A recent Time cover story called for hunting to thin out the wildlife that is now flourishing in many American suburbs and cities. While the story focuses more on the resurgent populations of deer, Canadian geese, and other animals that have thrived because humans have changed the setting (often removing the predators, providing easy food sources, etc.), the story presents a chance to have a larger conversation about the intersection of nature and suburbs.
The formation of the first suburbs, in England in the late 1700s and in the United States in the mid-1800s, was driven in part by a desire to be closer to nature. The growing cities of the Industrial Revolution, places like London and New York City, were home to an increasing number of polluting factories and more disease. Interestingly, the nature in the early suburbs was often still quite curated: building around central parks or building winding streets to take advantage of natural ridges and groves. As suburbs expanded, lots were generally smaller and nature was reduced to smaller lawns. Of course, these lawns today can’t be “natural” – most places have regulations about the height of the grass as the appearance of a well-manicured lawn. Similarly, suburban critic James Howard Kuntsler makes fun of some of the “natural” features of today’s suburbs, like the trees in the middle of big parking lots outside big box stores.
The best book I’ve read on the subject is The Bulldozer in the Countryside by historian Adam Rome. Many suburbs and cities today are plagued by the consequences of running roughshod over nature in matters like dealing with stormwater or residents hoping to save open space or Forest Preserves now trying to acquire land.