Synopses & Reviews
Strategically situated at the gateway to the Mississippi River yet standing atop a former swamp, New Orleans was from the first what geographer Peirce Lewis called an "impossible but inevitable city." How New Orleans came to be, taking shape between the mutual and often contradictory forces of nature and urban development, is the subject of An Unnatural Metropolis. Craig E. Colten traces engineered modifications to New Orleans's natural environment from 1800 to 2000. Before the city could swell in size and commercial importance as its nineteenth century boosters envisioned, builders had to wrest it from its waterlogged site, protect it from floods, expel disease, and supply basic services using local resources. Colten shows how every manipulation of the environment made an impact on the city's social geography as well--often with unequal, adverse consequences for minorities--and how each still requires maintenance and improvement today. For example, while the massive levee system has controlled the unpredictable Mississippi, it also captures heavy downpours, creating a new set of internal flood problems. Urban geographers frequently have portrayed cities as the antithesis of nature, but in An Unnatural Metropolis Colten inserts a critical environmental perspective to the history of urban areas. His amply illustrated work offers an in-depth look at a city and society uniquely shaped by the natural forces it has sought to harness.