Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
In this paper, I use ethnographic research on human-tree relations in New York City (NYC), particularly the maintenance of street trees, to examine the possibilities and problematics of urban green infrastructures (GI) as climate change adaptation. In NYC street trees, along with GI like rain gardens, are being constructed to address problems including pollution from stormwater run-off and climate change impacts. While the specter of these environmental crises motivates governmental investment in GI, and galvanizes support among certain of the City’s residents, in the meantime GI needs to be cared for. Moreover, this care must take account of vegetal agency, attuning to the forms of inhabitation and temporal rhythms of plants. Thus, understanding the effects of GI requires attending to the specificities of urban human-plant relations. Through multispecies ethnography with NYC residents and street trees, I bring together human experiences of urban space, the agency and temporalities of nonhuman life, and the politics of GI. By focusing on the maintenance of street trees, I identify where relations among people and trees are formed and broken, promises of sustainable urban futures are made and abandoned, and multispecies agents withdraw from and spill over their “niches” within the idealized urban environment. In so doing, I examine what happens to the complex spatial, sociopolitical, affective, and temporal relationships comprising the city when nonhuman inhabitants become infrastructure.