Drew Gardens, the Bronx, NYC

In this video, Jennifer Plewka talks about different people using Drew Gardens (The Bronx, New York), including students of all ages, adults, elderly people, artists, adults with special needs, political refugees, and immigrants. Drew Gardens includes several ecosystems: the Bronx River, vegetable garden, open space, and urban forest.

Narrator: Jennifer Plewka. Videography: Alex Kudryavtsev. New York City, 2011.

Satellite Academy Eco-Leaders Program

Field trips to various urban environmental sites is one of the methods that Carol Kennedy uses to teach high school students in the Bronx, New York City. For example, in summer students are rowing on the Bronx River, taking water samples, and interviewing practitioners about rooftop gardens. Carol says, “My philosophy and my approach to teaching is to give the students a wide range of experiences that they would not normally have with the natural world in the urban environment – so that they can form a new view of the world and a new identity.” Watch this video to learn more:

Environmental stewardship in the North Bronx

Michael Brennan, a student mentor in the summer youth employment program at Mosholu Preservation Corporation, talks about high-school students improving the environment in the North Bronx, New York City. Videography: Alex Kudryavtsev.

The Hunts Point Express

At the Key to the City ceremony in the South Bronx I’ve met Bernard L. Stein, the editor of several newspapers, who commented on environmental issues and youth in the Bronx. Below is the transcript of his recording.

“My name is Bernard Stein. I was the editor of The Riverdale Press in the North Bronx. Five years ago I joined the faculty at Hunter College and I started teaching a class called “Neighborhood News.” The students in this class are the reporters for the newspaper that we started together, called The Hunts Point Express. Last year I started another class at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where the students are the reporters for The Mott Haven Herald. The Express comes out every month, and the Herald is still a baby, it’s still learning to walk, so it comes out less frequently, but I’m hoping to make it a monthly publication.

We often publish articles about environmental issues in the area. The South Bronx is an environmental justice community that has been forced to bear the brunt of environmentally bad things. But there are a number of vibrant organizations that are working on the environment in one way or another – from Rocking the Boat that takes care of the Bronx River, to Sustainable South Bronx, and the Point CDC.

Young people are mobilized by these organizations. They are doing wonderful work in trying to improve the environment there. Planting urban farms, fighting all kinds of political wars like the Sheridan Expressway and the fertilizer plant. Young people play a very important role in that.”

Toxic Tour

Organized by the Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), the Toxic Tour can be an eye-opening experience. I came to this walking tour with youth from the Civic Action Education Program at the Rocking the Boat run by Chrissy Word. Usually these young people help the local communities to improve the environment through restoration. But today they were just learning from Marta Rodrigues in SSBx about environmental problems in the Hunts Point neighborhood in the South Bronx. In short, Marta suggests that the Hunts Point belongs to the poorest congressional district in the nation with the highest rate of asthma in residents, and very little access to natural sites. Local residents, most of whom are Latino and African-American, experience the disproportionate density of industrial facilities and prisons in the Hunts Point. Marta has also acknowledged that bottom-up initiatives have recently brought the first public parks in this neighborhood, but a lot still has to be done to make this area a safer environment for urban residents.

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.

Hunts Point neighborhood

Hunts Point

Several organizations with environmental education programs – including Sustainable South Bronx, A.C.T.I.O.N. at the Point CDC, and Rocking the Boat, and the Bronx River Alliance – work with people in the Hunts Point (Bronx Community District 2). This is a neighborhood the South Bronx where the Bronx River flows into the East River with 47,000 residents (75% of Hispanic origin, and 37% are not proficient in English).

Environmental justice movement in Hunts Point reminds that this neighborhood has several undesirable sites, including the water treatment plant, prison, and the largest in the world food distribution center, and very few green areas. Surrounded by two rivers, until recently this neighborhood did not have waterfront access for local people. Two beautiful public parks (Barretto Park and Hunts Point Park) were just opened, but majority of residents still cannot find green areas within 10-15 minutes walk from their house.

I just thought how different environmental stewardship or civic ecology programs can be in remote rural areas where there are few people vs. Hunts Point where open space areas should be created first. In fact, some education programs in Hunts Point focus primarily on environmental policy topics (letter writing, public hearings, community presentations, etc.) to enable youth to be advocates of their environment, and to create green areas.