All posts by ioby

Awesome Project: One Kin Farm

Growing up in Jamaica, Jimmy and his friends fed the island’s rabbits a diet that any human would envy: bananas, cabbage, grapes, apples and mangoes. Today, four decades later, the 59-year-old lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a residential Brooklyn area that boasts many Caribbean and Latin American immigrants. In a world of concrete and row houses, he and his neighbors are a world away from the easy connection to nature and fresh food that many of them enjoyed before moving to New York City.

One Kin Farm, a partnership with 596 Acres

Learn more about this week’s Awesome Project and keep up with their progress!

“Some of the kids we’ve met literally don’t know that a tomato plant produces tomatoes – the red things, the things you eat.”

ioby Project Leader Bree Hietala is out to change that. Since May, she and a small army of smiling volunteers have been building the One Kin Farm on a vacant lot on Greene Avenue and Tompkins Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant. In her words, they plan to fix “the broken bond between people and food” by giving local residents a chance to both grow their own food and to reconnect with nature. Like Jimmy, many of the neighborhood’s residents have lost the association with fresh food that they knew in their youth in other countries and cities.


            

Others, who have lived their whole lives in the city, are unaware that they are missing a connection at all. Buying food from bodegas—small markets located on nearly every New York street corner—means that most children never see where their food is coming from beyond the other side of the deli counter. “Some of the kids we’ve met literally don’t know that a tomato plant produces tomatoes – the red things, the things you eat,” says Kevin Boyd, another of the garden’s founders.

One Kin Farm is currently growing grapes, raspberries, kale, arugula, cucumbers, potatoes, radishes, collards, squash, peppers and broccoli, and plans to give away the produce for free. People in the neighborhood will be able to watch their food make the full journey from soil to table, without ever coming into contact with Saran wrap or passing by a cash register.

“What they’re doing here is giving my kids a safe space to come and be outside.”

Locals who want to use the space to reconnect with nature don’t have to wait until the harvest. During ioby’s visit to the site, Jimmy stops by to check on Uno and Kinny, the two resident rabbits. These bunnies have quite the social life; a steady stream of visitors stops by their enclosure, while Jana Hawkins watches from her third-floor window. Hawkins and her family moved to the neighborhood at around the same time as One Kin Farm, and already she is amazed at the impact it has had on her children.

“A lot of the dirt in the neighborhoods in Brooklyn and New York has high levels of lead, and so you can take your kids to the playground or to the museum or another great ‘New York’ thing, but you can’t necessarily let them play safely in their own backyard,” she explains. “What they’re doing here is giving my kids a safe space to come and be outside.”

“Here, the community can come together and cook and create and have fun.”

Hawkins’ son Sal chose to plant his house plants in one of the farm’s aquariums when they moved in, and he’s fascinated by their progress. “You can see the root systems now!” the seven-year-old says excitedly. “The garden is doing a much better job taking care of our plant than we did.” His three-year-old sister doesn’t yet grasp the significance of the growing shoots and vines in the garden, but she makes full use of the free play zone at the back of the lot.

The degree of neighborhood participation after just one month is a testament to Hietala and Boyd’s commitment to engaging with the community. As they started to transform the vacant lot, they made sure to greet everyone who walked by, asking each person what they wanted to see growing at One Kin Farm. Soon the collards and kale that these neighbors have requested will be ready to eat, and everyone will gather in the large space behind the rabbit hutch to celebrate the event. “Here, the community can come together and cook and create and have fun,” says Heitala.

For some, the positive change is already being felt. “It feels good to see them here,” Jimmy says, gesturing at Uno and Kinny as they cheerfully oversee raised beds constructed from recycled wooden pallets, dresser drawers, and old aquariums. One can’t help but imagine the scene forty years in the future, when the children who grow up next to One Kin Farm will tell their own stories about feeding the local rabbits.

One Kin Farm raised $674 on ioby. Click here to keep up with their progress!

Awesome Project: Bronx Greenhouse at Intervale Green

Six stories up in the air, 70 feet above the concrete, the earthy aroma of fresh herbs and leafy greens fills the 5,000 square foot rooftop farm located in the South Bronx in New York City. Residents of Intervale Green, the nation’s largest multi-family, Energy Star certified affordable housing development, have been going up to the rooftop to garden, recreate, and pick out fresh ingredients for dinner.

Learn more about this week’s Awesome Project and donate here!

“The rooftop farm was a direct answer to what the tenants desired,” says Rebecca Eigenbauer, Director of Housing Development at the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco), a Bronx-based nonprofit organization whose mission is to make the Bronx a more beautiful, equitable and economically vibrant place to live, work and raise a family. Intervale Green was built on the philosophy that beautiful places can change people’s attitudes by reducing their stress and giving them greater hope. The rooftop farm is among several health and wellness programs offered by WHEDco to its residents.

“[When] I started planting stuff up there, no one would come up, or they would come up and [say things] like ‘I don’t know what this is ‘, ‘this looks weird’ or ‘I’m not going to eat that,'” recalls Shieh.

In Summer 2010, WHEDco, with the help of a United Way grant, was able to equip Intervale Green’s rooftop with hundreds of eight inch deep containers filled with nutrient rich soil. Despite a late start to the growing season, an astonishing 136.41 pounds of produce were harvested the first year.

At first; only a handful of residents were curious enough to venture up to the rooftop. Fa-Tai Shieh, Intervale Green’s Rooftop Farm Consultant, admits that getting residents to use the rooftop farm was difficult. Few residents were familiar with using fresh ingredients provided by the farm. “[When] I started planting stuff up there, no one would come up, or they would come up and [say things] like ‘I don’t know what this is ‘, ‘this looks weird’ or ‘I’m not going to eat that,'” recalls Shieh, who holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia University and teaches Urban Agriculture at the New School University.

To generate interest in the farm, Shieh—with the green-light from WHEDco—started doing weekly cooking demonstrations in the lobby, showing residents how to make easy, nutritional meals by using the vegetables harvested from the roof. “That was very successful. [The residents] got really interested. It started to slowly gain attention and people were coming up.”

“They love it and for them it’s such an amazing experience to see something grow into something they can actually eat,” says Shieh.

Last year, WHEDco decided to devote part of the farm to individual family gardens and gave households the opportunity to sign up and receive farming instructions. The program received positive feedback and six out of ten households that started, stuck with it throughout the entire farming season. The goal is for the residents to take over the farm entirely. “I see value in having the family farms because it makes it more sustainable and tenants are taking ownership over it,” says Eigenbauer. This year more tenants signed up and at a tenants’ meeting and at Intervale Green’s Spring Festival, held to commemorate the start of the planting season, an additional 15 households were ready to become caretakers of their very own vegetable garden.

“They love it and for them it’s such an amazing experience to see something grow into something they can actually eat,” says Shieh. “I have residents who come up to me and say, ‘You know after you showed me how to cook that collard greens, I’ve been eating it all the time.’ Or I’ll have residents who come up on a consistent basis to get vegetables to cook for dinner,” he adds.


Rooftop gardening has also caught the attention of the youngest residents; Shieh’s biggest fans are the children and about 20 consistently come up to the farm to help out. “For the children, it has been a transformative experience to have the opportunity to do [gardening],” says Shieh. The parents are very pleased with their children’s response to the program. “[Parents] say the farm has made their child apply themselves better in school. [The children] are talking about it all the time. They are telling their teachers about it and [parents] just notice they are more focused,” says Eigenbauer.

The greenhouse will help create that infrastructure so that it takes off by itself and becomes its own program and tenants take ownership of it,” she adds. 

Attendance tends to fluctuate with a lot of different WHEDco programs explains Eigenbauer, but “with the farm, it is something that is growing.” In a recent tenant survey, residents favored more recreational space and healthy eating programs. To satisfy the tenants desires, WHEDco has proposed the idea of building a year-round garden.

The plan is to build a greenhouse in the courtyard and host educational workshops from canning to cooking demonstrations. “Having something that is 365 days a year will really cultivate the core group of tenants [interested in gardening], so they’re doing something year-round. And they are doing it, not WHEDco,” says Eigenbauer. “The greenhouse will help create that infrastructure so that it takes off by itself and becomes its own program and tenants take ownership of it,” she adds.

One particular tenant, Egypt Dees, has been very involved in gardening and has taken the initiative to start a composting program in the building. “She’s always queued into the next step to get the ship going,” says Eigenbauer. One thing is for sure, Dees’ enthusiasm is contagious and support for the gardening and healthy eating program is spreading its roots throughout Intervale Green.

WHEDco is currently using ioby to raise nearly $2,892. The project titled “The Bronx Greenhouse at Intervale Green,” is part of the Community Development Corporations (CDCs) Campaign. Every donation will be matched dollar for dollar by Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation. The greenhouse will allow residents, many who come from difficult life situations, to have a space for them to focus on health, gardening, and recreating.

Donate here to help the Intervale Green residents grow vegetables year-round!

Awesome Project: Solar Powered Eco-Shed

Growing food during the school year in the middle of Brooklyn is no small feat, especially when your neighborhood has no access to quality supermarkets or greenspaces. Luckily, the folks at the Academy for Environmental Leadership are being the change they want to see. They have built a farm to provide a green oasis in the concrete jungle and to bring quality produce to their community. To extend the growing season, they have also built built a greenhouse with hydroponic and aquaponic systems . Although both the hydroponics system and the aquaculture system require electricity, AEL plans eventually to beself-sustaining and off the grid.

Green Design Lab™ Project from Solar One


Learn more
 about this week’s Awesome Project and donate here!

“The organic farm is something these kids are taking very seriously…For a lot of these kids it really gives them a chance to experience the outdoors in a way that they haven’t [before].”

The Academy for Environmental Leadership (AEL) has been a model for urban sustainability in the heart of Brooklyn since 2006. Around 350 students, grades 9-12, attend AEL and nearly 100% are eligible for free or reduced lunch.  In partnership with the two other schools on its campus, AEL built a working farm in 2011 as a place where students could both apply what they are learning in class and connect with the community. As AEL teacher Mia Lefkowitz describes, “The organic farm is something these kids are taking very seriously…For a lot of these kids it really gives them a chance to experience the outdoors in a way that they haven’t [before].”

Produce from the farm is sold at a market outside of the school to provide low cost fruits and vegetables to the community. The farm is filling a larger community need. “In terms of parks, there aren’t a lot [in Bushwick],” Mia explains. “It lacks green spaces for kids to go to and it lacks access to quality supermarkets. What we’re trying to do is bring resources to the community to help them become a stronger, more vibrant community, without people being pushed out.”

“We’re just really trying to get them comfortable with the idea that they can make a difference and that these small steps really matter.”

Last year, AEL applied to be part of Solar One’s Green Design Lab and began working with Joe Chavez, a Green Design Lab educator. He taught the students about alternative energy, and together they came up with a solution for sustainably powering the greenhouse. The students decided to attach solar panels to their farm shed, powering the greenhouse and reducing their dependence on fossil fuels. Most buildings in the United States get their energy from the electric grid, which can transmit electricity for miles from power plants using coal, oil, and natural gas. Sometimes the grid can breakdown and leave millions in the dark, like it did in 2003 for 55 million people in the US and Canada. By installing a solar panels, the Academy for Urban Leadership can power its greenhouse using renewable energy, even during a blackout.

A working model of alternative energy at their school is a wonderful teaching tool for students for alternative energy and personal empowerment. Mia explains, “We’re just really trying to get them comfortable with the idea that they can make a difference and that these small steps really matter.” The project is also engaging more students beyond the current core group of 20 dedicated student volunteers. “The cool thing about the solar power project is that it’s getting a whole new group of students involved who weren’t necessarily interested in the gardening aspect [of the farm] but they’re interested in this idea of technology and building. They’re into that.”

  

AEL is planning to install the solar panels as a multi-day student led workshop. Project leader Joe Chavez hopes that this will “inspire the school and other community organizations and urban farms to start using their own energy. I think it can just serve as a model and an inspiration. I just see what is happening at that school. They continue to build. Students and teachers there are dedicated to furthering their sustainability initiatives.” Chavez says that the students want to see sustainability spreading across their community. “From growing their own food, to creating their own energy, to collecting their own rainwater, I think they want to try to serve as an example of what’s possible.”

The school garden is a success with students and Mia Lefkowitz hopes to see it expand. As Mia explains, “eventually I would love our students to start creating a CSA for our school so that families in the community could have a source of fresh produce that the school is generating and they can bring home. It’s nice to see that element happening. I would love to have the security that this is a project that will last. It’s really taken off very strong and we want to keep it going throughout the years and just keep moving on to bigger things.”

Solar panels don’t come cheap. The Academy for Environmental Leadership has raised $223 so far, but is looking to raise $2,228 more. By clicking here, you can provide students an engaging lesson in green technology and construction, a community with a working model of alternative energy, and a school with a sustainable working farm (not to mention lower electricity bills). Help Mia build a project that will last.

Donate here to help the Academy for Environmental Leadership build the Solar Powered Eco-Shed!

Awesome Project: Pedal Powered Bicycle Blenders at P.S. 33

As the students in Alycia Zimmerman’s third grade class stream back into PS 33 after recess, their huge grins and happy chatter bring an old nursery rhyme to mind. Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed! There will be no head-breaking at PS 33, though. Instead, ioby project leader Jessica Shreefter, an instructor from the green energy, arts and education nonprofit Solar One, plans to channel the children’s raucous behavior into electric power. On two bicycle blenders, these third graders will turn tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes from the New York City school’s organic garden into nutritious, delicious smoothies.

A Green Design Lab™ Project from Solar One

Learn more about this week’s Awesome Project and donate here!

Bicycle blenders are just what they sound like: A blender, attached to a stationary bicycle, is powered by a small generator that runs when somebody pedals. The bikes also have a light bulb attachment, helping students to see how much more energy is needed to power a conventional bulb than an energy-efficient one. These bikes smartly use things that kids in grades K-4 already love – bicycles and yummy snacks – to teach powerful (pun intended!) lessons about nutrition, alternative energy, conservation and sustainability.

“Instead of electricity, we’ll be using human power – like, pedal power,” nine-year-old Catherine tells ioby proudly. “We want to make the Earth a healthier place, and not use fossil fuels like coal and oil.”

“These machines will give the children an understanding of what it means to produce electricity without burning fossil fuels, as well as larger scale ideas like making healthier food choices and fighting childhood obesity,” Jessica explains. “The earlier a child is exposed to an idea, the easier it is to drive the important messages home.”

Ms. Zimmerman’s class proves that the students at PS 33 have already embraced vocabulary and concepts that elude people decades older. “Instead of electricity, we’ll be using human power – like, pedal power,” nine-year-old Catherine tells ioby proudly. “We want to make the Earth a healthier place, and not use fossil fuels like coal and oil.”

Another student is so excited to contribute, straining his arm in the air and tipping over at a seventy-degree angle, that he breaks Circle Time protocol entirely and speaks without being called on. “Pedal power is BETTER than electricity!” Alvin bursts out. “We’re stopping global warming!”

The bicycle blenders will complement sustainable initiatives already taking place at the school. Environmental information has been integrated into the curriculum in line with city standards, so that first graders learn to “reduce and reuse,” second graders study wind energy, and third graders tackle solar energy. The school has also updated its mission statement to reflect these new priorities, and this year’s fifth grade graduation caps and gowns will be green rather than black.

The third graders’ suggestions were more community-based: Join a CSA! Eat local! Go to a farmer’s market!

Principal Lenore Lindy embraces these changes. She believes that they will reach far beyond the brick walls of their Chelsea neighborhood school building. “Our children are ambassadors!” she says. “From energy efficient light bulbs to healthy nutrition choices, they take home everything we teach them and translate it into every language that’s represented at our school. Our students are spreading this knowledge through the community.” Pint-sized grassroots warriors who spread environmental messages block by block? ioby is in full support!

There are definite educational advantages for the children, too. When Jessica taught the school’s students about community gardening earlier this year, post-instruction survey results indicated that the students who learned the information at a younger age were better able to remember and integrate the concepts. For example, when listing five ways to make healthier choices, many sixth graders responded with variations on “drink more water” and “eat less fast food.” The third graders’ suggestions were more community-based: Join a CSA! Eat local! Go to a farmer’s market!

By turning the school’s own organic produce into smoothies, the Pedal Powered Bicycle Blenders will show the students of PS 33 that environmental lessons learned in the classroom – combined with a little leg work – will help to create the sustainable future they deserve. “We’re thrilled to do this because we want our children to imagine the impossible and make it happen,” says Principal Lindy. “It’s our job to give them the resources that support thinking outside the box, so that one day they can build their own ‘bicycles’ to solve problems.” And that’s no monkey business.

Donate here to help Ms. Zimmerman’s class get the bicycle-powered blenders that they so deserve!

Awesome Project: Kids are “LEDing the Future” at PS 57

Single file, an entire class of thirty fourth graders are guided down to the school building’s basement and into a highly restricted but crucial space, no larger than a studio apartment—the boiler room. Paul, a custodial staff, turns the boiler on, and smoke begins to emerge from the pipes. Led by Sashti Balasundarm, a Solar One instructor, the students experience first-hand how fossil fuels are used to heat their classroom.

“With this experience the students learn that burning fossil fuels causes not only environmental problems but also health,” Sashti told ioby last month. “Often times, students will ask why we are still using fossil fuels if they are harmful to us.” From there, the boiler room lesson shifts to talking about renewables and the possibility of creating energy without pollution. This is lesson one in the Green Design Lab (GDL) program, which utilizes the school building as a laboratory for hands-on learning.

The GDL program is run by Solar One, a New York City nonprofit environmental organization, in partnership with the Department of Education (DOE). Participating K-12 public schools endure in a year-long curriculum and program focused on understanding energy issues and reducing the school’s energy consumption. Solar One instructors, like Sashti, visit twice a week to teach kids and help them with energy projects. 

Students at the Hubert H. Humphrey PS 57, located in Staten Island, New York have been participating in this program since 2010. The students, four fourth grade classes and the school’s Green Team, have been conducting energy audits using kilowatts meters to record and display the amount of energy that their school uses. From the readings they are able to determine where energy reduction is possible.

 Check out this week’s Awesome Project, LEDing the Lighting Future. If you like what you read (and we think you will!), be sure to donate!

            

In 2011, with over 25% reduction in carbon emissions, PS 57 placed third in the NYC Green Cup Challenge, a competition created by the Department of Education Sustainability Initiative to encourage participating schools to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and electricity use. The winning school was Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Campus, reducing 35.1 %. This year the school reduced an additional 16.6 % of carbon emissions with the help of their supporters.

“One of our strongest allies has been the custodial staff. They have been amazing and remarkable in improving [energy efficiency] and trying to win the contest,” said Sashti. “They help us identify spots where energy is being wasted and the children make awareness posters and write notes about it.”

The school’s Green Team is led by the school’s sustainability coordinator, Patricia Lockhart, and consists of 40 students, including special education students and 4th and 5th graders. Currently, they are working on an energy conservation themed project. After analyzing energy readings, the students figured out that upgrading the school building from incandescent bulbs to LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs, would be the best way to save on energy costs. They plan to replace 104 300-watt incandescent bulbs with 12-watt LEDs in the cafeteria, auditorium, and hallways. They are raising funds through ioby in hopes of further reducing their school’s carbon emissions for the 2012-2013 Green Cup Challenge.

Students at PS 97 have showed great enthusiasm about energy conservation outside the classroom. “Some of them have questions and approached me afterwards saying, ‘Hey, Mr. Sashti,—I’ve  spoken to my father, the landlord and the super of the building, and I told them about CFLs [compact fluorescent lights] and they were like, ‘oh great idea’ and are switching over.’” Another student has initiated a petition, getting other students and faculty to sign her notebook to promote energy conservation. After collecting enough signatures the student plans to show the petition to administrators to increase action. “I wasn’t even expecting those ideas to come forth as I was teaching them” says Sashti about the students going the extra mile.

Many students who participate in the Green Design Lab program understand the need and importance of saving energy. They are reaching out to their peers, teachers, parents, and even their community to help lower CO2 emissions and create healthier living spaces for a better and greener future.

To help PS 57 switch to LED bulbs, donate here.

Recipes for Change: The Trees of Evelyn’s Playground

The Fifth and Final Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
“The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa”

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life. 

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

 

Today’s Featured Playground: the Trees of Evelyn’s Playground, Union Square Park

There are a lot of trees in the Union Square Park playground!  And the species palette is diverse, too: dawn redwood, goldenraintree, Japanese cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica), Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), and saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangia).  We have already discussed the dawn redwood and goldenraintree so we will profile the other species here.

Of his choice of the Japanese cryptomeria (PDF) the landscape architect for Evelyn’s Playground, Matthew Urbanski, said that it would “provide a more complex layout for imaginative play….kids can imagine it’s a forest.”  Depending on the variety, the Japanese cryptomeria can reach 60 feet tall and 30 feet wide at maturity in a non-wild setting.  The species is not notable for fall color or showy flowers and its fruit does not have wildlife value, but its pyramidal shape and reddish-brown bark are regarded as “outstanding ornamental features.”  Matthew Urbanski is a principal at Michael van Valkenburgh Associates.  You can view fabulous photographs of the playground on the firm’s website.  The cryptomeria tree is the national tree of Japan where it is known as Sugi.  The trees line Cryptomeria Avenue, the approach to Hakone Shrine.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the trees were planted between 1628 and 1648 and “over 13,500 of its original 200,000 Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) trees survive” today.

 

 

The exuberant spring flowering of the saucer magnolia has passed.  The magnolias, along with goldenraintrees, provide a deep line of green along the eastern and southeastern edges of the playground.  The tree’s saucer-sized flowers appear on the tree before it leafs out.  The species in the Magnolia genus are pollinated by beetles!  Magnolias produce pollen but not nectar; the former is high in protein and a food source for beetles.  Three other commonly planted magnolias in the city are star magnolia (Magnolia stellata), Loebner magnolia (M. x loebneri), and southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).

 

         

The lower leaves on one of the Northern catalpas in the playground looked bedraggled on a hot early May day, though the species is known for its heat tolerance.  The species’ “abundant showy blossoms” appear in late spring.  The flowers look like orchids, and perhaps the tree should have been named orchidtree just as the tuliptree is named because its flowers resemble tulips.  The catalpa’s fruit is a long seedpod that resembles the string bean but is not a legume.  There are several features that distinguish the northern catalpa from the southern catalpa (C. bignonioides).  First is the leaf; the southern species has “a smaller, thicker leaf with a shorter point” (Plotnik, 2003).  Second is the flower; Plotnik notes that there are “considerably more blossoms on each panicle, with more lavender or purple coloring.”  Third is the seed; southern catalpa seeds are bearded and pointed, while the northern ones are rounded.  The fourth distinguishing characteristic is the smell of the leaf.  Crushing a leaf from a southern catalpa releases a strong odor.

The large heart-shaped leaves of the northern and southern catalpa are the only host plant for the catalpa sphinx moth caterpillar (Ceratomia catalpa). Luckily for the Northern tree, catalpa sphinx moth is most common in the southern portion of the tree’s range.  If you fish, you might want to visit this tree in early to mid-spring; the caterpillars are great fish bait!

Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Recipes for Change: Trees of the Playground at Pier 25

The Fourth Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
“The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa”

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life. 

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

 

Today’s Featured Playground: the Playground at Pier 25

The Tot Playground in Washington Square Park and Playground of the Americas are two examples of older playgrounds that seem only to host up to two species of shade trees. Still, newer playgrounds, such as the Playground at Pier 25, in TriBeca host three or more tree species.  The shade trees in the Pier 25 playground are honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos), dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), and goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata).  All three species are listed on the NYC Parks approved street tree list (PDF).

The dawn redwood is a deciduous conifer meaning that it drops its needles in the fall.  There are only five genera of deciduous conifers Glyptostrobus, Larix, Metasequoia, Pseudolarix, and Taxodium.  Dawn redwood was first described in 1941, based on fossil data.  In 1944 or 1946 live specimens were found in China but, due to World War II, were not classified as a new species until 1948.  In that year, the Arnold Arboretum in Boston brought the first seeds (PDF) to the U.S.  Another deciduous conifer that is commonly planted in New York is the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum).  It “does well on city streets” and its wood is used to construct the water tanks seen on top of many New York apartment buildings (Day, 2011).  Our favorite dawn redwood is the 100-foot one growing in the Liz Christy Community Garden on Houston at Bowery; it also happens to be the tallest Dawn redwood in the borough!  Dawn redwoods can attain heights of 150 feet at maturity.  The species grows quickly – three feet per year after it is established, so the playground’s trees should be 100 feet in a generation.

 

 

Like the dawn redwood, the honeylocust is a fast-growing tree.  Its maximum height at maturity is 100 feet.  The species is one of the first to bloom in the spring, and Leslie Day describes the scent as “extremely fragrant.”  The flowers are also attractive to pollinators.  According to Harold Harrington’s How to Identify Plants, the fruit is a legume or “a dry one-celled, one-carpellate fruit splitting down two sides.” The pulp surrounding the seeds within the legume, or pod, is eaten by wildlife such as squirrels and starlings.  The pulp can be eaten by humans but Plotnik offers the following caution: “Not off city streets, perhaps, especially not after the green pod has gone mahogany brown.”  These unappetizing pods make great musical instruments – shake one and hear!  The pods are considered “litter” and seedless varieties were developed.  Similarly, the species was “declawed for the city” when a natural thornless hybrid was discovered (Plotnik, 2000).  Honeylocust is incredibly tolerant of urban conditions.  Its ability to “shake off heat, drought, air pollution, salt spray, and root drenching” accounts for its popularity as a street tree.  In the city’s 2005-2006 Street Tree Census, it was the fourth most common tree in the city and the most common species in Manhattan and the Bronx.

The goldenraintree is significantly shorter than the dawn redwood and the honeylocust at maturity.  Its maximum height is listed at 40 feet.  The species tolerates a range of growing conditions and thrives as a street tree.  It has showy fall flowers – said to be attractive to bees – and its fruit – a type of capsule – persists into the winter adding further seasonal interest.  Wind is an environmental factor when matching species to planting locations.  Interestingly, we have read conflicting accounts about the wind hardiness of the goldenraintree and are curious about its mortality on the pier.  Finally, in contrast to the honeylocust, the goldenraintree is a relatively “new” street tree, but its arrival in the U.S. can be traced back to 1809 (PDF) when aristocrat and botanist Madame de Tessé sent a shipment of seeds to Thomas Jefferson.
 

Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Recipes for Change: The Trees of Minetta Playground

The Third Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
“The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa”

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life. 

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

Today’s Featured Playground: Minetta Playground

The Minetta Playground is named for Minetta Brook, the same creek that used to flow aboveground through Washington Square Park.  Two nearby Parks Department properties are also named for the brook: Minetta Green and Minetta Triangle.  The .206 acre Minetta Playground is located on Sixth Avenue (aka Avenue of the Americas) between West Third Street and Minetta Lane.  The Parks Department was permitted to develop the parcel as a playground in 1934 and, in 1953, the Board of Estimate transferred ownership rights from the Department of Transportation to the Parks Department.

At the groundbreaking ceremony for the playground’s renovation in July 2010, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn described the playground as “an eyesore for the families in one of Manhattan’s most vibrant neighborhoods.”  The playground was reopened in January 2012.  All the play equipment is new but all the existing trees – nine Northern red oaks (Quercus rubra), one pin oak Q. palustris), and three London planetrees (Platanus × acerifolia) – were preserved.  In order to protect and preserve the mature canopy at Minetta Playground, the design and construction teams had to adhere to a five-step process (PDF): (1) define project goals and objectives; (2) inventory and assess all existing trees within the project scope; (3) design with the trees in mind; (4) formulate tree protection, staging and access plan; and (5) implement and enforce tree protection measures during construction.  Time will tell if the approach was successful.  Symptoms of construction damage are often delayed and can emerge within a few months to several years after construction is completed.

One interesting arboreal factoid about this playground is that the canopy is not dominated by London planetrees, which seem to be the default tree species in many older playgrounds.  A street tree-only survey of NYC (PDF) found that planetrees account for 15.3% of the total number of street trees and 29.1% of the street tree canopy cover across the five boroughs!  The pin oak is the fifth most numerous tree in the city, accounting for 7.5% of the total population and 10.9% of total canopy cover.  In Manhattan, London planetrees are the fourth most numerous tree, accounting for 8% of the total street tree population, while Northern red oaks are only 2.3% of the total population.

A 48-inch diameter Northern red oak is the third largest street tree in the Bronx, while in Queens the largest street tree measured in the city is a 76-inch diameter pin oak.

The Northern red oak is a preferred city tree because of its quick growth rate, symmetrical form, and pollution tolerance though it is sensitive to drought compared to other oak species. The pin oak is the “most popular street oak in America” likely because of its pollution and disease resistance and the ease with which it can be transplanted.  The species name for pin oak is palustris which means “marshes” in Latin.  Interesting, given the derivation of the playground’s name!

Different species of oak hold wildlife value in different regions.  In the East, the pin oak is one of three valuable wildlife species and, in the Northeast, the Northern red oak is one of four species of oak that have “particular importance to wildlife” (Martin et al., 1951).  The red oak is one of “the best shade trees,” (Martin et al., 1951) which can be attributed to its dense foliage and the horizontal growth of its branches.  Children and their caregivers will appreciate the effect of these physiological traits on hot summer afternoons.  Elevated temperatures negatively impact human and environmental health, so the role of shade trees goes beyond human comfort.  The trees and the understory vegetation also serve as a buffer between busy Sixth Avenue and the users of the playground – limiting exposure to vehicular pollution.

In The Granite Garden, Anne Whiston Spirn recommends at least 33 feet between the road and the sidewalk, the distance at which “the concentration of pollutants falls off sharply.”

 

Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Recipes for Change: The Trees of the Playground of the Americas

The Second Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
“The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa”

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life. 

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

Today’s Featured Playground: Playground of the Americas

 

 

On the border between Greenwich Village and SoHo sits the Avenue of the Americas Playground.  The playground is located on the southeast corner of Avenue of the Americas (aka Sixth Avenue) and Houston Street (the “Ho” in SoHo).  The playground parcel was acquired by the city in 1925 and placed under Parks Department jurisdiction in 1934.  It was formally designated Houston Plaza in 1998 and then given its current name in 2000.  We would like to suggest another name change for this 0.079-acre playground in honor of the lone mulberry (Morus) growing among six London planetrees – Mulberry Tree Playground – but there would always have to be a mulberry tree growing there!


We were surprised to see an edible fruit tree in a playground!  A search for “mulberry recipes” in Google Recipes yielded over 71,000 results.  The Playground of the Americas mulberry appears to be intentionally planted unlike the other ones growing between the playground and the adjacent apartment buildings.  It is likely a white mulberry or Morus alba, which was first introduced to the U.S. from China in 1623 to develop a colonial silk industry.  The initiative failed but the white mulberry thrived especially in urban areas because it can “tolerate drought, salt, compact soil, high winds, and air pollution,” according to Plotnik (2003).  The fruit can also be eaten by wildlife, primarily songbirds.  In New York the list of songbirds might include Cardinal, Catbird, Mockingbird, Robin, Sparrow, Starling, and Thrasher.  The red mulberry (M. rubra) is native to the U.S. It has a limited presence in cities, occurring “mainly as a park-thicket tree or a natural hybrid with the white mulberry” (Plotnik).


The fruit on the mulberry in the Playground of the Americas is green – an indicator that the tree is a white mulberry.  An additional marker is the shiny upper side of the leaf.  Despite the “berry” in its name, the fruit of the mulberry is not a true berry!  In his 1957 book, How to Identify Plants, Harold D. Harrington described the mulberry fruit as an exemplar of the “multiple fruit” type meaning it a fleshy fruit formed from several to many separate flowers.  These flowers have superior ovaries which may become fleshy but other parts of the unit may also be succulent.

Despite the fact that the (white) mulberry provides an ecosystem service to humans and to wildlife in the form of edible fruit, it is not beloved by all people.  The fallen fruit is considered litter, and some cities have banned planting the tree while others recommend fruitless (female) trees.  Female flowers produce fruit while male flowers produce pollen, but a mulberry tree can be monoecious or dioecious.  If the tree is monoecious, it produces both male and female flowers on the same tree, but if it is dioecious,  the male and female flowers are borne on separate plants.  In Washington, D.C. female ginkgos are sprayed to halt fruiting. At least we have not heard of municipalities spraying female mulberry trees.  Better to organize a fruit-harvesting brigade!

Finally, if you cannot visit the Playground of the Americas, you can find mulberries throughout the city. Check out Edward S. Barnard’s New York City Trees for a short list.  The male red mulberry near the Central Park Tennis House is an official Great Tree of the City.  For more information, take a look at the guide to “the Great Trees of New York City” written by Benjamin Swett in 2000.

 Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!

Recipes for Change: The Trees of Tot Playground

The First Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life.

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

Today’s Featured Playground: Tot Playground in Washington Square Park

Sitting on the southern benches in the Tot Playground in Washington Square Park, we are struck by the treehouse quality of the jungle gym in the sandbox. There are three jungle gyms in this playground, and the most popular is set in the sandbox surrounded by three towering London planetrees (Platanus × acerifolia). Sandpits were installed in the park in the 1930s and were converted to playgrounds between 1965 and 1970 (PDF).  Given the closeness of the trees to the play structure, we assume the trees preceded the jungle gym.  An existing conditions map from 1962 shows three trees in the area of what is now the sandpit in the Tot Playground

According to the Horticulture Department at UCONN, the optimal soil condition for Platanus × acerifolia has been described as “deep, moist, fertile” but the species is “very adaptable.” All signs support this. Although the playground was recently revamped, the planetrees do not appear affected by the construction; in fact, most, if not all, are thriving.  The historic and current eco-hydrology of the park might offer an explanation.

Minetta Brook (Creek) once flowed aboveground through the western section of Washington Square Park to the Hudson River.  If you dig in the sandpit – as many tots do – of the Tot Playground, you will find a brick layer about four feet down!  This infrastructure might be an old privy pit or water cistern of the old Potter’s Field Keeper’s house or part of “the 19th-century brick storm and sanitary sewer that traverses the park” (PDF).

Looking east in the Tot Playground, the foreground is dominated by red oaks (Quercus rubra) all of which are growing outside the playground.  Red oak is native to northeastern U.S. and, to further stoke the NY-NJ rivalry, red oak is the state tree of New Jersey but the state tree of New York is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), which in a woodland setting would replace (or “succeed”) the red oak.  Like the London planetree, the red oak is urban hardy: tolerant of dry and acidic soil and polluted air (PDF).  The fuzzy growth on the tree in early spring is the male and female flowers.  The red oak is monoecious[EB1] ; that is, both male and female flowers are found on the same tree.  Red oaks reach fruit-bearing age at 20-25 years.  Last year, the area under the picnic tables in the eastern half of the playground was covered with acorns.

Last, but not least, especially at this time of year, are the crabapples (Malus) and cherries (Prunus) that abut the southern fence line of the playground.  Have you seen a “New York City Heritage Crabapple”? Here is an excerpt from “Painting with Crabapples,” (PDF) which describes the formal characteristics of a heritage crabapple:

One singular characteristic to almost all these “vintage” crabs is their shape–branched very low to the ground with multiple trunks or stems spreading gradually upward and outwards. This distinctive growth form is a result of the way trees are shaped and pruned when they are very young. By the time these trees are transplanted from the nurseries to park landscapes, their shape at maturity has already been determined. For some reason, however, local nurseries no longer practice this type of cultivation. Perhaps there was a drop in demand for this form after transplant. Today’s crabapple trees, like other tree species, are trained with a single stem with the first branches occurring at four or five feet from the ground, or higher. This bland “lollipop” form is a marked contrast to the dynamic and beautiful shape of a wide-limbed, low branching specimen.

The Tot Playground crabapples have not been designated as “New York City’s Heritage Crabapples”, but their exuberant flowering is worth seeing.  They are not “bland lollipops”!

 

Feeling inspired? Check out ioby.org/idea to get your own neighborhood project started today!