Book review of the Nature of Our Cities by Nadina Galle

Book review of the Nature of Our Cities by Nadina Galle

Books


Soil sensors prevent trees from dying in a college town in the Netherlands. A Boston arborist digitally tracks the city’s urban forest, helping efforts to maintain and preserve the canopy. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur develops an app to alert residents of wildfires. In The Nature of Our Cities: Harnessing the Power of the Natural World to Survive a Changing Planet, author and ecological engineer Nadina Galle sprints from one environmental challenge to the next, studying—and sometimes offering—possible ways to repair urban ecosystems in a time of urgent climate disaster. 

As Galle moves from region to region, the book finds its emotional center through the different people she works with. One of the most instrumental connections she makes is with Richard Louv, the 73-year-old bestselling author of Last Child in the Woods and an advocate for fostering relationships between children and nature. On a hike outside San Diego, Louv shares his belief that technology should be used “to restore our equilibrium with nature,” noting that “The right tech gets us outside, enriching our experience. The wrong tech locks us into a screen.” The conversation prompts Galle to study kid-friendly apps that draw people out of their homes, like Pokémon GO and iNaturalist, while also noting that “nature’s value should not be reduced to what it does for us.” 

The Nature of Our Cities is an approachable and easily digestible read for anyone interested in learning more about the convergence of technology in urban landscapes from a social science perspective. However, the optimistic, accessible tone means that the book skates over directly naming systems like capitalism or colonialism as the causes of vulnerability in our most critical infrastructures. Instead, Galle tends to stick to the small picture, calling out “planners and municipal leaders who subscribed to an ill-fated ambition to sever our connection with the ecosystems around us.” 

Galle visits lands recovering from disaster, such as Paradise, California, an area left scorched by wildfires. In this chapter, the author makes a rare nod to the land management skills of Indigenous people, acknowledging the “bounty of plant and animal life” that European and American settlers encountered in the Pacific Northwest. “They believed it to be a perfect representation of an unspoiled, permanent landscape rather than a delicate equilibrium in everlasting flux.” More research into Indigenous land management and technology would have deepened the narrative and provided a less Eurocentric lens. 

Galle, who grew up in a once heavily forested part of southern Ontario, is a naturalist in the way of Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing, “The longer I stay in the woods, the more I change.” The Nature of Our Cities shows her deep enthusiasm for finding ways that technology can support ecosystems in crisis, and will be of use to those interested in such innovations. 



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