The Chicago School of urban sociology has been criticized for its over‐reliance on organic and ecological metaphors. We propose that a useful updated integration of urban sociology and ecology could be achieved with the aid of complementary concepts, such as patch dynamics and assemblage, from both fields. In this exploratory article, we draw on more than 50 qualitative interviews conducted with residents of three different Detroit neighborhoods, together with field observations, photographs and documentary evidence, to examine both actual and metaphorical references to the natural world. We consider allusions to ‘drug infestation’ as well as other references to territorialization processes and associations with plants and animals that emerged out of our interviews and interactions with neighborhood residents. In conclusion, we maintain that social science may have much to learn from contemporary ecological research, and that a resituated ecological paradigm would challenge and benefit contemporary urban research.