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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 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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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 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.

32 review for Our Better Nature: Environment and the Making of San Francisco

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    This is a nice short book (193 pages plus index), interesting for anyone concerned about environmentalism and essential for environmentalists from the Bay Area. 'Nature' is in quotes because one of the many things that have changed over time is our human view of nature - is it separate from us, are we part of it, how much of the 'wilderness' is really human modified? The book is intended for the general reader, although it is referenced well-enough for specialists and college students. This book This is a nice short book (193 pages plus index), interesting for anyone concerned about environmentalism and essential for environmentalists from the Bay Area. 'Nature' is in quotes because one of the many things that have changed over time is our human view of nature - is it separate from us, are we part of it, how much of the 'wilderness' is really human modified? The book is intended for the general reader, although it is referenced well-enough for specialists and college students. This book seems to be meant to generate more questions than it answers. The basic outline of San Francisco (and to a lesser extent the Bay Area) history in relation to nature is given. Although I already know a fair amount of California and SF history, I found it very thought-provoking to look at history from this direction. The questions raised in my mind are directed as much towards the future as the past. I know that I will be re-reading this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    modern history seems to be dreyfus's real bread and butter (or where my interests reside). the second half of the book was more energized and made stronger claims. that said, the whole book reshaped the way i see san francisco as it taught me how SF was shaped. worth reading if you're a CA or SF resident. modern history seems to be dreyfus's real bread and butter (or where my interests reside). the second half of the book was more energized and made stronger claims. that said, the whole book reshaped the way i see san francisco as it taught me how SF was shaped. worth reading if you're a CA or SF resident.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nils

    Serviceable but largely derivative, except for the account of the Reber Plan, which is among the more detailed I've read. Serviceable but largely derivative, except for the account of the Reber Plan, which is among the more detailed I've read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Adriana Oropeza

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jw

  7. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eli

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lejla

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Haley

  11. 4 out of 5

    Franco

  12. 4 out of 5

    Julia Hall

  13. 5 out of 5

    Solar Pair

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michael Meloy

  15. 5 out of 5

    Meave

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marc Svenby

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amy

  19. 4 out of 5

    mayhugh

  20. 5 out of 5

    Miriam

  21. 4 out of 5

    Angela

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paula

  23. 4 out of 5

    Conor

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marion

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nick Doty

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

  27. 5 out of 5

    xenu01

  28. 4 out of 5

    Perkins+Will San Francisco

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marleen Kip

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Owicki

  31. 4 out of 5

    Fatima Murad

  32. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

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