Thesis snippets: urban nature isn’t a consolation prize

The ways that we demarcate places as natural or unnatural, wild or urban, have many implications. One of these is people’s rights to experience and to belong. Patterns of social disadvantage may mean that a concrete river is the only piece of nature that a person may be able to readily access. Even getting to the beaches on the westside to plunge into the heat-quenching water on a hot summer Los Angeles day is a world away for many. The river has become Los Angeles’ eastside ocean.[1] To discount an environment because it is compromised and falls short of iconic wilderness status, is to deny too many people the emancipatory experience of being in nature. Whether it is downtown Los Angeles, the towering redwoods of northern California, the glass-like lakes of Yosemite or the stretched-to-the-horizon desert plains heading east, access to nature must be maintained wherever even traces of it remain.

 

This could read as an argument for settling for second best, which is far from my intention. In much the same way that between Willow Street and the 105 freeway channelisation has inadvertently created an abundant feeding ground for migratory shorebirds who pass through each autumn feasting on fly eggs and larvae, people genuinely benefit from the ecological values river also, complicated and compromised as they may be. The river is not a consolation prize for those unable to live somewhere more naturally beautiful, or to holiday regularly at a lake house or forest camp ground. The river is in its own right worthy of the attention and respect given to other places in nature. If I could, I would live for some time in a simple cabin on its banks, just as Thoreau and Naess did in Walden and Tvergastein. As they did, I would pay close attention to the character and patterns of the place. Closeness to a complicated place, that was rendered – and is perpetually being re-rendered – by our very own human decisions and desires, has everything to teach us about the place and our belonging within it.

 

[1] Carol Armstrong, interview by Tilly Hinton, 2 February 2016, 2016, Digital Recording, City Hall, Downtown Los Angeles; Anthea Raymond, interview by Tilly Hinton, Monday 11 January 2016, 2016, Digital Recording, Anthea’s Home, Cypress Park.

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