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  • Richard Conniff

  • Reviews for Richard Conniff’s Books

    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘cities’

Cities Are For People, Not Cars

Posted by Richard Conniff on December 18, 2018

Yes, there are people in those cars. But not many for the space they occupy.

by Richard Conniff/The New York Times

In many of the major cities of the world, it has begun to dawn even on public officials that walking is a highly efficient means of transit, as well as one of the great underrated pleasures in life. A few major cities have even tentatively begun to take back their streets for pedestrians.

Denver, for instance, is proposing a plan to invest $1.2 billion in sidewalks, and, at far greater cost, bring frequent public transit within a quarter-mile of most of its residents. In Europe, where clean, safe, punctual public transit is already widely available, Oslo plans to ban all cars from its city center beginning next year. Madrid is banning cars owned by nonresidents, and is also redesigning 24 major downtown avenues to take them back for pedestrians. Paris has banned vehicles from a road along the Seine, and plans to rebuild it for bicycle and pedestrian use.

Yes, car owners are furious. That’s because they have mistaken their century-long domination over pedestrians for a right rather than a privilege. The truth is that cities are not doing nearly enough to restore streets for pedestrian use, and it’s the pedestrians who should be furious.

Many American cities still rely on “level of service” (LOS) design models developed in the 1960s that focus single-mindedly on keeping vehicle traffic moving, according to Elizabeth Macdonald, an urban design specialist at the University of California, Berkeley. “Hence improvements for other modes (walking, cycling, transit) that might increase vehicle delay are characterized as LOS. impediments,” she and her co-authors write in The Journal of Urban Design. The idea of pedestrians as “impediments” is of course perverse, especially given the word’s original meaning: An impediment was something that functioned as a shackle for the feet — unlimited vehicle traffic, say.

The emphasis on vehicle traffic flow is also a perversion of basic social equity, and the costs show up in ways large and small. Vehicles in cities contribute a major portion of small-particle pollution, the kind that penetrates deep into the lungs. (Thepercentage can reach as high as 49 percent in Phoenix and 55 percent in Los Angeles. It’s just 6 percent in Beijing, but that’s because there are so many other pollution sources.) People living close to busy roads, particularly infants and older people in lower-income households, pay most of the cost in respiratory, cardiovascular and other problems. A 2013 M.I.T. study estimated that vehicle emissions cause 53,000 early deaths a year in the United States, and a study just last month from Lancaster University in Britain found that children with intellectual disabilities are far more likely to live in areas with high levels of vehicle pollution.

Among the smaller costs: Most people in cities from Bangalore to Brooklyn cannot afford to keep a car, and yet our cities routinely turn over the majority of public thoroughfares to those who can. They allow parked cars to eat up 350 square feet apiece, often at no charge, in cities where private parking spaces rent for as much as $700 a month. And they devote most of what’s left of the street to the uninterrupted flow of motor vehicles.

But that’s not really such a small cost, after all: It means that Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Environmental Issues | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Nine Simple Ways to Bring More Wildlife to Our Cities

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 4, 2014

A snowy owl perches on an office building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24. (Photo: Nathaniel Gran/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

A snowy owl perches outside an office building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 24. (Photo: Nathaniel Gran/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

My latest for Takepart:

The spectacle of wildlife on city streets has been making the news lately, in ways both delightful and disturbing. It’s not just the snowy owls that have mysteriously decamped from the Arctic this winter to turn up in places like downtown Washington, D.C. It’s also the cosmopolitan coyotes living full-time in the Chicago Loop, and the mountain lion in Griffith Park, hemmed in by highways in the heart of Los Angeles. It’s the wild turkeys that some people now regard as “a scourge” in parts of New York City (though others remember when the species was almost eradicated from North America). It’s porpoises that recently swam up the Thames into the center of London, and the estimated 3,000 wild boars wandering around the streets of Berlin.

What’s going on here? It’s possible that urban wildlife enthusiasts, aided by camera traps and other new technologies, are simply revealing some of the wildlife that has always lived, unsuspected, all around us. But wildlife is probably also responding to larger changes in the landscape. One theory on snowy owls suggests that a surplus of lemmings in the Arctic has produced a bumper crop of owls, now spreading out into new habitat. The opposite theory says species are coming into the cities because they can no longer find the food and habitat they need in wilder terrain. That is, wildlife is being caught between landscapes that are, on one side, increasingly plowed under for intensive industrial agriculture and, on the other side, ever more sprawlingly urbanized.

In the United States, just in the 1990s, expanding urbanization ate up an area equivalent to Vermont and New Hampshire combined. By mid-century, cities and suburbs in the lower 48 states will occupy three times as much land as in 1990. Worldwide, 61 percent of people will live in urban areas by 2030, up from 29 percent in 1950, according to a United Nations report.

These changes mean cities and suburbs need to plan for wildlife, partly to minimize conflict, but mainly to welcome and promote newcomers to the neighborhood. “We must abandon our segregationist attitude toward nature—humans here, nature somewhere else,” says University of Delaware entomologist Douglas Tallamy.

Tallamy is part of a growing urban wildlife movement—with an agenda that ranges from promoting pretty songbirds in our backyards to providing essential ecosystem services to meet our own need for clean water, clean air, and food on our tables. Tallamy and other researchers suggest nine useful steps cities and home owners can take to become more wildlife friendly:

1. Bumblebees, honeybees, and other essential pollinators are in decline worldwide, and cities can help reverse that worrisome trend. In the United Kingdom, 60 cities have recently Read the rest of this entry »

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