The city song
Environmental education has for a long time been sadly asymmetrical. Its none-too-hidden curriculum message has been that real environments are exclusively rural: environment equals countryside.
Even the terms fieldwork, field studies, field centres convey a predominantly pastoral message to lay ears. Places worth studying, worth conserving are to be found in woodlands, wetlands and wildscapes. The Council for the Protection of Rural England gets a bigger slice of the action than the Civic Trust. Although most of us live and work in urban and suburban environments, the message to our pupils is often that interesting places are only to be found beyond the towns. The unintended but unfortunate implication can be that their own immediate environments are scarcely worth investigating.
This series is therefore particularly welcome, establishing "ordinary" urban places as interesting and important contexts for developing environmental study skills and grasping geographical and ecological ideas. Project Eco-City's unfortunately flashy title disguises four solid, mainstream information books which maintain the publisher's high reputation in this field.
The series benefits from having a single author and hence a consistency of style and approach. Philip Parker's strengths include a penchant for unfamiliar and memorable facts. Did you know that darker algae patches on the lower trunks of urban trees indicate a "canine zone"? That one-half of the UK population lives within eight kilometres of a canal? That an ordinary wall can be home to 185 different species? This quirkiness is complemented by a refreshing absence of the exhortatory earnestness that pervades so much environmental material for children. Your Wild Neighbourhood, for instance, takes an admirably dispassionate view of wild pigeons (meningitis), starlings (toxic fungus), pond birds (algae growth), squirrels (spring feasting on eggs and flower buds), ash and poplar trees (lifting kerbstones, breaking underground pipes).
Your Living Home is intensely domestic, dealing with the human body, houses, furnishings, gardens, as habitats for creatures ranging from the demodex mite (born and bred on an eyelash, lives for two weeks) to the urban fox. Town Life broadens the scale to consider the city itself as a system, covering building materials, water supply, waste disposal, micro-climates, pollution. Global Cities deals with world urbanisation and its implications in terms of energy use, climatic change, quality of life. Here the material is somewhat diffuse compared with the other titles, and rather more generalised. The statement that "millions of people leave the countryside for the city, draining rural areas of much-needed brain-power" hardly holds for the developed world, where inhabitants of inner cities with "get up and go" have, by and large, got up and gone.
Each book (48 large pages) has striking colour photographs, some effective diagrams, and a selection of eminently practicable pupil activities. A glossary, list of relevant organisations, and index complete this attractive package. Environmental education will be enriched by this series.