Simian urbanism

[Image: Peter Jackson’s entirely computer-generated Manhattan, created for his remake of King Kong; spotted at this quick and entertaining history of that film, including early Modernist high-rise design, Italian futurism and the radio dreams of an earlier era – reactions to the city, crossing species lines].

How do other species survive in our cities? King Kong, The Birds, Willard, King Rat. The brutalist concrete masses of Modernist architecture, swelling upward into towers on the edges of parks. Distracting birds to their death. Home to roaches and rats.
“As we lure animals into urban environments with promises of food and shelter, we could be exposing them to hazards they are ill-equipped to handle,” we read in New Scientist.
“In British cities,” for instance, “foxes are now commonplace. In southern California, bighorn sheep journey down from the mountains to feed on lush lawns. Further up the Pacific coast, Canada geese nest on balconies and roofs in Vancouver. And in Australia, Melbourne is witnessing the return of rainbow lorikeets, flashy parrots not seen in the city since the 1920s. Even peregrine falcons – majestic birds of prey redolent of lonely sea cliffs and wide-open country – have gone urban. In the heart of New York city, 16 pairs are now raising their young.”

This is “urban natural history,” and it is rapidly crossing over into an architectural concern, as human habitations are being re-designed for other species.
Look at London: “Planners are incorporating [trans-species design] ideas into large-scale housing developments. Take the derelict sites and old docks east of London earmarked for the massive Thames Gateway project. This ‘brownfield’ site supports a band of black redstarts, attractive birds which moved in after the second world war. The wasteland is perfect for them because they feed on weedy plants that grow on land with few nutrients. What they cannot tolerate is the sterile bark-mulched landscaping routinely used on new developments. So eco-planners at Thames Gateway advocate building roofs with sparsely vegetated areas where the black redstarts could forage.”
In any case, the following melancholic description of what happens to many animal species once they make the urban jump applies equally well to humans – who are, after all, an animal species: “Ecological traps arise because animals can make mistakes: they can be seduced by a man-made habitat that looks good but in fact has a hidden downside. Animals trying to breed there will fail over and over again to raise young, yet new pairs will keep moving into the neighbourhood to keep the population up.”
Soon hawks, bears – even rats – will be popping anti-depressants; they’ll join the sad crowds of walled-in urbanites who no longer recall why they moved to the city in the first place…

Just like King Kong.

14 thoughts on “Simian urbanism”

  1. Thanks for the tips! Meanwhile, I’m sorry to admit this, but I find that final King Kong poster up there hilarious… If only they had actually used the tagline.

    Anyway, Manuel De Landa has loads of stuff written on animals in the city: genetic lines, rodents, urban scavengers. Etc. It’s in 1000 Years of Nonlinear History.

  2. Damn, I lost the thread. I am, however, enjoying the BLDGBLOG-King Kong tie-in.

    The poster above actually makes me a little sad: he’s standing on the Twin Towers.

    Not Anon: You know, don’t you, that “Pols”, listed as a “team member” for this site, is our mutual friend from back in the day. He’s the one that originally directed me here.

  3. Signore Grigori: Yes, I eagerly await contact with the Pols.

    Mr. Geoff: Are you referring to the TOC of “1,000 Years…” because, other than that, the introduction, and the blurbs on the back, I’ve not been able to read it.

    Maybe the coincidence of my ESL and his ESL are creating a lacuna out of which pithy, sprightly sentences cannot emerge. (See! It’s happening.)

  4. Octo – how do you know Dan????

    And Jose, check out pp.149-179 in De Landa, that seems – through a really quick glance – to be the chapter I was most likely thinking of. Though I am not advising that anyone rush out and buy it, incidentally, just that that section seemed relevant to the topic at hand: animals. In cities. Being fooled.

    There’s a sitcom in there somewhere…

  5. re: the reunion

    I ordered a keg, is that OK?

    re: Delanda

    Sadly, I don’t have the Delanda books with me. All of our books are in boxes in New Jersey. Well, the ones the USPS didn’t decide to pilfer. It’s not a searchable title at Amazon nor does that section show up in Google books.

    I’m a guess that if I were to copy-and-paste chunks of “Concrete Jungle” into a Michel Foucault version of the Swedish Chef parser, we could recreate that section, no?

    Don’t get me wrong: I think he asks all the right questions. Maybe it’s me. I have a short attention span to begin with. Reading a writer with an even shorter attention span…

  6. “Jose”: Oh, give it up–you love it.

    And I think you’d have to add half a cup of Deleuze into that blender.

    But I will say that the DeLanda book definitely looks good with certain furniture.

  7. Señor Pulpo,

    But I have given it up! This is my bookshelf. And, sadly, the only one I can say I’ve read in its entirety is the comic book.

    We should probably wait for Geoff to make another post before he starts charging us rent, no?

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