May 13, 2017 – Urban Nature

If you’re a city guy like me, you take your nature wherever and whenever you can get it. Which means my backyard, the plants that grow in it (most of them planted by me), and the wildlife, which mainly consists of squirrels, pigeons, sparrows, robins, a couple of cardinals, the occasional feral cat and, of course, the ubiquitous rats.

So I was intrigued by the new series by WTTW called Urban Nature. It’s a 16 part digital series that takes its viewers on a tour of “overlooked ecosystems” in Chicago, New York and San Francisco. Some of the subjects are the same ones that have turned up on The Mike Nowak Show–how coyotes survive in the city, why different kinds of squirrels appear in different urban and suburban areas, how to protect migrating birds from skyscrapers–but there are plenty of things that we haven’t gotten to.

The host of the program is Marcus Kronforst, PhD, who is the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolution at the University of Chicago. He is an evolutionary biologist, whose work focuses on wing pattern mimicry in butterflies. He smartly brings in experts to tell their stories about their unique bits of urban nature and then pretty much gets out of the way.

Here are some of the stories you’ll find on the website:

Can Cities Save the Monarch?
The monarch butterfly’s remarkable migration is in peril. Its habitat has been decimated by rapid urbanization and changing agricultural practices. Could cities come to the rescue?

A Wild Plan for San Francisco
In San Francisco they’re imagining a world in which cars share the road with birds, bees, butterflies, and bicyclists. We cycled a few of the wildlife corridors designated in the city’s Green Connections Plan.

Rooftop Refuges
We know that green roofs cool our buildings and absorb storm water. But could they also provide habitat for wildlife? To find out, we got special access to five private rooftops in New York and Chicago.

The Bronx River Bounces Back
It’s one of the most remarkable comeback stories in urban wildlife: New York’s Bronx River—once an open sewer—is now teeming with life. We discovered oysters, eels, herons, and even beavers, as we canoed through the poorest congressional district in America.

Oakland’s Redwood Forest
Redwood forests can be mysterious places, but this one raises all kinds of questions. What’s a redwood forest doing in Oakland? Why do the trees grow in concentric circles? And why is one redwood so much bigger than the rest? We have the answers.

New York’s Deserted Island
Less than a mile from Manhattan in the middle of the East River is North Brother Island, the former home of a notorious typhoid hospital. Today the hospital lies in ruins, and nature is taking over.

Writer and producer is Dan Protess, who has a 17 year history of creating acclaimed programs at WTTW, including his work as Series Producer of the 2016 national PBS prime­time series 10 that Changed America, and the Producer and Writer of the 2013 program 10 Buildings that Changed America.

Peggy and I are thrilled to have both of them in studio today to discuss the series.