What Is Wilderness in New York City?

Ursa Heidinger, Assistant Director of Biocitizen NY, here. I’m a senior at Columbia University in Manhattan studying political science and human rights, and this summer will mark my seventh year working with Biocitizen.



Many times over the past few weeks, friends and family have asked me — what exactly is your job? Once I have explained that I’m teaching field environmental philosophy and New York City’s biocultural history to students through the Our Place summer program, I am usually met with a “What?” and a “How can you possibly find wilderness in a place like NYC?”


“How can you possibly find wilderness in a place like NYC?” — this a reasonable question. At first glance, the city is completely paved, filled in, and built up. In a city that is only 302.6 mi², somehow it contains 6,074 miles of roads. A quick visit to Times Square or Wall Street will highlight how invisible the physical, geological, and biological forces that actually allow the city to exist are to the average visitor or inhabitant.

And this is not an accident.

Therefore, to teach field environmental philosophy and biocultural history to students in NYC, we don’t resist the way the city obfuscates its historic streams, forests, and wildlife. Instead, we contextualize the cultural and developmental choices with the natural realities of the place. It is here we can see New York City, the port to the “New World”, the bedrock of markets, the immigrant island.

And, here, we can begin our inquiry.

I’ll be in NYC this week, 5/20-5/24 preparing the FEP curricula and would love to meet you if you are interested in learning more about Our Place Summer School. You can call me @ (413) 923-8447.

About the author

Ursa is the Assistant Director of Biocitizen NY. She is also currently studying Political Science and Human Rights at Columbia University.