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Paperback | $27.00 Short | £18.95 | ISBN: 9780262524438 | 336 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 25 illus. | August 2005

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Urban Place

Reconnecting with the Natural World


Amidst city concrete and suburban sprawl, Americans are discovering new ways to reconnect with the natural world. From community gardens in New York's Lower East Side to homeless shelters in California, the search for a more sustainable future has led grassroots groups to a profound reconnection to place and to the natural world.

Studies of the health consequences of renewing a connection with nature support the urgency of providing green surroundings as cities expand and the majority of the earth's population lives in urban areas. Medical research results, from groups as diverse as healthy volunteers, surgery patients, and heart attack survivors, suggest that contact with nature may improve health and well-being. Engagement with nearby natural places also provides restoration from mental fatigue and support for more resilient and cooperative behavior. Aspects of stronger community life are fostered by access to nature, suggesting that there are significant social as well as physical and psychological benefits from connection with the natural world.

This volume brings together research from anthropology, sociology, public health, psychology, and landscape architecture to highlight how awareness of locale and a meaningful renewal of attachment with the earth are connected to delight in learning about nature as well as to civic action and new forms of community. Community garden coalitions, organic market advocates, and greenspace preservationists resist the power of global forces, enacting visions of a different future. Their creative efforts tell a story of a constructive and dynamic middle ground between private plots and public action, between human health and ecosystem health, between individual attachment and urban sustainability.

About the Editor

Peggy F. Barlett is Professor of Anthropology at Emory University. She received a BA in anthropology from Grinnell College (1969) and the PhD in anthropology at Columbia University (1975). A cultural anthropologist specializing in agricultural systems and sustainable development, she carried out fieldwork in economic anthropology in Ecuador, Costa Rica, and rural Georgia (USA). Earlier work focused on farmer decision making, rural social change, and industrial agriculture. She has published Agricultural Choice and Change: Decision Making in a Costa Rican Community (1982, Rutgers University Press), American Dreams, Rural Realities: Family Farms in Crisis (1993, University of North Carolina Press) and is editor of Agricultural Decision Making: Anthropological Contributions to Rural Development (1980, Academic Press).

Recently, interests in the challenge of sustainability in urban Atlanta have given her an opportunity to return to early training in applied anthropology and to combine it with interests in political economy, group dynamics, and personal development. Part of a growing movement toward sustainability at Emory, she has focused on expanding awareness of environmental issues through curriculum development (the Piedmont Project), campus policies, and connections to place. She also has interests in local food systems and a local Watershed Alliance. She is the coeditor (with Geoffrey Chase) of Sustainability on Campus: Stories and Strategies for Change (MIT Press, 2004).


"This near-encyclopedic and authoritative book is an introduction to a subject that becomes more timely with each passing day: the need to bring nature back to densely settled land, and the need to open the benefits of nature to people everywhere."
—Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

"Essential reading for anyone interested in creating healthier human habitats in the concrete jungles of our cities and asphalt barrens of suburbia, Urban Place deserves a spot on the shelf next to Biophilia."
—Francesca Lyman, environmental journalist and author of The Greenhouse Trap and Inside the Dzanga-Sangha Rain Forest

"Urban Place is the story of an exciting revolution in the way we design, build, and live in urban settings, driven by the recognition that human health and that of nature are one and indivisible. Peggy Barlett and her colleagues are describing nothing less than the renaissance of a humane and decent civilization and the outlines of a sustainable urban world."
—David W. Orr, Environmental Studies Program, Oberlin College

"For far too long we've understood the city as the very antithesis of animate nature. If humankind is to survive the calamitous century now upon us, it will be in large part because of a new rapprochement between our urban centers and the elemental earth. This fine book illuminates some of the necessary steps toward such a vital reconciliation.
—David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous