Summary:


  1. I. Started Class
    1. a. Discussing where the line is between impartial science and advocacy: Professor Hutyra described the struggle many faculty members face when they have not yet received tenure in balancing time and research expectation. Tenure means that a professor has academic freedom to study or advocate for any topic without fear institutional retribution. Professor Hutyra discussed her personal struggles with performing research on the impact of natural gas. Since this is a big industry with many stakeholders, it has attracted a lot of attention. Major corporations are combing through her research trying to find faults that will help them to potentially undermine her conclusions (if her conclusions have the ability to detract from their business).
  2. Started Class (NCSU) Discussion of Sassen & Natan 2011; Ogden et al 2013
    • We led of the discussion with a brief and illuminating visit by Dr. David Bunn, who spoke for a few moments on The Country and the City, by Welsh cultural theorist Raymond Williams. Some of us had not read the supplemental piece reviewing that work.
    • Sassen and Dotan give a review of some social science literatures and their conceptions of the relationships between cities and the biosphere. Their ultimate aim seems to be, however, to acknowledge the false binary in "nature" and "city" identified by Harvey and Latour etc., and then to focus on the "complex in-between space that is the site of both the transactions between city and biosphere, as well as the ruptures that characterize these transactions" (Sassen & Naten). This leads the authors to identify the multi-scalar nature of cities as both an agent of change and stabilization. This was a fairly "theory"-heavy paper and our cohort in general was, if not perplexed, at the very least vexed by the opacity of language.
    • Ogden et al also explore the importance of multi-scalarity in considering not just cities, but the entire matrix of human-nonhuman interactions in the Anthropocene (the [current] epoch of anthropogenic dominance over Earth's ecosystems). Using a multi-scalar conceptual framework which they term a "global assemblage", they analyze the diverse drivers of socioecological change. Bottom line seems to be that the focus on "local" will only reveal partial data, and there fore the multi-scalar global assemblage" framework will provide a clearer picture of the related elements in socio-ecologicla change (three panels illustrate : coffee, indigenous
  3. II. Power Point Speaker Laura Ogdin “Theory and the City”
    1. a. Theorizing contingency
    2. b. National Science Foundation
    3. c. “Boundary Work” – 6 cities
i. Boundary making (where do we put boundaries and by what definition): We started off the presentation by looking at an aerial image of Miami. Dr. Ogden discussed the importance of scale. Scale is really important because it allows you to explore different parts of a city. When exploring a city's boundaries we also have to consider the limitations; how do they come into being and how do they change?
ii. Is urbanizing creating homogenization on a global scale
  1. 1. Culturally
  2. 2. Ecologically
  3. III. Political ecology: The means by which people affect the environment.
    1. a. Marxist theory along with other theories
i. How power relationships operate at multiple scales
ii. “The Country and the City” 1973 à Raymond Williams
  1. 1. How English literature shaped ideas of the country-side vs. city: Williams was troubled by how certain images of rural life in books and art portrayed the country-side as unchanging.
  2. 2. Show that the city and country-side are not able to grow separately. Cities emerge in England near the countryside; they are contingent on the countryside.
    1. a. Rural-agrarian workers allow for urban living since they produce the capital that is consumed in cities.
  3. IV. Miami –“a real estate engine”
    1. a. The market boom in the early 2000s got rid of the outer agrarian areas
    2. b. Different levels of governance = different real estate, zoning, labor markets
    3. c. “Global Assemblages”
i. Saskia Sassen (author of this weeks reading)
  1. 1. How cities are different from cities of the 19th Century
  2. 2. Cities become what they are outside of the nation-state
  3. 3. Trans-national forms of governance that may be more productive in actually facilitating change
  4. 4. Commodification of Vegetation
    1. a. Are we seeing homogenization of vegetation? Dr. Ogden mentions that plants in Miami look fairly similar to plants in L.A. despite being thousands of miles apart in greatly differing natural habitats.
    2. b. Do they create less diversity?
i. “City” lawns have ½ the variety and very few native species
ii. “Home-depot-ization”- Most suburban homes keep very similar plants in their front yards. These plants mostly come from cheap home improvement stores like The Home Depot. Home-depot-ization refers to the fact that homes are looking more and more alike. This could be because of social pressures to have your house look like all the others in your neighborhood or it could be that hired landscapers tend to buy their plants from The Home Depot because of their cheap prices.
  1. 5. Cultures Role
    1. a. Ties to Cuba and the Bahamas
i. Front yards tend to be a representation of one social class, displaying your wealth, standing and propriety, while also fitting with the style and expectations of the community, much in the same way as a formal living room would. However, if the front yard is comparable to the formal living room, then the backyard is comparable to the family den, which better represents the family itself. Here you may see plants from there original cultures and native countries, like bananas and guavas.
  1. 1. Geo-political assemblages
  2. V. Final thoughts on presentation
    1. a. “amazing social and ecological heterogeneity”
i. Main driving factors
  1. 1. Local history and historical contact
  2. 2. Comes down to the political/economic history over temporal scales
  3. 3. Note: W Europe and America have a kind of safety net that allows them to urbanize differently then poorer regions, especially those in the southern hemisphere
  4. b. Socio-economic status
i. Leads to the lawn
ii. The colonial nature of the place can also have an effect on the conceptual nature of the ideal yard
iii. The power and significance of the lawn is now recognized globally. In some poorer nations/regions, where plants are mostly fruits and vegetables, having plants purely for their beauty is a sign of wealth and prosperity.
iv. Synonymous with British upper-class life
  1. 1. Front yard = social norm/expectations
  2. c. Where do people get ecological information is urban vs. rural communities
i. Metropolitan statistical areas (40K respondents)
  1. 1. Over 5 counties
  2. 2. Land cover change
  3. 3. Done in all 6 cities
  4. d. Rural-suburban gradient and income gradient
i. Who chose to participate in the study = stratification
ii. People didn’t plant with ecosystem services in mind
iii. Power in scales: “Home Depot” industry drives change
  1. e. Environmental Phycology:
i. “Education doesn’t work as well as peer pressure”
  1. VI. Urban Form, Structure, and Function
    1. a. Hutyra
i. City Planning
  1. 1. How structure, zoning, growth affect the ecology
    1. a. “scale”
i. Urban form: general pattern in a city. i.e. development intensity, road widths, heights of buildings, etc.
ii. Urban structure: natural features, focal elements, transportation corridors
iii. Form affects the functions
1. The figures with more linear streets were planned cities. They have increased efficiency and maximization of space. Cities where roads curve everywhere are unplanned cities that have been shaped over time by the city's history.
I. Framework to study urban dynamics: Drivers influence the patterns in landscape, which in turn affect processes, which then affect function. At some point, when a process or function changes, you tend to have redevelopment. Human and ecological functions have an inverse relationship; as human function increases, we usually see a decrease in ecological function.

NCSU pre-speaker discussion (Sassen & Dotten; Ogden et al)




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Blogs:

Amanda Gallinat: We talked a lot about the Home-Depot-ization of urban plant communities on Friday. Dr Ogdin gave us some insight into how people choose what to plant in their front- and backyards, and it sounds like, based on her surveys, it has nothing to do with what is native to the area or what wildlife (insects, birds, etc) would be attracted to or benefit from their gardens.
So, I've been thinking about why it is that urban communities don't have much value associated with native species, and how much power that gives a large company like Home Depot on the urban conservation scene! I was also pretty excited about the environmental psychology study we talked about, in which people who were peer-pressured tended to reuse their towels more. You can read that study here. Taken together, I've started to brainstorm what solutions there might be for incentivizing or peer-pressuring urban yard-owners into planting native species, or even just how to hype them up.
1) What if Home Depot identified plants as native or non-native for a given area? What if native plants were cheaper? What if there were some tag on native species that indicated any ecosystem service and maybe even used some peer-pressure a la the towel study?
2) Should conservation organizations turn their focus to corporations like Home Depot, and if so, what would that relationship look like? Subsidies for native plants? Urban ecosystems training for employees of nurseries? What would be in it for the corporations?
3) Are "native" species even native anymore in the urban landscape? If a "native" species is one that lives in the context in which it evolved, are species native to Miami really native to a backyard in Miami? Are species native to New York City native to a roof garden in NYC? My world is upside down.

Mustafa Saifuddin:
We talked about the surprising popularity of lawns throughout world, particularly in regions with a colonial history, and Laura Ogden mentioned observing a distinction between vegetation in presentable front yards and private back yards. I think the spread and enduring legacy of cultivated lawns as symbols of affluence may itself be an interesting effect of peer-pressure. One of the challenges with native plant species campaigns has to do with the need for front-yard conformity mentioned on Friday. Even in areas experiencing drought and water limitation, people often feel the need to maintain a front-yard lawn and would be uncomfortable being outliers by planting native drought-tolerant species in largely uniform neighborhoods.

We also discussed urban form in relation to transportation-related energy consumption. It was surprising to see clear clustering of cities by region. Within each region, there seemed to be some trends related to city age. For example, among cities in the U.S., newer cities such as Houston and Phoenix had the highest consumption while older cities like New York and Boston had lower consumption. Cities with lower consumption tended to have good public transportation infrastructure or obstacles to discourage individual driving. In contrast, cities like Houston are designed to fully facilitate cars. In fact, Houston built its first small metrorail within the last ten years, and efforts to expand the rail outside of its narrow range have even been obstructed by protests! Urban forms that support walking and public transportation are at odds with urban forms that facilitate driving. People who do not want the metrorail to expand claim that it will cause traffic congestion by reducing roadway and parking space. On the other hand, people who ride the rail or walk have to endure other challenges posed by an urban form designed to facilitate driving such as crossing vast expanses of parking lots to reach destinations.

Finally, we talked about some of the challenges associated with reading an interdisciplinary paper from the social sciences. With our focus on scientific primary literature, we are used to seeing clear and empirical hypothesis-testing, but some of the conclusions in this paper felt more opinionated. I was initially attracted to the idea of “delegating back to the biosphere,” but because the paper was theoretical and not empirical, I realized many of the assertions were unrealistically optimistic. For example, the authors described bacterial concrete as a method of delegating carbon sequestration back to the biosphere in order to combat carbon storage lost by paving over green areas. In the simplistic framework of the paper, this action compensates for the initial ecosystem disturbance created by pavement. Yet, the paper fails to consider auxiliary impacts of the initial disturbance and most importantly, the impacts of the secondary action itself. For example, they mention that bacterial concrete has lower permeability than concrete, but they do not explore the potential negative ramifications of bacterial concrete on water flow in ubran settings! Nevertheless, I did enjoy the theoretical background the paper provided, its introduction to different schools of thought, and the general idea of delegating back to the biosphere.

Janet Felts:
Wow good questions Amanda, I am just as perplexed by these native/non-native species problems as you are. I see how outside influence over time can change what we consider to be the "new" native species, but it still wouldn't be "native" to that area would it?

Laura Ogden brought up lots of good points through her presentation of “Theory and the City.” Beginning with the discussion of the political ecology, Laura brings up a very important question: Is urbanization on a global scale really promoting homogenization across the globe? And with her discussion of global assemblages I believe it is. Global assemblages transcend traditional nation-state boundaries where people are seeing what their neighbor has (not necessarily in the same country now) and they model their preferences based on what someone else has. This creates a global homogeneity, people want what others have and what they think others want. Traditionally urbanization of cities in the Global South have been modeled on the democratization and development of cities in the Global North, the idealized city, what people think cities should be like. But this does not always work. Laura provided an example of landscaping in Miami subdivisions where people chose to conform what they plant in their front yards because they think that’s what their neighbors want to see, but they plant what they want to in their backyards, showing their true landscape preferences. This is a global dichotomy that transfers to larger scale issues too, like how people vote or whether they chose to recycle or not. How can we change this cycle, besides using "peer pressure" since it seems subliminal peer pressure is the reason people decide to act the way they do in the first place?

Rene Valdez:

Amanda brings up some important questions.
  • The role of corporations in our everyday lives continues to grow and shows few signs of changing. There has been recognition that since corporations wield so much power and impact the environment in ways that people cannot, they are necessary for the attainment of conservation goals (Kareiva & Marvier, 2012). The issue I could see with big box stores selling native plants is the possible loss of advantages gained through economies of scale because they would be selling fewer national products across all stores and instead moving to regional or local products. But that is my first thought, maybe they are already selling some natives at regional scales with success, I am not a homeowner and haven't spent a lot of time shopping for a lawn.

  • Throughout the course we have spent a fair amount of time talking about urban ecosystems as their own unique ecosystems. So it is interesting to consider native species of a location to be non-native within an urban ecosystem. When I think about how a species has evolved it is important to consider both biotic and abiotic factors. In places like Miami lawns the flora and fauna that co-evolved alongside a particular shrub or grass may not be distributed in the way it was before intensive human habitation but the precipitation, soil type, humidity, temperature, days of sunlight per year should remain constant or near constant (with some exception). These native plants should also aid other species such as butterflies or birds that are still in the area. So I think there is still value in considering previous biotic occupants as native as they are well adapted to the abiotic factors of the region. If a landowner chooses to purchase a native plant is it more likely that the plant was grown in a nearby area as opposed to being shipped, trucked, or flown in from a further area, thus lowering the carbon/energy footprint of the product. A New York City roof garden is a bit trickier since so much of their previous habitat has been altered.

The idea of delegating back to the biosphere as proposed by Sassen and Dotan is important because current efforts for sustainability and the reduction of human impact on the environment need revision. Advances in technology may provide solutions that have eluded us in the past. As with all technology there will be risks and costs. Many of these cannot be easily foreseen but that does not mean they should not be considered.
  • Mustafa, it is important to consider the consequences of new technologies. While this paper does not delve into the initial impacts of pavement or the changes in water permeability of the pavement, consider the current norm. Pavement cracks, water infiltrates, the pavement is further damaged, and then the pavement is replaced or repaired. The use of self-healing concrete would improve the lifespan of the pavement and thus lower human consumption of resources. I am in agreement with the authors, we will not be returning to nature, so improvements in the efficiency of our urban environments is key to any environmental and sustainability goals.

Steve Decina - Amanda, once again, you offer provocative questions that require thought and foster dialogue. Just to play devil's advocate in the native/non-native discussion, check out this short, non-technical paper: Don't Judge Species on Their Origins. More or less, it argues a case to rethink the stigma attached to non-native species, though the lens of several cases where non-native plants are actually beneficial for the ecosystems that they have invaded. I think that this is particularly true when it comes to the wild urban plants that spontaneously recruit and eke out a hardscrabble existence among heavy metals, drought, and elevated ozone. Many of these plants perform ecosystem services that the native plants, whose habitat has been irrevocably destroyed, would not be able to come back and perform. Stormwater retention, particularly in a city with a combined sewage system, is a boon no matter what the nativity of the plant that is performing it.

In Europe, ecologists classify non-natives into two classes: archaeophytes that arrived pre-1500, and neophytes that have arrived post-1500. While those dates would not be an appropriate fractioning for North America, the spirit behind the thought can give us insight into how we could view some of our non-native plants. Some of these non-natives have been here for a long enough time that we might consider them naturalized and a viable and acceptable part of the new urban ecosystems. Our North American non-native archaeophytes may then be plants that arrived pre-1900, and have assimilated to new niches that didn't even exist back when they invaded in the first place. After generations and generations, especially as ecosystems change and cities devour countryside, the plants that may have been foreign 100 years ago are right at home today. Can we really say that they don't belong?

In some ways, our American thoughts about biological invasion seem to echo our thoughts about immigration. To quote from one of my favorite urban plant guides: "By way of analogy, people's attitudes about invasive species mirror the political debate about undocumented aliens. Many people complain about the problems caused by the people who are in the country illegally but fail to recognize the positive contributions such people make to the economy and society at large" (Del Tredici 2010). Food for thought!

Sravya

I really enjoyed Friday’s class although the guest lecture was not what I had expected. I had the impression that we would be working with a larger scale, and would be discussing city structure more or less. Regardless, I believe that the disparity between by expectations and what the presentation actually encompassed can be once again related to scale. Dr. Ogden opened her lecture with a discussion scale and the importance of considering boundaries and limits in order to be able to really focus in on and explore parts of a city. I thought it was really interesting that her research is about how urbanization is creating a new homogenization on a global scale, and that she chose to start with a surveys of backyard flora. However, in studying global homogenization, her scale was larger than one city (which I was expecting the focus of this lecture to be).

Now to back track to the lecture, I was very surprised as to how much influence cultural roles have in yard-scaping. I never gave a thought about how front yards choices are more or less a representation of social class as well as the expectations of our communities, while the backyard is more likely to be influenced by family lifestyle and culture. At home, I have the standard Western Mass front yard, with small floral shrubs serving as the primary form of decoration. However, in my backyard we grow our own mint leaves, Tulsi, and Hibiscus displaying more of our Indian culture.

To address Amanda’s questions, I do believe that more people would chose native species if they were aware of them, especially if their ecosystem services highlighted. I personally am not familiar with my communities’ native species, so when I go to Home Depot, I simply choose a plant solely based on its aesthetics. Secondly, I think native species are hard to define in urban areas, as Steve discussed. Perhaps some trees can be considered native “city” tree, despite not having actually originated in that area. Furthermore, I think the time of introduction of the specie also largely plays a part in whether a plant is viewed as foreign or native. Japanese maple is extremely popular in my hometown (my town is really old and still has a lot colonial homes that have been there since the 1700's); it was introduced in large quantities in the mid-late 1800’s, primarily as gifts from Japan. Many of these trees have been around for quite some time, and I can certainly believe that residents consider these trees “native” to our community. In fact many people aren’t even aware that these trees are of Japanese origin, because they are so commonplace.


IMG_2866.jpgJust for fun: this is a plant in my front yard. most people in my town have flowery shrubs like this. Not sure what plant it is though.


Steve Decina - Sravya, just out of curiosity, how does your family use the tulsi? It is fascinating that people cultivate the plants that were native to their homeland and continue their use while surrounded by a culture that generally eschews ancient herbalist practices. My own grandfather was growing arugula 30 years before Whole Foods made it en vogue. He used to grow cardoon too, a relative of the artichoke which is very popular in Italy but which hasn't caught the attention of the hipsters and foodies as of yet.

Mustafa: Steve and Sravya, this discussion on backyard vegetation and culture is really interesting! In some ways, it can shift the discussion from native/non-native plants to a discussion on locally-grown food compared to imports. I tend to want to take a fully anti-non-native stance, but this is a good example of a situation in which the benefits of cultivating non-native plants for consumption may outweigh alternative costs. For some reason, I hadn’t thought of my parents’ backyard when we discussed Miami. Thinking of it now, I realize my parents have several non-native plants in their backyard that are an important part of our cuisine. For example, we have a very large and aromatic curry tree, and whenever people visit they often take bushels of leaves for themselves to cook with too! On the one hand, it’s a non-native plant, but on the other hand, it eliminates the potential negative impacts of long-distance transport, etc. The backyard can really be such an interesting expression of multi-culturalism with a mix of native species and ones important to a parent culture!


Amanda: Mustafa, Sravya and Steve (and everyone)- Growing local food is a really interesting benefit of planting non-native vegetation that I hadn’t considered! It does seem like the explicit benefits of growing food locally probably outweigh the possible (and pretty nebulous) problems typically associated with non-native species, especially in a backyard. Combined with the other benefits of non-native species that Steve linked to, I totally agree that it is really difficult to make cut and dried value judgments here.

It strikes me that it's important to differentiate between non-native and invasive species in these conversations. Laura Ogden mentioned that people in Miami are planting non-native species, but they aren’t planting invasive species, so that really limits the risk of non-native species replacing native species outside of the backyard in which they’re planted. So maybe we should turn our focus away from Home Depot, leave people alone with their yards, and put resources into eradicating invasive species and/or planting native species in public spaces? (Unless we’re talking about Ailanthus, of course!)

In addition to some non-native species providing beneficial ecosystem services like reducing erosion and increasing carbon sequestration, native species can also become invasive if they are able to take advantage of the urban landscape. For instance, the American Robin is now able to overwinter in Massachusetts (it didn’t before the 1980’s) possibly due to increasing winter temperature or the year-round availability of fruit from invasive plants. Robins prefer the fruits of invasive species and propagate those plant species through seed dispersal. This increases thicket cover for white-footed mice, the most common host of Lyme disease, with consequences for human health. (Robins are also themselves a host of Lyme disease and Eastern Equine Encephalitis). This is just one example of an invasive native species that has benefited from the urban landscape. My point is that while I often have knee-jerk reactions to terms like “native” and “invasive”, it’s clearly more complicated and worth discussing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go plant some cardoon.

Eric B: Amanda, this is a terrific point you made about differentiating between non-native and invasive. I was actually going to say the same thing until you mentioned it. I think less attention should be made on whether people are planting native or non-native, and more attention should be to whether they are planting invasive or non-invasive. An example of this can be seen with castor bean. Castor bean is a pretty plant that was brought to America to plant in gardens and yards. We now are extremely aware of the invasive characteristics of the plant and the lethal poisons that can be made from it. However, similar tropical plants such as palm trees do not have nearly the same negative effect. Another example of this can be seen on the coasts of Central California with Fountain Grass, a plant which locals believe was brought by gardening companies years ago. I think this is much more important to consider than what is technically 'native' or 'nonnative'. Having worked for a restoration ecologist in a city setting, I was shocked by her willingness to forget about the technical term 'native' and instead focus on what is best for the environment. That being said, do you think eventually urban environments have the potential to develop their own 'native' species? One that cannot exist anywhere outside the urban realm, specializing on the ecologic factors unique to cities? This would be the ideal case, especially if they can be aesthetically pleasing enough to be planted in yards but not 'spill out' of cities like invasive species have the tendency to do.

Evan Kuras
I recently heard Dr. Joan Nassauer (University of Michigan) speak concerning yard design and perception of neighborhood expectations. One of her ideas that really stuck with me was the idea of order and straight lines. Dr. Nassauer designs landscapes, shows people images, and asks people how they feel about the design under various social contexts. She found that people prefer orderliness regardless of whether the plants are native, non-native or plastic. She suggests that it is not the content of the landscape but its structure that people respond to. This paper details some of the things she talked about. From that perspective, Amanda, you may have a good idea about subsidizing plants that provide ecosystem services if people care more about how they plants are arranged than what the the plants are. Dr. Nassauer also suggests green innovation on the neighborhood scale rather than the individual scale so that people will not feel ostracized or too bold for changing their yardscape. This echoes the effectiveness of peer pressure mentioned above (think hotel towels).

On another note, I wonder how the idea of Home Depot-ization plays out under higher density urban settings. In Boston neighborhoods such as the South End, residents do not have lawns. To access greenery they utilize indoor plants, cultivate trellises, sign up for a plot in a community garden, or visit a local park. These actions have significance for ecosystem services and the native/non-native debate in a radically different way than the front lawn/back lawn story. In neighborhoods with high levels of social capital, residents will advocate for more green space and sometimes work with local landscapers so that the greenery is ecologically sound (this recently happened with Dartmouth Green in the South End). At other times, a community will advocate for only trees in their parks (with little impact on biodiversity) or a park will fall into disarray (which could increase or decrease biodiversity). There is much to say on this topic, and I bring it up merely to suggest that high density residential conditions do not entertain nature in the same way that low density housing does.

Lital Kroll: I do think that people would prefer to purchase plants that are native to the non-native, Home Depot-like plants if made aware. Personally, as much as I love having plants and flowers around the house, I have a horrible brown thumb. If home-depot advertised cheap, low-maintenance plants, I would be more inclined to purchase them. I enjoy looking at where business and the environment intersect, so for me, I think about the marketing of plants and how people react to advertising--which is why I really enjoyed your questions, Amanda! People like to think they are making a difference (well... most people), especially when it comes to planting/acting sustainably. I believe people would positively react to the reintroduction of native plants to their own backyards- even more so if there was an added ecosystem service.
I think the word "native" has lost a lot of its meaning in urban environments. It feels like nothing is truly natural or native in urban environments these days. If native plants are no longer native in urban environments, can the same theory be reversed and applied? Can we say that in a hundred years time, lawns and Home-Depot flowers are going to be considered native?
I really enjoyed hearing the lecture this week about Home Depot-ization. I lived in the suburbs right outside of Atlanta during my high-school years (way back when). I remember the trouble people went to in trying to keep up appearances. For those of you who have not been, Atlanta/Northern GA is one extremely large forest. Every Saturday morning during Autumn I would wake to the sound of leaf blowing outside. I would look outside our front window and see every husband blowing and raking the leaves from his large front lawn. And this would take HOURS! (There were even lunch breaks in the middle). I'm sure none of them wanted to be doing it so often, and yet every Saturday they started again. To be honest, I always noticed it but I never really thought about social pressures with gardening until this weeks lecture. My family even joined in the fun- our grass was turning brown, so we installed grass that stayed green all year long. Its crazy how much effort people put in to making their front yards look good for the neighbors! Its not like the children even played in the front yard. The only time you see your front yard is when you are walking your dog or driving home. So why spend so much money and time making it look so perfect?! Until Laura Ogden's remarks last lecture, I thought this was solely an American thing; trying to have the biggest house, best cars, prettiest garden... I was surprised to hear her say that this is now a global situation. Are we losing the beauty of cultures as more countries are planting these standard Home Depot flowers?

Sravya:

Steve, we use Tulsi more for its medicinal properties on ocassion. For instance, if someone has a fever or sore throat, we
boil a few leaves of tulsi along with some other herbs and spices and make it into a herbal tea of sorts. It is also used to religious ceremonies. But most of the time it is considered to be sacred and auspicious so people keep it around just for that purpose as well. They are hard to maintain though, and we don't have tree (because they can grow to be very large), so we have a small potted one.

Eric Thompson:
Eric B, good question about whether urban environments have the potential to develop their own “native” species. In the Adler and Tanner textbook (p. 22-24), they have a photo of a specialist moss, Bryum argenteum, that “is found throughout the world, but only in urban areas.” It is quite the example of the “urban exploiters” that we heard about in Paige Warren’s presentation two weeks after this one. I don't think it's quite what you had in mind, but it is definitely adept at specializing on the ecologic factors prevalent to cities. Namely it does well in cracks in sidewalks and concrete, and it is resistant to air pollution and metals. Here's a neat photo and a link to some more information

Amanda and Rene, good point about the power of commercial organizations, such as Home Depot, to impact the environment in ways that individuals or conservation organizations alone cannot. I wonder if conservation organizations should have “lobbyists” to go speak with corporations--people whose job it is to talk to whatever Home Depot executive determines what plants gets sold and how they get labeled. Maybe some conservation organizations have already embraced that route--I don’t know.