Green roof on a church

I am standing on a green roof on a catholic church in the South Bronx. Last year youth and educators from the Youth Ministry for Peace and Justice have planted grass on this church. During a tour of my research site with Kendra Liddicoat, my colleague at Cornell, we have found that the church has recently installed solar panels on the other side of the roof. Interestingly, both natural and high-tech sides of the roof are using the energy of the sun. Kendra said this roof is very educational because residents in surrounding high rise buildings can see this innovation.

Oyster reefs


Many years ago the Bronx River was know for oysters that provided delicious food for people and filtered water. Oyster reefs and most other original ecosystems in the Bronx River have been wiped out by industrial pollution, residential sewage, and channeling the river for freight transportation.

Rocking the Boat, a youth education organization in the South Bronx, collaborates with other organizations to bring oysters back to the Bronx River. Today I have participated in an oyster monitoring field trip with students and Chrissy Word, the Director of Public Programs in Rocking the Boat. They were observing how oysters are doing in one of oyster gardens, which has been created by Rocking the Boat a while ago. Usually oysters live in habitats that they create for themselves, where younger oysters attach and grow on older oysters. It is not easy to establish a new habitat for oysters, especially in the Bronx River, which still has some pollution and a different composition of species. However, educators and students in the Rocking the Boat are working hard to restore oyster reefs in the Bronx River to make it a more sustainable ecosystem.

The Mannahatta Project


In 2009 New York City celebrates the Quadricentennial of Henry Hudson’s voyage. He has sailed on his ship “Half Moon” from Amsterdam to explore an estuary from Staten Island to Albany, which is known today as Hudson River. He met with native Americans and observed almost undisturbed forested landscapes on an island, which is known today as Manhattan, or Mannahatta in a native language, the land of thousand hills. What has changed since that time? Streams, small lakes, hills, and forests gave way to skyscrapers and the first mega-city. Probably Hudson would never imagine this change, just like it is difficult for us to imagine what New York City will look like in 100 years from now.

This week Hunter College hosted a conference about the urban environment. One of speakers was Erik Sanderson. He is working on The Mannahatta Project, which recreates what Manhattan looked like 400 years ago – both visually and ecologically. Comparing the past and current Manhattan stimulates our imagination, and helps us to think about future changes of urban systems. This project is also very educational because it helps students to think about how to modify urban systems to make them sustainable and resilient in the long run.

Water Quality Monitoring

water testing
In November after 5pm in New York City it’s already dark like at night. But youth in environmental after-school programs in the Bronx are working hard in all seasons to improve urban social-ecological systems. On-Water program in Rocking the Boat is one of such programs that combine a wide range of education and restoration approaches and youth development activities – anything from the restoration of oyster reefs to learning outdoor recreation skills, and from planting moss in walls to conducting various inquiry activities. For example, when I came earlier this week to Rocking the Boat, young people were conducting water quality monitoring. They were using a turbidity tube to evaluate water transparency and a number of other measurements such as temperature, pH, salinity, and dissolved oxygen. Rocking the Boat collects this data on a regular basis and submits it to the Bronx River Alliance, which in turn helps local environmental organizations to make more informed decisions about future restoration activities along the Bronx River watershed.

Invasive Species Removal

Can you believe that you are in New York City when you are walking through a dense forest on North Brother Island? This Island in the Bronx with the view of the Manhattan skyline had some houses and a hospital, which have been abandoned in 1960s. Now the NYC Parks Department manages this island as a non-cultivated land belonging to the NYC park system. The A.C.T.I.O.N. youth program from The Point Community Development Corporation in the South Bronx helps to maintain this area by removing invasive species several times a year. A.C.T.I.O.N. collaborates with the NYC Audubon on this project because the island is very important for birds nesting in this relatively isolated ecosystem in the middle of the city. This restoration project is a great learning experience for youth helping to improve ecosystems on this island because there are very few non-cultivated areas in the Bronx.