for building Restorative Commons.”

You can read (or browse) the full book in PDF here:

And, as I did, you can have a printed copy sent to you
(Federal tax dollars doing a good work here!):
( Click “Order a printed copy of this publication” )

— Chris Smith