OK, move over pigeons: it’s time talk about squirrels and the city!
Penn historian Etienne Benson has just published a new paper titled "The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States," and it is a fascinating story indeed.
For starters, it turns out squirrels haven’t simply stayed in place as we urbanized around them: instead, they were eradicated and then deliberately re-introduced. In a press release, Benson explains:
By the mid-19th century, squirrels had been eradicated from cities. In order to end up with squirrels in the middle of cities, you had to transform the urban landscape by planting trees and building parks and changing the way that people behave. People had to stop shooting squirrels and start feeding them.
Benson tracks down the first documented squirrel introduction, in Philadelphia’s Franklin Square in 1847, and tracks their growing popularity as part of the Olmstead-era urban parks movement. At the height of their popularity, in the 1880s and 1890s, squirrels were not only seen as ornaments, adding natural beauty to the city, but also as a way to civilize the urban poor and immigrants: feeding squirrels would help tame their “native” cruelty, went the enlightened thinking of the day.
The article is open access and well worth a read, and Benson’s other work also looks super interesting: he’s currently studying how non-humans create their own infrastructural systems to live in human-dominated landscapes (inspired by zip-lining squirrels visible from his back porch), and in the past has written about wireless wildlife tracking and created an interactive map of applications to import polar bear trophies to the United States between 1997 and 2008.
Meanwhile, do not worry, we are already plotting a squirrel walk for the spring!
The Gensler-designed building was dedicated last month, although it is not yet open. Nonetheless, The Guardian takes this opportunity to re-visit some of its more unique features, which include a super-powers suite, complete with a human gyroscope, spike-enhanced “pain station,” and an “oiliness table” (?), an indoor running track, and a smell and taste wall whose flavors range from magnolia to fig.
We are stunned. This must have been the most amazing design brief ever! More drawings at The Village Voice. Insider and early visitor reports very welcome!
In 2008, architect Chris Downey had (successful) surgery for a brain tumor. Three days later, he went blind. Since then, he’s worked on San Francisco’s Transbay Transit Center, as well as several eye clinics. Alison Prato talked to Downey about how losing his sight has affected his work:
These days, he says, he designs with a tactile palette, not just a color palette, in mind. “Blind people rely on acoustics to get around. I test materials with my cane to see how they feel. Instead of doing a ‘walk-through,’ we create a ‘tap-through,’ so you hear what it’s like when you tap your cane throughout the building.” He uses an embossing printer to print out drawings of the spaces he works on.
Read the story in full here, and check out a gallery of Downey’s favorite places in the city.
Smell-walkers! We have two important pieces of information for you.
(1) Victoria Henshaw, leader of last fall’s legendary Smellwalk NYC, has a new book out: Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments. From the blurb: “With case studies from factories, breweries, urban parks, and experimental smell environments in Manchester and Grasse, Urban Smellscapes identifies processes by which urban smell environments are managed and controlled, and gives designers and city managers tools to actively use smell in their work.”
(2) Juniper Ridge, a self-described “wild” fragrance company based in Brooklyn, is leading smell foraging walks in Williamsburg — and distilling the results into perfume. Studio-X NYC’s former co-director, Geoff Manaugh, joined one walk, which seems to have been equal parts hilarious hipster unintentional self-parody and genuinely fascinating environmental exploration. You can (and should) read about his adventures in full at Gizmodo, where you’ll also find links to sign up for future perfume walks. Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for a lost grove of coastal redwoods in Brooklyn!