Waterpod

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This September a newly opened Concrete Plant Park hosts the Waterpod – a floating sustainable habitat and navigable living space that showcases the connection between the environment and art. Before coming to the Bronx, this barge has docked at several piers in Manhattan and other boroughs in New York City. The Waterpod is open to the public and features a series of environmental features, including a hydroponic growing system, chicken coop, biological graywater remediation tanks, food compost, soil-based gardens, solar photovoltaic panels, and living quarters. This project is similar to the Science Barge, a sustainable urban hydroponic farm, the Waterpod represents a more self-sustaining, autonomous living system, and a great idea for water-based nomadic communities.

The High Line park

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Photo: The High Line park, NYC, September 6th 2009.

Built in 1930s, the High Line lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air in the Lower West Side in Manhattan. Trains have not used this line since 1980s and it was under the threat of demolition. A non-profit organization Friends of the High Line with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation decided to convert this historic structure into an extraordinary park, whose first section between Gansevoort Street to 20th Street was opened in June 2009. When I came here this afternoon there were crowds of people taking a walk through this park and enjoying a variety of native plant species, stunning view of the Hudson River and Manhattan skyline. Later this fall I will try to bring here high school students who I will be teaching in the Henry Street Settlement to prepare them to go to college to study the environment. Maybe during this field youth will explore various ecosystem services provided by this unusual park.

Community rowing

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Photo: Addy Guance and kids on the Bronx River.

Today I feel that very often I have more opportunities to connect with nature here in the Bronx than upstate in Ithaca. Seriously. In Ithaca I have explored several beautiful gorges and parks around the Cornell University campus, but you have to drive if you want to experience more, and I don’t have a car. In the Bronx it’s much easier logistically to go on a river trip, to find opportunities to volunteer in a community garden, or to just to enjoy many other green spaces that are very educational – such as green roofs, rain gardens, and butterfly gardens. In addition, in the Bronx there is more contrast between densely populated areas and open space, which makes the former even more valuable.

Come to Rocking the Boat if you want to experience the Bronx River. Rocking the Boat is an organization that engages high school students in boat building and in the restoration of aquatic ecosystems in the Bronx River and the Upper New York Harbor. This summer every Saturday youth and educators from Rocking the Boat organize free community rowing. Today I could not miss this opportunity. The weather was nice and the tide was very high. Youth from Rocking the Boat welcomed me in the Hunts Point Riverside Park, and then I got on a boat with Addy Guance, the Director of the On-Water program, and several children who have never experienced a boat ride. Addy has tremendous expertise in youth development and environmental education, and I am looking forward to learning from her during the next year during our research project. When we got back from this ride, I have noticed that more and more people were standing next to the Rocking the Boat tent to sign up for a ride. Some boat riders were 10 years old, and one woman was about 90 years old; she said that she lived in this community 80 years ago and has not been here since then. Many discoveries and many meaningful stories happen here, and Rocking the Boat definitely helps local communities to reconnect with and appreciate the Bronx River.

West Farms Farmers’ Market

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Access to and affordability of good, healthy food in the Bronx is an issue for many people. This is why Phipps Community Development Corporation has organized the West Farms Farmers’ Market – to provide an opportunity for local people to access fresh produce at an accessible price. Jennifer Plewka, the director of the education program in Phipps CDC managing this farmers market, as well as other people working and volunteering in this market wake up at 5am every Wednesday to come here early in the morning to meet a farmer who delivers vegetables and fruits from his farm in Long Island. Some produce, including herbs and flowers, comes directly from Drew Gardens, a community garden behind the market. Interestingly, this neighborhood in the heart of the Bronx is called West Farms because there used to be farms in this area two hundreds years ago. Today Drew Gardens is an evidence that agriculture is not only the history of the Bronx.

This farmers market is also very educational. For example, some youth, especially in the Summer Youth Employment Program, get a chance to grow certain plants in Drew Gardens and sell in this market what they have grown.

Social-ecological systems

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Photo: The view of Manhattan skyline from the Bronx (Hunts Point).

In our research project we consider the Bronx as a social-ecological system. Social-ecological systems are “complex adaptive systems where social and biophysical agents are interacting at multiple temporal and spatial scales” (Janssen & Ostrom, 2006). This concept is very similar to the concept of coupled human and hatural systems, which are systems in which human and natural components interact. In the past very often researchers were thinking that ecosystems do not include humans, and only natural ecosystems should be protected or restored their native state. However, today more and more researchers view humans are an integral part these systems.

This idea is especially valuable in cities where there are many people and their infrastructure, as well as various species of plants and animals living in modified ecosystems. People depend on natural components of urban social-ecological systems in many ways. For example, trees regulate microclimate and provide cultural services, community gardens provide food and space for exercise, and healthy rivers provide opportunities for recreation. On the other hand, natural components are dependent on people. For example, people maintain designed systems such as urban forests and salt marsh, which provide habitats for wild species of animals.