“The greening of the city was one of the most important developments of the nineteenth century.” This counterintuitive opening lays out the ambitions of this book. Most environmental histories of British cities in the nineteenth century focus predominantly on smoke and river pollution, disease, and supplying rapidly growing cities with sufficient potable water. Elliott argues the century also saw greening of cities by the planting of large numbers of urban trees in parks, cemeteries, private gardens, and streets. This countervailing trend helped offset environmental decline, at least in the wealthier and suburban districts. Readers interested in urban trees and urban greenspace will find an abundance of information in this book. Environmental historians without a particular interest in these topics might find the abundance of information a little overwhelming. British Urban Trees begins with a chapter on tree planting in private gardens with particular attention to the influence of John Claudius Loudon. It highlights the social and cultural significance of trees and gardens for middle-class people trying to insulate themselves from the less salubrious aspects of urban life. This is an important observation repeated throughout the book, but there was a missed opportunity to engage more fully with the deep historiography of class and social divisions in nineteenth-century British cities. The second chapter shifts the focus to trees in public parks and gardens. It provides a very good overview of the development of urban parks in Britain with a particular focus on London. Elliott discusses the cultural and social motivations to provide “rational and healthful recreation” for the urban working classes in the form of parks and well-labeled arboretums (p. 85). While a lot of the source material comes from authors supporting these landscaping projects, Elliott also discusses the regular transgressions of park rules and laws, helped by the shelter that trees provide. Unfortunately, the “Ecology of Urban Parks” subsection is very short and underdeveloped (pp. 82–84). Chapter 3 focuses on the new cemeteries developed in the urban periphery as churchyards became too crowded. This chapter misses an opportunity to engage with Peter Thorsheim’s environmental history of burial in nineteenth-century London. Iconic cemeteries, including London’s Highgate and Glasgow’s Necropolis, were designed as parks, with paths and trees laid out for pleasant walks. The chapter again highlights Loudon’s influence in shaping the large urban greenspaces on the edge of many British cities. In particular, he favored yews, cedars, and other evergreen trees because they “provided shelter and protection for worshippers and ancestors all year round” (p. 114). Under Loudon’s influence, cemeteries increasingly supplemented urban parks and provided “places for recreation” (p. 115). The following three chapters are case studies of urban trees focused on the Arboretum and other greenspaces developed during enclosure in Nottingham, social inequality that persisted in Glasgow after a major government effort to plant trees, and the importance of urban planning in providing Cardiff with an abundance of trees and parks. The strongest of these, Chapter 7, focuses on the challenges of planting trees in cities with heavy smoke pollution. Elliott argues smoke pollution was never a universal problem in British cities, but it was a major challenge in large and industrialized cities such as Glasgow, Manchester, and London. Cardiff, despite its role as a major port for distributing coal, did not suffer from enough smoke pollution to damage trees. Trees in Glasgow, in contrast, were damaged by soot, sulfuric acid, and insufficient light. The final chapter looks at the importance of trees and spa and resort towns to reinforce the cultural significance of trees. The conclusion again focuses on the importance of urban trees in greening British cities and the growing role of local governments in planting and maintaining these trees. An important connection is made to the historiography of British cities, where difficult social and environmental conditions resulted in more government intervention through sanitary inspections, smoke abatement regulations, waste removal, and the municipal control of water and gas. This book confirms local governments were also tasked with building parks, planting trees, and maintaining greenspace for recreation. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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