Stephanie Ross

Paradoxes and Puzzles: Appreciating Gardens and Urban Nature



2.      Two extreme answers to what is nature (that we should reject)

         a.      Nature = Wildness (what is totally uninfluenced by humans)

                   i.       “The place were we are is the place where nature is not” (Cronon)

                   ii.      Paradigm cases: virgin forest, vast deserts, open sea

                   iii.     No nature left, because everything has been affected by human culture, no part of earth has escaped our influence

                            (1)    But pouring a 6 oz can of tomato juice in the ocean does not make it unnatural

         b.      Nature = Everything

                   i.       Since we’re natural then so too are our activities and their products

                   ii.      Rings false: New Orleans Superdome as natural a rain?

3.      Ross view of nature

         a.      Nature and culture are oppositional

         b.      Nature and culture interpenetrate

         c.      Unlikely to find pure examples of either

         d.      Naturalness comes in degrees

                   i.       Human walking across a pristine beach and leaving footprints is quite different from a developer constructing condos all along the same beach



5.      Restoration

         a.      If natural comes in degrees

         b.      Should be possible to enhance as well as degrade naturalness of given site

6.      Elliot on impossibility of restoration

         a.      Nature restoration like forged art

         b.      Restoring natural areas can’t bring back value that was previously there

         c.      Natural areas have a causal continuity with the past, breached by degradation and restoration

                   i.       A strip mined mountain reformed by restoration is no longer nature as no longer tied to its past 

7.      Elliott’s three cases

         a.      Experience machine of nature

         b.      Plastic wilderness

         c.      Restored strip-mined mountain


         d.      First two are virtual nature: experiences indistinguishable from being actual nature, and contain no natural elements

         e.      Elliot thinks restored nature no less fake

         f.       Neither being indiscernible from nature nor having entirely natural contents suffices for being nature

         g.      What is needed for being nature is continuity of process

                   i.       Current contents result from uninterrupted processes of a certain sort

         h.      A restored mountain top is like env. Artist Alan Sonfist’s “Timed Landscape

                   i.       A city block in downtown Manhattan planted to create precisely sort of forest would have greeted explorers in Colonial times



9.      Ross’s definition of original nature (and subsequent pristine nature)

         a.      A time before humans came on planet, everything entirely natural

         b.      Nature-preserving processes are those studied by natural science (as opposed to social science)

                   i.       E.g., physics astronomy, meteorology, geology, biology

         c.      Any state resulting from initial state (solely) by these processes is entirely natural

10.    Don’t get degrees of naturalness characteristic of our world until we introduce an oppositional process to original nature

         a.      Humans were that force

         b.      Early humans left natural processes and their results pretty much unchanged

         c.      Later humans got ability to change naturalness of their environment

                   i.       Perhaps with agriculture

11.    Features that reduce naturalness

         a.      Caused by us

         b.      Would not have happened but for us (counterfactual claim)

                   i.       Acres of maize planted in rows

         c.      Adding (or replacing with) non-natural ingredients (e.g., plastic)

12.    Human activities can increase naturalness

         a.      By reintroducing natural contents

         b.      By protecting or re-institution natural processes

         c.      Examples

                   i.       A restored mountain after strip mining is more natural than a plastic mountain, because its contents are natural

                  d.      Exotic species introduction is more natural than introduction of non-living artifacts, but still reduces overall naturalness

                            (1)    Violates the counterfactual claim: they would not be there but for us



14.    Urban nature is paradoxical

         a.      Seems like an oxymoron (contradictory conjunction of words)

         b.      Nature and things urban seem antithetical

         c.      Contains no large tracts of land resembling original nature

15.    Urban nature is present at the extremes

         a.      Vast nature, macroscopic appreciation: Panoramas, surrounding geological/geographic features, weather fronts, astronomical events/relations (moon)

                   i.       Founding features of cities, rivers, estuaries, mountains, plateaus, wetlands are not displaced by the city

         b.      Minute nature, microscopic, fine-focused appreciation: Tiny insect, single blossom, a drop of dew, plants sprouting up through sidewalks, trees still present, squirrels and pigeons thriving next to humans (even rats and cockroaches), rocks, pebbles, distinctive slope, plants in a pot, gardens

                   i.       Abstract the nature from the urban setting


16.    ROSS FOUR CATEGORIES OF LESS THAN PRISTINE NATURE (goes from more to less natural)

17.    Interrupted nature

         a.      Causal chains severed and similar chains renewed

         b.      E.g., Charles River in Boston, polluted and now cleaned

                   i.       Naturalness of river interrupted, now resumed

                   ii.      What about fact it is (still) channeled?

         c.      Removing dams from rivers

         d.      Restoring a degraded wetland

         e.      Sonfist's “Time Landscape

18.    Altered nature

         a.      Causal chains severed and some different processes/contents put in place

         b.      E.g., Forest park in St Louis, a stream that had been put underground was brought back above ground, wetlands and prairies put back and have been miniaturized and compressed (prairies and wetlands don’t naturally abut so intimately); gives the illusion of wildness but not deceptively so

19.    Constructed nature

         a.      Illusory experiences of nature constructed using natural materials

         b.      Serve human interests rather than ecosystem needs

         c.      Creations serve our aesthetic and recreational need by building new chunk of nature

         d.      E.g., Byxhee Park, in Calif, a reclaimed landfill (garbage mound), undulating paths, but no trees as fear routes displace impenetrable clay cap, but “conceptual forest"–dramatic grid of green cedar posts

                   i.       Combines natural and artificial means to provide experience like that of actual nature

                   ii.      Birds to watch, flowers to identify,

                   iii.     Vistas to admire

                   iv.     Wave-like series of hills mimics experience of hiking in Lake District of England

         e.      Smithson’s “Floating Island” on a trees and soil on a barge towed around Manhattan buy a tugboat

                   i.       some nonnative trees

                   ii.      no lost island ever there

                   iii.     barge supporting trees not natural

         f.       E.g., After destroying a wetland and putting a building there, we create a wetland in a different location, miles and miles from original site next to river and couldn’t perform their ecological functions.

         g.      Gardens?

                   i.       Constructed to replicate experience of nature

20.    Virtual nature (artificial nature)

         a.      Natural contents not replaced but simulated by plastic or experience machine

Questions on Ross, Appreciating Gardens and Urban Nature

1.      What are the two extreme views of nature that Ross rejects

2.      What is Ross’ own view of nature? What is her definition of “original nature” and later pristine nature?

3.      According to Ross, why does Elliot believe a restored nature is not natural?

4.      What are two of the features that reduce naturalness, according to Ross?

5.      How can human activities increase naturalness, according to Ross?

6.      Using examples, explain what Ross means by nature being present in urban areas “at the extremes.”

7.      Identify, describe and give examples of Ross’ four categories of less than pristine nature.