Flocking to the Cities



Starlingsandfalcons Sorry been a bit quiet here. Kids’ birthdays, other writing projects… stuff.

Anyway, a piece on the news caught my ear yesterday. Apparently a long-term study of the hunting habits of peregrine falcons has found that they have evolved their methods and are now increasingly hunting in cities at night.

The thinking is that they are using the lights from urban areas to spot migrating species – like Woodcocks – at night, and swooping in for the kill over our cities.

Why have they moved in? It’s a pattern we can see in many other animals too. Foxes – once a very rare sight in my childhood – are now a daily feature of my suburban street. Animals are finding cities good places to be because of two factors. Firstly, there are lots of easy pickings for scavangers like foxes. Discarded protein, in the form of chicken wings and kebabs, are easier to hunt down than rabbits. And migrating birds crossing over cities at night are very easy pickings for falcons.

Secondly, the irony of urbanisation, and the intensive food production it requires (see previous series touching on this), is that much of the countryside is very bland. In fact, in some urban areas there is now a greater variety of plant species per square kilometer than there is in the ‘countryside’, with its acres upon acres of intensively farmed land.

What does this tell us about cities? What is abundantly clear is that they are heavy masses, with large gravities. Falcons didn’t look at cities and think ‘hey, it’d be great to go and live there’. They circled them and were drawn in by them, inch by inch. Cities do not exist in isolation from, or in opposition to the countryside. The presence of the city infects and affects that which feeds it.

There’s a passage in the novel I’ve written* where the protagonist reflects on Forster’s assertion in Howards End that ‘all of Cornwall is latent in Paddington (Station)’, and concludes that the flow has switched: all of London’s vices are spread out and latent in the country stations that flow from its terminii.

It seems that the same pressures that drove people off the land and into the factories are being felt by other species. Nic always asserts that ‘you’re only out of the city when you can’t get mobile reception’, and that is getting a long way away now. But even in those places, the fingerprints of mankind’s domesitication of the landscape is plain to see.

Masses that get too heavy exert such a strong gravitational pull that not even light can escape. These black holes are constantly hungry ghosts, never satiated. The question is, how do we avoid allowing our cities becoming these dark places, drawing in and consuming everything around them? I guess that was one of the questions I was trying to grapple with writing the book.



* on Lulu for a while while I flaggelate myself before agents.


2 responses to “Flocking to the Cities”

  1. I stole that from Arjen Mulder’s TransUrbanism essay. Which is bang on for what you’re talking about, urban fields and nestings. There’s loads here, I’ll respond with an HG blog post.
    PS. Last year, more people lived in (what is currently understood as) cities than un-cities, for the first time in history of this planet.
    Arjen Mulder:

  2. i took a roadtrip last week, where for 500 miles we were without mobile phone access. there were satellite phones by the side of the road every 50 miles or so, that could be used for emergencies, and roadhouses every 100 miles or so, but that was it… just us and the road [and a few thousand kangaroos, goannas and roadtrains]. the isolation is an amazing, scary and liberating experience.