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.

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Arthur Ross Nursery

Today high-school students from Mosholu Preservation Corporation learned about integrated pest management at the Arthur Ross Nursery in the North Bronx, and removed weeds. This plant nursery supplies New York City with flowers, bushes and trees. They do not use pesticides, but bring beneficial insects and sometimes volunteers to keep unwanted plants out. On other days these students work with the Bronx River Alliance conservation crew, or attend interactive classes by New York Trees to learn tree identification and pruning.

Interviews at the High Line park

Carol Kennedy, a teacher at the Satellite Academy High School in the Bronx, New York City, has started her summer environmental education and stewardship program called EcoLeaders. The first field trip with 20 students was to the High Line park in Manhattan. The High Line park is built on old train tracks elevated above street level. Students have interviewed park visitors by asking them about their opinion on green spaces in NYC, nature deficit disorder, and favorite places to enjoy nature.

Below I copy a short report on this trip published by Carol Kennedy on the Ning website:

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It was a warm and sunny day, with a little breeze, but our stalwart and fearless group of traveling interviewers was able to cover the many miles between 14th street and 20th street (and back again) in down town Manhattan on Friday July 2nd, 2010. My ‘partners in crime’ – the EcoLeadership class seemed almost timid at first when it came to interviewing strangers about how they felt about nature and greenspaces in NYC, but they all rose to the challenge and did some great interviews. Most were able to get their subjects to agree to have a video taken of the interview as well. We all need to practice a bit more on how to get the best shots and to get the sound just right, but all in all, the images look good.

Below is a list of the questions we asked of the folks we met on the High Line.

  • Where are you from?
  • Do you think there is enough “green space” or “nature” in NYC?
  • How do you feel when surrounded by “nature” or green space?
  • Where do you go to enjoy “nature” or what is your favorite place to enjoy “nature”? Why?
  • Do you think some boroughs (Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island) have more green space then others? Why?
  • Are there any aspects of “nature” that bother you? If so what?
  • Do you think being around “nature” affects your mental, physical or emotional health? Why?
  • What do you think nature deficit disorder means?
  • Do you think it is important that young folks get a chance to experience “nature”? Why?
  • Would you be willing to pay (a very small amount) for more green spaces to be easily available to all persons in the city? Why?

Edgar Poe Cottage

Edgar Poe spent the last years of his life in 1840s in a cottage on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, which used to be farmland. Today restorationists from Mosholu Preservation Corporation in the North Bronx worked with students to replant ornamental plants around the cottage according to their ecological preferences.

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.

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.

Drew Gardens

Urban Forest

Located in the heart of the Bronx (the West Farms area), Drew Gardens is an excellent example of natural urban landscapes that provide various services for the environment and people. In my opinion, Drew Gardens is like a miniature biosphere reserve on the banks of the Bronx River, which contributes to wildlife conservation, local economy, environmental education, recreation, and hosts community events. The garden is supported by the Phipps Community Development Corporation (Phipps CDC), which builds affordable housing in the Bronx and Manhattan, and then serves communities around these houses in different ways. Today I was given a tour of the Drew Gardens by Jennifer Plewka who manages environmental and nutrition education programs in Phipps CDC, and coordinates activities in Drew Gardens.

The garden has three zones, all of which are maintained by volunteers, gardeners, and youth from education programs:

  • Urban forest, an area with local species of trees and bushes (see photo above). Trees retain stormwater runoff, and provide habitat for local and migrating animals, including birds and butterflies.
  • Community garden, which includes 50 raised beds with vegetables grown by people who were born in several countries (such as US, Dominican Republic, Bangladesh, Mexico and Korea) and speak different languages.
  • Open-space area, which includes a lawn, ornamental plants, and a performance stage above the river for visitors and community events.

This unique combination of different natural areas, I think, is very educational because it shows relationship between and importance of different types of land use. Urban forest teaches to appreciate wild nature and demonstrates its ecosystem services (although some urban youth have negative feelings towards a forested area when they come to this garden for the first time). Community garden sends some of its produce to local farmers market, thus contributing to local economy and better nutrition. And public area invites people to meet each other and observe the nature. It is a huge advantage that this garden is on the banks of the Bronx River because it links this green area with other communities down- and upstream, and provides opportunity for learning about aquatic ecology, and about the city water drainage system. In the opinion of environmental educators in the Bronx, if people in cities learn to care about nature, they will care about it when they go elsewhere.