Friday, February 8, 2013

Rats of New York: Understanding the Geography Concept of Human and Physical Interaction

Let me begin with a virtual hooray and shout..."SOOOOOO glad I don't live in New York City after Hurricane Sandy."  One word can explain my perspective: RATS!  Here are just a few resources (organized chronologically) for those of you who haven't heard the story just yet.
While the story of rats makes me cringe, the story allows me to don my geographer's hat and  offer concept-based geographic insight.   The story begins with the rats living all around New York City. New Yorkers were bothered by the rats, but the rats generally stayed in their own space.  Over time, rats adapted to their physical world by living in sewers and tunnels. In those sewers and tunnels, they built the necessary shelter and found local food. The rats learned about their physical surroundings and developed patterns and systems for living within the physical environment of New York.  In 2012,  Hurricane Sandy hit and the rats were spontaneously forced to adapt and move (or migrate).  The physical world of the rats changed instantly and they moved (for different reaons such as safety, food supply, warmth, etc.).  The rats were experiencing push-pull factors to move because the physical condition of their "home." They were pushed from their homes due to a change within the physical system, and they were pulled to new locations because of the opportunities related to food supply, safety, and warmth.  Throughout this story, a geographer continually recognizes the human and physical interaction.  

Conceptually, we want students to examine the concept of human and physical interaction. If rats were truly rat-people, then this would be a fine example to help students understand human and physical interaction. Sometimes the interaction of human and physical systems causes a spontaneous, quick change (such as the example immediately following Hurricane Sandy).Ssometimes human and physical interaction causes people to adapt in ways that become part of daily life (think of how the rats lived on a daily basis before the hurricane). As a conceptual thinker, I can apply what I know about human and physical interactions to more situations:
  1. Early Native American groups lived differently because of the physical landscape. Their shelter, food, tools were different because of the local physical landscape and physical systems. These are adaptations that are part of each group's daily life.  The groups also had to adapt spontaneously due to changes in the physical world such as drought. 
  2. When various groups of people migrated to Colorado over time, they were often brought here because of the resources that were part of the physical world.  People mined for gold, built railroads through the mountains, and eventually built reservoirs to deal with water limitations. These groups also had to adapt spontaneously due to blizzards, drought, or the migration of animals (food sources). 
  3. When Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere to establish colonies, life in the northern, middle, and southern colonies looked different because of how the physical landscape and physical systems caused people to adapt. 
  4. For our earliest cultures throughout the Western Hemisphere, we see differences in their lives and cultures because of the physical world and local physical systems.  The Aztecs created floating gardens for food, the Inca established Machu Picchu for defense, and the Inuit developed tools uniquely suited to colder (and often icy) climates. 
These examples show how the daily lives of people are impacted by their local physical world and physical sytems.  Yet, we can probably imagine all of the spontaneous adaptations these groups made due to the physical world.  Situations such as drought, blizzards, tornadoes or lack of seasonal water cause more spontaneous adjustments.  In all situations, geographers recognize how people use the physical world daily or spontaneously adjust to meet their ever-changing needs. This is just one way to look at the geography concept of human and physical interaction.

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