“Skyscraper national park.” Kurt Vonnegut’s description supports the widely held view that New York City is a paean to the built environment. This collective image includes towering edifices, taxied roadways and neon billboards. The last thing one would expect in this milieu is nature. Yet sprinkled throughout the five boroughs are approximately 28,000 acres of city parkland. Discounting ball fields and swing sets, nearly half of these have significant areas of flora and fauna. They harbor the city’s true treasures: freshwater wetlands, salt marshes, beaches, and forests. Ensconced within these ecosystems are more than 40% of New York State’s rare and endangered plant species.
Still, it isn’t easy being green in the Big Apple. Over the past century, 75% of the city’s woodlands, wetlands and meadows have been destroyed. The persistent pressure of urbanization and its concomitant ailments has driven many of the city’s native plants to the brink of extirpation. We have already lost 43% of our flora including such treasures as the yellow fringed orchid (Platanthera ciliaris) and swamp pink (Helonias bullata).
As the year 2010 drew to a close, so too did the United Nation’s International Year of Biodiversity. This year-long, global recognition of our planet’s vital biological diversity was meant to elevate this issue nearer to the top of the political agenda. I’m not sure that this goal was met.
A quick search of “biodiversity” on the New York Times website yields only a handful of articles on the topic in the past month (with “biodiversity” mentioned by readers about two dozen times). A comparison of Google search trends of biodiversity and climate change in 2010 shows that “climate change” was searched for more than twice as often as “biodiversity” and “global warming” more than four times as often.
Even the star power of actor Edward Norton, who was appointed by the UN as a Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, hasn’t done enough to capture the media and public’s attention on this issue.
That’s why I hope 2011 will be Five-Borough Year of Biodiversity.