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March 2011
280 pages  
22 b&w Illustrations
6 x 9.25
9780822944058
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Weeds
An Environmental History of Metropolitan America
Falck, Zachary
A comprehensive history of “happenstance plants” in American urban environments. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing to the present, Falck examines the proliferation, perception, and treatment of weeds in metropolitan centers from Boston to Los Angeles.
Zachary J. S. Falck, Ph.D. is a historian who resides in Pittsburgh, PA.
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As long as humans have existed, they’ve worked and competed with plants to shape their surroundings. As cities developed and expanded, their diverse spaces were covered with and colored by weeds. In Weeds, Zachary J. S. Falck presents a comprehensive history of “happenstance plants” in American urban environments. Beginning in the late nineteenth century and continuing to the present, he examines the proliferation, perception, and treatment of weeds in metropolitan centers from Boston to Los Angeles. In dynamic city ecosystems, population movements and economic cycles establish and transform habitats where vegetation continuously changes. Americans came to associate weeds with infectious diseases and allergies, illegal dumping, vagrants, drug dealers, and decreased property values. Local governments and citizens’ groups attempted to eliminate unwanted plants to better their urban environments and improve the health and safety of inhabitants. Over time, a growing understanding of the natural environment made “happenstance plants” more tolerable and even desirable. In the twenty-first century, scientists have warned that the effects of global warming and the heat-trapping properties of cities are producing more robust strains of weeds. Falck shows that nature continues to flourish where humans have struggled: in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, in the abandoned homes of the California housing bust, and alongside crumbling infrastructure. Weeds are here to stay.
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“”The historiography of the persistence of happenstance plants and the enduring human conception of their meaning has found rich expression in this book. Indeed Falck’s insights offer a singular contribution to a field that began forty years ago by interrogating the formation of the conservation movement and its wild and monumental artifacts—the national forests and parks—as emblems of the American claim to be nature’s nation.” —American Historical Review

“Gives a novel perspective . . . Falck’s fascinating, detailed case studies of court proceedings to compel residents to remove ‘weeds’ from their land remind us that the land of the free has been remarkably authoritarian in its pursuit of the ubiquitous American lawn.”—Australian Garden History

“An important reconsideration of the story of urban development during the last two centurires. . . . Commendable for its author’s ability to tease out the social and the ecological in order to tell a sophisticated urban environmental history. “—Environmental History

“Theodore Dreiser once declared that weeds would become ‘indispensable.’ Now Zachary Falck reveals that weeds are indeed indispensable to the history of metropolitan America. In this richly researched and contextualized work, Falck shows how much ecological history of the city has yet to be explored. Here we begin to see just how fully nature and culture blend in cities, and how weeds—at times loathed and admired—can be used to illustrate Americans’ changing ideas of nature and the city.” —David Stradling, University of Cincinnati

Falck reinterprets cities from the perspective of some of their most unwanted inhabitants—the plants that choked vacant lots and sprang from sidewalk cracks. Such vegetation reveals how residents experienced urban life—their aspirations and discontents, their feelings about their neighbors, and what they did about it all. Who knew so much history lay among the weeds?”—Jared Orsi, Colorado State University


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