Our Better Nature: Environment and the Making of San Francisco

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9780806139586: Our Better Nature: Environment and the Making of San Francisco
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Few cities are so dramatically identified with their environment as San Francisco—the landscape of hills, the expansive bay, the engulfing fog, and even the deadly fault line shifting below. Yet most residents think of the city itself as separate from the natural environment on which it depends. In Our Better Nature, Philip J. Dreyfus recounts the history of San Francisco from Indian village to world-class metropolis, focusing on the interactions between the city and the land and on the generations of people who have transformed them both. Dreyfus examines the ways that San Franciscans remade the landscape to fit their needs, and how their actions reflected and affected their ideas about nature, from the destruction of wetlands and forests to the creation of Golden Gate and Yosemite parks, the Sierra Club, and later, the birth of the modern environmental movement.

Today, many San Franciscans seek to strengthen the ties between cities and nature by pursuing more sustainable and ecologically responsible ways of life. Consistent with that urge, Our Better Nature not only explores San Francisco’s past but also poses critical questions about its future. Dreyfus asks us to reassess our connection to the environment and to find ways to redefine ourselves and our cities within nature. Only with such an attitude will San Francisco retain the magic that has always charmed residents and visitors alike.

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Philip J. Dreyfus is Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University. He has received numerous awards for his classroom teaching, and his writings have appeared in various academic journals.

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When most people think of cities, they think of them as the most un-natural environments imaginable.  They consider cities to be artificial while nature is to be found somewhere else, far from human habitation.  This gut reaction stems from the feeling that human beings are somehow outside of nature, that our relationship to the rest of the earth is one of "us" and "it."  It is a feeling that carries a cost.  This book offers its readers an opportunity to think about how cities develop by reshaping nature, how urban life has influenced our thinking about nature in ironic ways, and how re-imagining our place and the place of our cities in nature is necessary for building a more environmentally equitable world.

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