Un barrio donde se habla español


Es importante que las organizaciones ambientales en el Bronx ayuden a la gente o expresen sus ideas a las comunidades en español. La mayoría de los empleados empleados en el Bronx River Alliance hablan y desarrollan los materiales educativos en español. En la imagen arriba hay los anuncios de acontecimientos que la Alianza organiza en el verano 2009. Por supuesto, la versión inglesa está disponible también:

Convención y simposio de estudiantes en el Bronx River (Jueves, 5 de junio) Únase a nosotros a aprender acerca de lo que esta pasando a lo largo del Bronx River y hable con los estudiantes locales acerca de cómo ellos están involucrados.

De la frontera hasta la desembocadura (Sábado, 7 de junio) Conoce el Bronx River de Norte a Sur viajando en canoa

Festival del Bronx River (Sábado, 21 de junio) Como parte de la semana del Bronx, venga y disfrute de un hermoso día con maquillaje artístico infantil, entretenimiento en vivo, comida y viajes en canoas en River Park.

Arte en los parques (Jueves 10, 17 y 24 de julio en River Park) Jueves 31 de julio en Hunts Points Reverside park. Diversión y actividades para todos lo niños.


Social capital and place attachment

Before doing interviews with environmental educators, I am reading additional literature and modify theoretical part of my original research proposal. We found that most definitions of environmental education list the following desired learning outcomes: 1) environmental knowledge and skills, and 2) certain attitudes and values. Then we reviewed various articles that addressed different educational approaches in environmental education, such as learning through action, social learning, and exposure to nature. It came to a big surprise that in many of these articles researchers mention social capital and place attachment as important outcomes of environmental education, although these outcomes are never mentioned in definitions of environmental education.

First encounter with the Bronx River Alliance

BxRA in Drew Gardens

My first contact with the Bronx River Alliance was last summer 2007 when I did a short research project on networking among environmental educators in NYC. Jill Weiss, the president of EEAC (Environmental Education Advisory Council of New York City) invited me to attend the presentation of the new book that she wrote together with Anne-Marie Runfola, now the Deputy Director of Bronx River Alliance. “Bronx River Classroom: The Inside Track for Educators” is a great resource book for environmental educators who want to connect youth with ecosystems along the river through investigations and action projects. The book if full of meaningful stories and activity sheets, which are designed to help youth to develop curiosity and knowledge, and to acquire a sense of responsibility and ownership of natural resources in their neighborhood.

The presentation itself took place in famous Drew Gardens (see photo above). This is an iconic place in the Bronx that demonstrates what dramatic positive change is possible in urban ecosystem thanks to the active involvement of local residents in conservation. This 2-acre site in West Farms located on a riverbank just south from Bronx Zoo used to be a dumping site for a very long time. About ten years ago local activists transformed it into a thriving garden with some plots to grow vegetables and flowers, space for community events with a performance stage right on the river, and a small urban forest with native species of trees. Not only is this a living classroom for kids from the adjacent public school, but also one of strongest magnets for community life in the West Farms neighborhood. Another day when I visited this garden I saw a heron resting near the river, and educators from the school said that kids saw turtles and even beaver. I can’t believe that all this is in the heart of the Bronx.

Defining research questions

This summer I will explore environmental education programs along the Bronx River watershed in the Bronx, New York City. These programs involve high-school students in learning about the environment through hands-on environmental stewardship and restoration activities. I have decided to work with such programs because I believe that community members, including youth people, can successfully manage their natural resources in cities. I will ask environmental educators about the goals of their programs and what kind of research would benefit them. This is a participatory research project, so my research questions will be driven by the needs of communities.

Macroinvertebrates inventory in the Bronx River


The Bronx River is full of different natural wonders, especially for urban audience who has limited access to natural areas, and it can serve as a living laboratory. Although I am skeptical about environmental education that relies solely on learning about ecology, it’s hard to imagine that people could develop appreciation of nature without learning of “what’s out there.” This time I observed a very meaningful learning event about macroinvertebrates organized on the Bronx River near the Bronx Zoo by Damian Griffin, Bronx River Alliance’s Education Director. Damian and a few interns from Green Apple Corps took samples of water and sediments from the River, and together with several groups of middle- and high-school students from several schools discovered small animals in this muddy catch. Using magnifying glasses, guide books, and petry dishes to identify these animals on the riverbank took attention of most students. I do not know how successful can be similar one-time learning events for development of environmental stewardship in young people, but it’s a great first step, and this educational approach might be more successful than passive looking at animals in a zoo. Moreover, today many of these youth participated in an inquiry activity probably for the first time outside of school classrooms. Youth listened to Damian with great interest when he connected biology with the history of this habitat (e.g., how the River has been used to power sawmills in the past), and when he talk about the River as a refuge for wildlife, and its role for local communities.

Today I realized that, comparing to other boroughs, the Bronx is really fortunate to have large parks, and also the Bronx River, which is the last freshwater river in NYC, and greenway around the River, which has dramatic potential for improvement. My impression, however, is that many residents are unaware of these open-space treasures, and can become more connected with green places. We only need to find ways to strengthen this connection. In urban areas people need nature and nature needs people as in no other place.

Car-free day at Crotona Park

Park ranger

If kids only play and participate in sports activities in park – they take little of the park, do not understand what focus is put on city trees – pollution, garbage… – will not take responsibility. They would not realize they are in the park, but just a basketball court. It is important to make these kids understand that they own this park, so they would not litter.” – says Chris Acosta, Urban Park Ranger at Parks & Recreation Department, who I met during the Car-Free Day at Crotona Park in the Bronx.
Today several organizations working on health and environment, including Bronx River Alliance (BxRA), organized information tables in Crotona Park to tell about their services. I am using this and other environmental events in the Bronx that are organized by or in collaboration with BxRA to get a deeper insight into environmental issues and environmental education in the Bronx. Contacts with people and understanding various educational opportunities available for residents will facilitate my research activities with BxRA and its collaborators.

I learned that Crotona Park has several sports facilities that attract people, but there are few opportunities to work with natural objects. I don’t know whether this is a problem of most parks in the Bronx. Probably, local residents would benefit if part of this park was assigned for community garden or other plots where people would more actively engage with nature – through community forestry projects, greenhouses, or other educational facilities or programs. Parks & Recreation, however, does organize “Junior Ranger Dap Camps” for youth in urban parks where they conduct teambuilding activities, Nature Days to explore botany, ecology, and entomology, Adventure Days that include fishing, canoeing, and orienteering, and Conservation Days to restore trails and participate in rehabilitation of wildlife habitats. I wonder which of these activities are more successful in building environmental stewardship in youth.

Among many interesting people, I met with Elaine Feliciano and Penny Matta who are part of restoration crew in BxRA. Later this summer I would like to take part in BxRA restoration activities to learn about the level of participation of youth / local community members in these activities because restoration can also be regarded as environmental education.

Bronx River Alliance

The Bronx River watershed

The overall task of this research is to build a general model of urban environmental education programs that develop stewardship in youth. The case study will be environmental education programs organized by or conducted in collaboration with the Bronx River Alliance (BxRA), a non-profit organization founded in 2001. It works with public and private partners “to protect, improve and restore the Bronx Rivercorridor and greenway so that they can be healthy ecological, recreational, educational, and economic resources for communities through which the river flows” (www.bronxriver.org). Now its office is housed at the Bronx headquarters of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation near Bronx Zoo. BxRA has five core program areas: Ecology Restoration and Management, Greenway, Education, Outreach, and Recreation. The map above shows the Bronx River watershed in the South Bronx, and some of spots where BxRA conducted restoration activities.

BxRA connects underserved, yet vibrant and culturally diverse communities with theBronx River environmental corridor, and nurtures future environmental stewards who will care about their environment. BxRA is uniquely positioned to be part of this research because it engages the Bronx’s local residents, schools, and community groups in environmental activities, where they are often not passive recipients of imposed programs with pre-determined outcomes, but active agents of change. BxRA information brochures says that enhancing environmental stewardship is a priority for this organization: “We work with over 40 local schools, youth and community organizations to engage residents in the development of the Bronx River Greenway and in the river’s restoration. In doing so, we develop stewards who will protect the river and open spaces for the long term” (Bronx River Alliance brochure). BxRA is also participates in PlaNYC’s MillionTreesNYC initiative. The geographic focus of BxRA’s activities is the Bronx River greenway, which stretches through some of the most underserved Latino and African-American communities in the USin terms of public services and access to natural resources. These communities are characterized by immensely rich cultural and ethnic mosaics and local leadership, and have a strong potential to achieve more control over their environment and higher levels of environmental stewardship.

This is the description of BxRA from the web:

The Bronx River Alliance (“BxRA”) serves as a coordinated voice for the river and works in harmonious partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor and greenway so that they can be healthy ecological, recreational, educational and economic resources for the communities through which the river flows. We work closely with local and state agencies in the design and construction of the Bronx River Greenway and provide ecological restoration and management services in new and existing open spaces on and near the river. We also work to educate communities along the Bronx River about the local environment, in addition to providing a wide range of recreational opportunities in the open spaces on and near the river.