Tuning our Attentions in the Urban Landscape
A Review of
50 Things to Do in the Urban Wild
Hardback: Princeton Architectural Press, 2022
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Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
*** We’re continuing our new series of off-the-radar reviews — of debut books, books by smaller publishers, academic books, or titles that might otherwise be missed in the deluge of new book releases.
I have lived in cities for over 25 years, and have been fascinated by the abundance of wildlife (trees and plants, as well as animals) that saturates the urban landscape. One might have to slow down a bit and pay closer attention to see wildlife in the city, but it is there, surrounding us at any given moment. Over a decade ago, when my children were small, I would walk with them and point out various plants and animals in our neighborhood, or in the community garden at the end of our block. I wanted to help train their attentions to notice the everyday wonders of plants and animals in our urban place. I wish that I would have had the new book by Clare Gogerty, 50 Things to Do in the Urban Wild, in those days when I was exploring our neighborhood with our kids. Gogerty offers a treasure trove of ideas for how to train our attention to the wonders of wildlife in the city.
In the book’s introduction, Gogerty challenges us to be urban naturalists:
“Even in the most built-up or congested environments, nature still makes its presence felt. A wildflower pushes its way through a crack in the pavement; birds roost in derelict buildings; insects reclaim a pile of wood; moths settle on your laundry out to dry overnight on the line; and leaves tumble from city trees. By switching on your powers of observation and recording what you find, you begin to tune into the natural world all around you, often springing up in surprising places. By increasing your awareness, you learn more about the wild world that runs parallel to the built environment” (10).
The activities that Gogerty recommends (you can browse a full list in the table of Contents by using the “Look Inside” function on Amazon), are fitting for anyone – adults or children – wanting to be more attentive to wildlife in their city. Some of the activities, however, might require adult supervision for children wanting to try them. Some of my favorites included: “Make a Leaf Journal” (pressing or rubbing leaves to help familiarize yourself with particular trees), “Create Land Art” (arranging sticks, leaves, pebbles, and other natural materials, into patterns), and “Be Your Own Herbalist” (growing herbs in pots, flowerbeds, or your yard).
50 Things to Do in the Urban Wild is a beautiful book, with many creative ideas for encountering wildlife in the city, and filled with illustrations. But a significant portion of its beauty also lies in the central idea that even in the most densely populated urban environment, we are surrounded by wildlife, if we are willing to train our attentions to look for this abundance of plants, animals, and other natural phenomena. If you live in or near a city, this book offers you a rich source of life, if you will allow it to tune your attention to the interconnected web of life in which you are embedded.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com