- Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future by Niles Eldredge and Sidney Horenstein
Concrete Jungle covers a wide range of topics, not all of them thoroughly, that represent a culmination of the interests and research of the authors, Eldredge and Horenstein, both long-time scholars and employees of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (NYC). The title of the book gave me the impression that it would describe how NYC, as a large city, has tackled urban environmental problems and developed a sustainability plan. However, this book was more a short history—political, geological and biogeographical—of the city. The title speaks more to the authors’ own love and admiration for the city than it does any actual plans or policies the city has in place for the future.
This book would be of great interest and usefulness to anyone from NYC and scholars actively involved in research in NYC because of the historical information the book offers. Concrete Jungle itself does not adequately cover any of the topics it introduces, instead offering a smattering of interesting facts throughout. For example, NYC Revolutionary War history, the importance of nitrogen, extinctions, invasive species, and pollution are all touched upon. All of these in the context of a large metropolitan area would be a useful introduction of these topics to novices, but readers would find themselves having to complete their basic education on these topics from other sources. In other words, the authors fail to develop a narrative or argument to which all of the introduced topics contribute. Additionally, there are no adequate maps in this book, and a single map of the entire NYC area showing locations mentioned in the book is sorely needed.
The authors describe the objective of Concrete Jungle as follows:
In the ensuing chapters, as we survey the challenges and solutions of America’s leading first-world metropolis, New York City, we will see in microcosmic detail how a small foothold in the New World grew throughout a history that was neither fully planned nor untroubled, and how the city arrived at its twenty-first century position as an exemplar of metropolitan greatness.(27)
This is never achieved by the book. Examples of challenges and solutions the city has faced in the past are described, as are their solutions (see the following sections). However, twenty-first century problems are not addressed and readers are left without a good explanation as to why NYC, the 8th largest city in the world in terms of population, is an exemplar of metropolitan greatness.
Cities are born, live, decline, and die; in between, they are in constant flux. The birth of cities was only possible with the [End Page 251] birth of agriculture. Agriculture significantly increased the human footprint on the Earth by increasing human populations. Concrete Jungle introduces a short history of global agriculture, which could have included the role of agriculture in the rise of urban pollution, land cover change, loss of biodiversity, rise of inequality, disease, and climate change. Short tidbits of information are given about New York City’s agricultural history, which are interesting, but the reason for their inclusion is not obvious in the end.
Much of the NYC area is metamorphic, created during the formation and deformation of Rhodinia and later Pangaea. Dinosaur and ice age mammal fossils are commonly found in the area. The authors’ brief description of the geologic history of NYC was mainly aimed at connecting NYC to the other regions of the world though rock and fossils. Every introductory physical geography textbook uses Central Park in New York City as an example of a glacial landscape, and Concrete Jungle explains where readers can find examples of glacial outwash and till. The fault line that dissects Manhattan and that explains the island’s unusual subway patterns is also mentioned a few times. Manhattan is underlain by...