Book Review: City of Trees

The urban environment is home to a multitude of overlapping layers of cultural and natural undergrowth, and in this collection of essays author Sophie Cunningham offers a very personal tour through the thicket.

From the swampland ecosystems that were paved over to create the Melbourne streets she often calls home, to the Latinx residents of San Francisco’s Mission district increasingly pushed out by richer, whiter newcomers like Cunningham herself, City of Trees explores the conflicting moralities and perspectives that each layer brings with thoughtful analyses and a relaxed wit.

While also incorporating an insightful commentary on tree specimens from around the globe, Cunningham’s gaze roams over wide political, personal and ecological subject matter, from the marriage equality movement that has followed her across continents and several weddings (to the same partner) to climate change, a parent’s dementia, First Nations protest movements and urban renewal. In exploring, for example, the tension between ‘native’ and ‘invasive’ plant species and their effect on culture and habitat, Cunningham finds rich thematic terrain to examine her experiences as an artist, traveller and gardener, never losing sight of her own complicity in overlapping processes of gentrification, colonisation and environmental destruction.

All of which takes on a somewhat sobering perspective as she stands in the shadows of towering sequoias and river red gums, quiet giants that in the past operated on time frames far beyond human comprehension. But, Cunningham reflects, might not for much longer.

Author: Sophie Cunningham
Publisher: Text Publishing

City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham (Text Publishing)
Text Publishing

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