Monday, January 10, 2005

I was just going to include this in a list of afternoon headlines, but it's too good...

The article covers results of a 7 year study which classifies the Valley of the Sun as a Designer Ecosystem- "It is designed and built by humans but surprisingly green and prolifically populated by creatures that wouldn't last a week outside its confines."
This desert city is lush, creating a unique oasis for people and... Urban and suburban growth has exploded in the Valley of the Sun over the past five decades, creating a playground for the rich, an attractive oasis for families, and a brand new ecosystem for plants, animals
The article goes on to pinpoint other cities now being studied.
New Yorkers might have a hard time imagining the word ecology applied seriously to the study of a city, unless you're talking about cockroaches, rats and salmonella. But under the emerging definition, even the Big Apple can be thought of in ecologists' terms. "The study of urban ecology is taking off in others cities, like Baltimore, Seattle, New York City, and especially abroad in Berlin, Sydney, and many others," Charles Redman, director of the ASU's Center for Environmental Studies, told LiveScience. "It's not what people generally think - they think there's either nature or there are cities," Redman said. "That's what this is all about - there is nature in the city. The city is part of nature."
Phoenix stands out because of the stark differences between the City and the surrounding Desert.
The Valley of the Sun, as locals call the area, is crisscrossed with more canals than Percival Lowell thought he saw on Mars. Urban parks are luxuriously green, with imported plants, towering shade trees and manmade ponds and lakes. For every New York skyscraper, the Phoenix area has a golf course. Front yards flower year-round and many lawns are always green.
This is a city? Phoenix has several mountainous areas either preserved as parks or just not built upon. Credit: City of Phoenix
Amid all this, several small mountains pop up, dotted by saguaros and preserved in their natural state. So animals flock here, creating an ecosystem that is "radically different" from the surrounding desert, the study determined. Desert birds and other animals typically concentrate along rivers. But the natural rivers and washes that course through Phoenix are rarely wet. Instead, water is pumped in from the Colorado. "What Phoenicians have done is to take this river, which was one localized area, and capture the water and distribute it over a very, very large area," Grimm said. "If you fly in you can see this – you can see that we have a lot more plant biomass, a lot more trees. There are little lakes scattered all over the place. Scottsdale since 1940 has gone from zero to 167 little lakes." Good news, bad news All this is great for the Abert's towhee, a bird you won't spot often in the desert. Canals simulate its native riverbank habitat. Ravens and peach-faced lovebirds have moved down here from the mountains. And insects abound. In fact, birds control insect populations to an extent unlike that "other" nature, the researchers have learned. The news is not necessarily all good, depending on your point of view. Consider the mosquito. A person out in the natural desert or even in the distant suburbs of Phoenix would have to hire a mosquito to get bit, yet parts of the metro area last summer saw some of the highest concentrations of West Nile Virus anywhere in the country. One reason: Some 600,000 swimming pools, not all of which you'd dare dip a toe in. "Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Arizona is the land of at least 10,000 abandoned and neglected swimming pools," said Will Humble of the Arizona Department of Health Services, in an article in USA Today. People did not just create this urban ecosystem, they are part of it, the new thinking goes.

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