Concrete Plant Park opening

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Who would imagine just 10 years ago that a former industrial site in the heart of the Bronx would transform into a thriving park? The local communities led by Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice with the NYC Parks Department and several other community-based organizations in the Bronx were brave enough to envision such a transformation and organize the whole community to make it true. The park is located along the Bronx River in the South Bronx, and offers plenty of ecosystem services: you can enjoy the view of the River, learn about restored ecosystems, meet with people from your community, and reconnect with the environment. Some educators are already using this site to educate students from schools. For example, today Damian Griffin from the Bronx River Alliance was teaching middle-school students about biological diversity in the river and testing water quality. I need to learn whether some of high-school student groups who I am working with will engage in some kinds of environmental stewardship in this park.

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On this photograph Adrian Benepe, Commissioner of the Department of Parks & Recreation, delivers the opening speech.

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Planting day

I hope I will do research with the Mosholu Preservation Corporation next summer, but I decided to see one of its projects in the North Bronx today. During the tree and flower planting day in Mosholu Parkway I have asked high-school students “Why are trees important for your community?” Watch the video to learn what youth have replied. Most of them come from BuildOn, an organization that involves youth in weekly community service projects, and eventually sends some of these youth to build schools in poor countries such as Mali and Nicaragua.

The Tree Museum

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Yesterday Katie Holten, an artist originally from Ireland, has organized a presentation about The Tree Museum. The Tree Museum is composed of 100 trees on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. As you walk along this street, you will see phone numbers under each of these trees to call audio guides. When you call, you will hear a little story about a particular tree that you see or about various services that this tree species provides for urban communities. Before this presentation I did not realize that I live in a museum, but two or three trees that are part of this exhibit are growing near my house! The Tree Museum is a 4 mile long museum that collaborates with the MillionTreesNYC initiative, and is open 24/7. More information: http://www.treemuseum.org.

A.C.T.I.O.N. introduction session

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The South Bronx is often referred to as the poorest congressional district in the United States. But it might be one of the riches in terms of the diversity of cultures, potential for environmental improvements, and smart young people. A.C.T.I.O.N. at The Point Community Development Corporation is one of several organizations that help these young people in the Bronx to learn about environmental and social justice, teaches them to think critically, and engages youth in various community service and environmental restoration projects.

Adam Liebowitz, the Director of Community Development at The Point CDC in Hunts Point has invited me today to come to A.C.T.I.O.N.’s introduction session. This year more than 20 youth take part in this program; seven of them are new and others are returning students. This and next week returning students will be introducing new students into several ongoing projects organized by this community action program such as restoration of habitats on North Brother Island in the East River, urban agriculture, brownfields, greenway, and anti-tobacco campaigns.

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On the photograph above, a returning student teaches a new student about several issues related to water quality in the Bronx River, invasive species removal activities, and stewardship in community gardens.

The diversity of backgrounds and experiences of youth in this program is tremendous and hard to control for in our research project if we use quantitative methods only. Adam has suggested that it would be hard or even not valid to use just surveys to explore the impact of this program on sense of place in youth and their social capital because the majority of students have already participated in environmental activities. Probably a combination of quantitative (such as surveys) and qualitative (e.g., semi-structured interviews) methods would be the best option to explore the impact of this and other similar programs on youth.

Amphibious Architecture

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Illuminating glass pipes sticking out of the Bronx River look very futuristic and high-tech, they capture your imagination and stimulate curiosity. This fall the Bronx River features Amphibious Architecture, a fascinating education project designed by Natalie Jeremijenko, an associate professor at New York University, and her colleagues. The project is a collaboration between the Environmental Health Clinic and the Living Architecture Lab at Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Yesterday Natalie conducted in Drew Gardens a presentation of this project for the Bronx community.

A quote from the Amphibious Architecture website: “Amphibious Architecture is a visual interface floating on the water’s surface, (…) housing a range of sensors below water and an array of light emitting diodes above water. The sensors monitor water quality, the presence of fish, and human interest in the river’s ecosystem, while the lights respond to the sensors, creating feedback loops between humans, fish in their shared environment. Additionally an SMS interface allows homo-citizens to text-message the fish and receive real-time information about the river, contributing towards the collective display of human interest in the aquatic environment. The aim of which is to simultaneously spark a larger public interest and dialogue about our local waterways.”

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About twenty youth and adults came to this presentation, most of them have stopped by during the Pedal and Paddle trip organized by the Bronx River Alliance. They were communicating with fish in the Bronx River by sending SMS (text messages) using cell phones. Then carps responded by activating blue lights in glass-made structures floating on the river as well as by generating automatic SMS responses sent back to people’s cell phones. I think this is such a creative way to inspire curiosity about science, and reconnect people with the natural environment.

The Bronx River Restoration

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