The NPR station WNYC is hosting an initiative they call Wild New York, in which listeners are encouraged to snap and submit pictures of urban nature. The idea is to celebrate Earth Day by drawing city dwellers’ attention to the beauty all around us, and the result is a riot of birds’ nests, plants pushing up between paving stones, blooming trees and, yes, pigeons. It’s lovely, and I’d happily submit if I’d seen anything save a small rat and a decorative cabbage in the last two days.
Like most cities, this one has often had an uneasy relationship with the natural world. A particularly galling reminder of this is the photographic record of a 1920s and thirties craze: animal mania. Like many fads of the era—phone-booth stuffing, goldfish swallowing, pole balancing—animal mania was brief, giddy, frivolous, and paid by the realities of World War II. But even at its apex—think Bringing Up Baby, a screwball centered around a pet leopard—animal mania was a rarified phenomenon: even pre-Depression, most people couldn’t afford an exotic wild animal to parade at parties. Read More