Monthly Archives: July 2015

Biodiversity in the Hood–Flushing Meadows, Queens

by Spencer Oakes Dawson

One of four counties on Long Island, Queens is the third most diverse county in the United States; with representative cultures from across the world pocketing different neighborhoods. Flushing Meadows Corona Park is in my neighborhood and bordered on the east by Flushing and to the west by Corona. To the naked eye it would seem to be flourishing with rich activity, and biodiversity. When digging deeper into the history of the area it becomes crystal clear how the park is lacking in a truly rich bio-diverse ecosystem.

At the beginning of the 20th century, and for centuries prior, the neighborhoods of Flushing and Corona were not neighborhoods at all but were an extensive salt marsh that was fed by the Flushing River, which now runs underground. In 1909 the Brooklyn Ash Company relocated to Corona and began using the salt marsh as dumping grounds for ash and garbage. The extent of the dumping was so grand that it even had notoriety in the form of classic literature. F. Scott Fitzgerald featured the mountain of ash in his novel The Great Gatsby:

About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land.  This is a valley of ashes – a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke, and finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-gray men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air.


In the early 1930’s, then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses envisioned for the land to be the site of the World’s Fair. New York City purchased the land from the Brooklyn Ash Company, and began construction. Highways were built on either side of the park and, eventually, built straight through the park. Moses said it was to provide easier access to the first World’s Fair, which opened in 1939.  The second World’s Fair opened in 1964. Recently the United States Tennis Association (USTA) was granted permission to expand on the park’s grounds, and Major League Soccer (MLS) had planned to construct a stadium in the park but was ultimately turned away.[1] Meadow Lake, and Willow Lake were both constructed for the 1934 World’s Fair in order to provide water sports attractions. [2]

Given that the salt marsh was covered with garbage and ash well over a century ago, there is not much information online about the species native to the area. One very important plant species that is native is Spartina. This reed grass thrives in salt water, as it is able to excrete salt. It provides protection and food for various animal species, and [3] helps to ease erosion. It is currently being used to revitalize parts of the East River. Meadow Lake and Willow Lake were both constructed for the 1939 World’s Fair. Meadow Lake was used as a recreational site, while Willow Lake was created as a nature reserve. They were both formed with water from the Flushing River that now flows underground. Both lakes have hollowed out, rounded bottoms, and do not mimic natural lakes, resulting in a lack of biodiversity.  The biodiversity in the lakes would have been greater had these lakes formed naturally. The bottom of a natural lake would sharply rise and fall, and would provide more shelter for different species. Due to the design of Meadow and Willow lakes they are also responsible for the seasonal loss of biodiversity as oxygen levels in the lakes are lower during the summer. [4]

There are fish in Meadow Lake, but they often times end up like this:

Spencer 1

Easily the most common plant along the water’s edge is the common reed, or phragmites. It loves to grow in brackish water, often times thriving in water that is compromised.

Spencer 2

Much of the shoreline around Meadow Lake is strewn with trash, like the photo above. In one area along the shore, park visitors can set up cookouts, and discarded, uneaten food can be seen along the waters edge. Chicken wings and tortilla shells sit, uneaten by the geese and ducks that are floating nearby. Additionally, much of the path, and recreational area around the lake is often flooded, even when it’s not raining. This is due to the underground piping system that runs flushing river underneath the entire park.

Spencer 3Spencer 4

Willow Lake had originally been created as a nature preserve; however, over the course of decades of neglect, it had become a prime retreat for the homeless, and for drug dealers. It was eventually surrounded by fencing and closed off to the public. In 1996, however, a local high school and boy scouts troop revitalized the nature trail around the lake. A successful bioremediation was conducted and new trees and shrubbery were planted. The new plantings were very specific so as to attract wildlife back into the area.

Now the Willow Lake preserve is touted as a “bird watchers paradise.” [5]  Many of the trees and shrubs planted are fruit, and berry bearing, and include Black Cherry (Prunus serontina), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis).  Other trees planted in the Willow Lake section of the park are the White willow (Salix alba), Weeping willow (Salix babylonica),  Blue Flag iris (Iris versicolor), and the Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoids). Not only do the plants chosen for the Willow Lake transformation provide food for the migratory birds, but they also provide great shelter.

The distinction is clear to see. Willow Lake, which has limited access, teems with wildlife and remains one of the last freshwater wetlands in the greater New York City area. Meadow Lake, which is open to the public year round, with almost no restrictions, sees a great deal of abuse. Park goers are able to camp, and cookout, and many local soccer leagues play in the fields. Many of those fields have been covered over with astroturf. Park rangers do patrol the expansive public areas, but rarely enforce the carry laws that are marked on signage throughout the park. Garbage can be found in all corners of the park.

There are other man made fountains, and bodies of water within Flushing Meadows Corona Park that were never part of the Flushing River system. One such body of water is the Pool of Industry. This once remarkable fountain is now a trash dump, not literally, but in every sense of the word. The water is beyond unsightly, and gives off a very unpleasant scent if the wind blows the wrong way. Thick, slick algae collects in the corners of the fountain.[6]

I had the unpleasant experience of trying to save a poor duckling that was floating on a Styrofoam plate, while her mother and siblings floated nearby. I was rollerblading through the park, on my way to a set of workout bars, when I saw the mother floating near a collection of trash. I decided to stop and snap some photos. I didn’t notice the duckling in peril until after I finished taking pictures. I heard a little chirp. After failing to find a viable option of who to call on my smartphone I jumped into action. I had an extra pair of socks, and a plastic bag that I hadn’t removed form my backpack yet, and I always wear my helmet. So I hopped the guard rail, anchored my leg in between the rails, and magically the  plate drifted right over to the edge. I lifted the poor creature out of the water, still on the plate, and picked it up with my sock covered hands. I was able to find some park employees at the Park Academy building which is adjacent to the USTA center. After some back and forth with the employees, and getting the park rangers on the phone, they decided to try and reintroduce the duckling into the lake. I knew this wasn’t a good idea, as I could tell the poor thing was spent. It had no energy left after trying to keep itself afloat on the Styrofoam plate. Sure enough, after several attempts to keep its head above the water, and putter it’s little wings to swim around it disappeared underneath this dilapidated dock. Minutes later it reappeared thanks to the wind, and current of the water with only the top of its head and bottom above the water. The poor thing couldn’t keep up with the demand of energy needed to stay swimming, and drowned.

Spencer 5

Spencer 6

Spencer 7

The entire experience led me to understand that the biodiversity that exists currently within the park is due only to human’s intervention. While the remediation from an ash dump into amazing fair grounds was quite remarkable, and a great feat of human ingenuity, the current state of affairs leaves much to be desired. The New York City Parks department maintains that the area is cleaned once a week. I have been to the same area where I attempted to rescue the duckling for weeks in a row, only to see the same floating blue container that reads “DANGER” in different areas of the fountain. Limited resources are one thing, but the bigger issue at hand is human intervention into natural ecosystems. At one time a great salt marsh, Flushing Meadows Corona Park now houses human made waterways that need constant intervention by man in order to maintain a relative stasis.


“Flushing Meadows Corona Park.” Seminar 3 Science Technology in NYC. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

“The Corona Ash Dump: Brooklyn’s Burden on Queens, a Vivid Literary Inspiration and Bleak, Rat-filled Landscape – The Bowery Boys: New York City History.” The Bowery Boys New York City History. N.p., 09 May 2013. Web. 17 June 2015.

“Flushing Meadows Corona Park.” Highlights. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

“Neglected Fountain of the Planets Has Few Friends in Queens Park.”DNAinfo New York. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

Foderaro, Lisa W. “With University’s Help, New Park on Harlem River Is a Marshland Sanctuary.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Jan. 2014. Web. 17 June 2015.

Narula, Svati Kirsten. “The 5 U.S. Counties Where Racial Diversity Is Highest—and Lowest.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 17 June 2015.









Inevitable Change

by Aisling Murray


The geographic location of Williamsburg, Brooklyn is an area that constantly evolves like the ebb and flow of the East River that moves along its shoreline. Gone are the days of horse pulled ferries and cows walking along Metropolitan Avenue. At one time or another it became a destination for Dutch, German, Italian and Polish immigrants who found employment working in the dock yards and factories that sprouted up along the East River. Today Williamsburg has transformed from heavy industrial manufacturing and artists lured from Manhattan by cheap rents from landlords who just wanted someone living in their buildings into an thriving urban area filled with budding green spaces. Long gone are the days of friendly homeless people who had the best view of Manhattan while sharing their waterfront dwellings with migratory Canadian geese. The diversity of plant and animal wild life have increased tremendously both on my fire escape and along the East River, which I have walked alongside for the eighteen years I have called this neighborhood home. The redevelopment and cleanup along the East River is man made, thereby creating opportunities for trees and plants to flourish throughout the Seasons, while providing shelter and food for the ever increasing population of birds that have chosen Williamsburg for their home.

Brooklyn historian and author Brian Merlis writes in Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh City within a City that Williamsburg was part of the Town of Bushwick. In August 1638, the Dutch West India Company in Manhattan bought the land now known as Williamsburg from the Canarsee Indians (Merlis Page 5). They mostly fish, hunted and farmed this land that was mostly wetland morasses with dense oak scrub according to the New York City Park records (5., Ch. 2). In 1661, Governor Pieter Stuyvesant visited the early Dutch settlements and decided to call it Boswijk meaning “Town of the Woods,”(6., Merlis). Farming remained the main industry and at one time the area had twenty-three farms, ten of which were located along the East River, thus providing a prime location for goods brought to Manhattan via boat. Williamsburg became a village in the township of Bushwick in 1827(17., Merlis). Even back then this created much interest from developers who bought the farms from which 100 x 100 lots were created and sold for two hundred and fifty dollars. During the mid-nineteen century the economy and population grew substantially in Brooklyn. This growth began the urbanization of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, especially along the waterfront. According to New York City records (5., Ch. 2), shipyards and worker housing and numerous manufacturing factories replaced the majority of the farmland. To accommodate this huge development waterfront property was needed, therefore tidal marshes and wetlands were filled creating new land, which ultimately meant that native plants and species were removed.

Photographs of Williamsburg from the early twentieth century show streets devoid of trees and plant life. This may indicate that there were little if any wild animals roaming the streets, let alone birds. Situated in hardiness zone 6B, Williamsburg has a temperate climate which indicates that the following native plants ought should be discovered, according to Gardening with New York Native Plants: wild anemone, woolly-pod milk weed, virgin’s bower, wild ginger, culvers root, eastern red columbine and American bittersweet to name a few. An abundance of trees native to this area listed on New York City Department of Parks and Natural Resource Group include pin oak, forest pansy, linden, Shawnee brave bald cypress, dogwood, cherry and elm. Many of these trees are thriving on the street where I live. Numerous lindens and pin oak trees line sides of North 7th street between Kent and Berry Avenues with three newly planted Shawnee brave bald cypress trees. All of which keep me company whenever I walk to the subway. In front of my building, a Japanese pagoda tree has grown up over the years to the point that I am able to touch it from my third floor apartment. This is a favorite of the non-native European starlings, which may be the reason they visit the bird feeder on my fire escape anymore.

During the past ten years I have lived in a construction zone of high-rise residential buildings. Factories and warehouse along the East River have been transformed into luxury condos and rentals. Included in the redevelopment is the creation of the East River State Park a seven-acre waterfront park. Even today historic relics of the days when the waterfront was used as an industrial dock for cargo ships remain, such as the cobble stone path and railroad tracks embedded in cement. A native tree that’s plentiful throughout my area is the pin oak. This can be truly admired in the park, a three-minute walk from my apartment. The park has a variety of native and non-native plants and wildlife that can be observed at close proximity. Along with pin oaks that line the cobblestone walk way to the water, there’s a grove of sweet red cherry trees and a cluster of American mulberry trees with almost ripen dark purple berries ready to be picked. A forest pansy tree welcomes visitors entering the park with its dark red purple leaves that rustle with the gentlest of breeze. A native grass planted throughout the park is spartina for its tolerance in regards to salt water. Standing tall beside the waters edge are box elder trees from the maple tree family which are native to the North East region offer great shade to many who lay under their canopy. Beyond the elders, a golden sandy beach meets riprap made of large stone. Other manicured plantings in the park include native species of yellow pitchfork weed, American bellflower in shades of violet-blue, multi-petal white oak-leaf hydrangeas and purple field balm, with non-native white desert lilies and dark green bushy lemon grass.

It’s not unusual to see adults and children wade in the water up to their knees, especially on long summer evenings while taking in the golden sunsets that silhouette the Manhattan skyline. On quiet days with fewer visitors you can spot barn swallows darting in and out of the riprap snatching insects midair while making their high pitch squeaks. Their distinctive fork tail distinguishes them from other common swallows. Barn swallows are usually found in man made structures such as barns hence the name, but they actually prefer closer residences beside water. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology barn swallows are building their nests among the riprap and under piers. This is the first time I have spotted them in Williamsburg. The northern mockingbird reappeared in the neighborhood about three years ago. Its nightly song during the summer months drew my attention and ultimately a mate. Now there are two that fly high above the park landing on the solar powered panels, which light up the park naturally. Here they sing a medley of sounds making their presence known all the while twitching their long brown grey tails up and down. This couple has a secret that is extremely close to unassuming passersby and sunbathers. Nestled in a non-native bright pink rhododendron bush a nest full of mockingbird chicks, which I discovered while I watched both parents taking turns flying in and out of the bush carrying food their young. Flocks of Canadian geese remind me that the seasons are changing when they arrive during spring and fall as they migrate North or South. Though some stay throughout the year. It’s not unusual to hear them in the early hours right before dawn honking loudly as they begin their journey.

Further north towards Greenpoint there is an inlet that is bordered by Bayside Fuel Oil Depot Corporation and Kent Avenue. Plans for this small patch of uninterrupted wildness include rehabilitating it to become part of Bushwick Inlet Park, but they have yet to achieve this goal. On closer examination I discovered some native plant species would thrive if allowed. Delicate wild white anemone grows on both sides of the chain link metal fence and little purple bittersweet nightshades and woolly-pod milkweed that is a favorite of butterflies are growing without restraint along with the non-native plants such as yellow English ivy, trees of heaven, yellow dandelions and large amounts of mug worth which together create a piece of wilderness. Using my imagination I can almost visualize what the Canarsee Indians may have woken up to every morning as I look beyond the fence towards the water and the unstoppable growth of species. Along my street there are numerous non-native trees. They include Japanese pagoda, London plane, Kentucky coffee tree and honey locust of the non-thorny variety and on Kent Avenue there are callery pear and another Japanese pagoda.

Since I have lived here the wild life has increased, not just on the streets but also directly on my fire escape. Native animal species include eastern cottontail rabbit, American robin, common raccoon, eastern chipmunk, eastern gray squirrel, northern red cardinal, northern mockingbird, house sparrows and barn swallows, peregrine falcon and blue jays. For the first time a northern red cardinal bounced his way unto my fire escape. A handful of years ago I lifted a turned over empty planter on my fire escape; it was no longer empty. House sparrows decided to make it their nest, which is brave of them as my ash-tabby cat Chaton uses the fire escape for his enhanced outdoor access. This nest has since being used every year and currently has four eggs inside. Mourning doves began to land on my fire escape roughly ten years ago with their numbers increasing every year. They are the most widespread bird in the US and hunted with the upwards of twenty million killed each year according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Each morning a chorus of sparrows and coos of coupled mourning doves has become my summer alarm clock.

One morning I woke to a scratching sound, thinking it was Chaton, but no he was fast asleep on the bed. On investigation I discovered a dark grey squirrel had clawed his way through the window screen and decided that the filter belonging to the cats litter tray would be his breakfast. He panicked squirming and scurrying all over the window, eventually hopping out. I named him Cyril the Amazing Squirrel. Then there were two squirrels, which created a litter. They would take turns climbing the fire escape via the tree of heaven in the backyard gathering the nuts I left out. They were regular visitors for many years. But then I noticed only the two kits visited, which I thought strange, as it was winter and food scarce. Then the kits never returned either. Even mimicking the squirrel clicking sound I used often to call them, which they always responded to. But there were no sign of them. One day the peregrine falcon came back killing and feasting on an unlucky pigeon as white and grey feathers floated in the air. I believe that is what eventually happened to my bushy tailed squirrels. Now none ever appear on my fire escape or on the block. Squirrels can be observed in McCarren Park, which is a short ten-minute walk from where I live. The falcon has killed many birds using the towering tree of heaven that’s not native to the US as it’s perch. I can always tell when the falcon is close by because nothing but silence is heard from the backyard. All the birds go into hiding. Peregrine falcons were put on the endangered species list during the 1970’s because pollution in the form of pesticides harmed the reproductive cycle thus producing weak eggs that would not hatch as stated by the New York City Environmental Protection Agency. Today they are making a come back with sixteen couples around the New York City metro area, including on top of White Stone Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge.

Unfortunately in my meanderings I have yet to witness a blue jay in my neighborhood. The newly planted oak trees across the street might eventually attract them, as they tend to be fond of acorns and tall trees for nesting as stated on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. There is no evidence of cottontail rabbits in Williamsburg, though they still exist further south in and around Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Raccoons are widespread in Brooklyn, but in my time living in Williamsburg I have only come across one situation that involved a raccoon sighting and it was like a celebrity had come to town. A large number of people gathered around an empty lot that was home for a group of feral cats. Now that empty lot is condos and the feral cats have all disappeared. Often sighted in Prospect Park, another native species that has yet to make it’s way to Northern Brooklyn is the Eastern Chipmunk according to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens website.

Williamsburg has evolved from over time from a farming communities and heavy industry, to today’s revitalization which has included the creation of parks and tree plantings that attract more native species to the neighborhood. Therefore I welcome the day when a chipmunk or blue jay crosses my path. The view outside my back windows includes a wall of vibrant green English ivy creeping up the majestic tree of heaven. A grape vine climbs and hugs the fire escape delivering black grapes at the end of summer while providing hideouts for sparrows and doves. On my street the Kentucky coffee tree drops it’s coffee smelling pods in June, and the aroma from the linden trees creamy yellow flowers fills the air in July and the Japanese pagoda drops it’s white yellow buds in early fall. Just as the migratory geese arrive and leave and the Northern red cardinal appears on my bird feeder but leaves as quickly as he’s landed; these are the gentle reminders of the natural diversity in my neighborhood. The trees and fauna that have grown and bloomed since I moved to Williamsburg has taught me that nature has the amazing ability of returning if encouraged. Maybe then Williamsburg will become even greener and might again be known as the Town of the Woods.


  1. Merils, Brian. Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh: City within a City. Page 5
  2. New York City Park Records. Greenpoint Williamsburg Master Plan. Page 5. Web
  3. Merils, Brian. Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh: City within a City. Page 6
  4. Merils, Brian. Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh: City within a City. Page 17
  5. New York City Park Records. Greenpoint Williamsburg Master Plan. Chapter 2 Page 5. Web
  6. Gardening with New York Native Plants. City of New York, Parks and Recreation. Page 4. Web
  7. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds Guide. Barn Swallows. Web
  8. New York City Park Records. Greenpoint Williamsburg Master Plan. Page 40. Web
  9. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds Guide. Mourning Doves. Web
  10. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds Guide. Blue Jays. Web
  11. Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Discover Native Wildlife. Web



Merils, Brian. Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh: City within a City. Kent Avenue. Page 230

Merils, Brian. Brooklyn’s Williamsburgh: City within a City. 103 North 7th Street. Page 122

Sweeney, Vincent. Peregrine Falcon on fire escape.

All other photographs by author.


Life Does Exist in Hell’s Kitchen

by Jean Sarosy

I want to start out by saying that I was surprised that there is so much interest in “Green” projects in Hell’s Kitchen.

While doing research, I discovered an article about the Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries.  They run a Farm Project on a rooftop right here in Hell’s Kitchen. It is a 4,000 square feet rooftop of Metro Baptist Church which has been in existence for over 20 years and is a wonderful opportunity for volunteerism.  “Each month over 700 persons are provided emergency food assistance through RMM’s Client-Choice Food Pantry. Each person receives a 3-day supply of nutritious food staples; families may receive assistance once per month. Food Pantry doors open Saturday mornings 11:00- 11:30 a.m. (except fifth Saturdays in a month), and clients must be in the building by 11:30 a.m.  Food Pantry participants are required to bring photo I.D. for each member of the household, and proof of address.”  This is a great thing to have in a community where shelters have closed.  It is run by volunteers and receives donations from the United Way, City Harvest, Food Bank of New York and several others including seven Baptist Churches.   Individual sponsors can also buy shares ranging from $485.00 down to $200.00. (

Covenant House, located on 10th Avenue, which is an organization run by the Catholic Church to help those in need of shelter and other assistance, has started a Horticulture Internship to improve its open spaces.

What impressed me most was the Clinton Community Garden.  In 1978 a group of Hell’s Kitchen residents got together and cleared out a vacant lot which was the remnant of old tenements, abandoned cars and piles of garbage.  Many undesirables were taking up residence here and it was attracting all kinds of drug related crime. It was when they saw some tomatoes growing out of the rubble that they got the idea for a garden.  Then they started planting fruits and vegetables.  In 1984, this was the first Community Garden to be granted parkland status.

When I visited the gate was locked but I found some key-holders who were kind enough to let me enter.  It’s almost unbelievable that you are sitting right on 48th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues.  The silence is only interrupted by the occasional song of a bird – you could almost hear a pine needle drop.

“The city-owned property was leased through Operation Green Thumb in 1979 and organized into two sections, a public front garden with a lawn and flower beds and a back area for individual plots.  Over the next several years, the back garden was expanded from the west to the east, so that 108 garden plots were eventually created.  Paths were built from salvaged brick, and fences and gates were put in to protect the garden and separate the public area from the plots in the back.  Stone benches were made from recycled slabs of slate and concrete block.”  In its infancy there was a mural painted by Mallory Abramson on the west wall.  To this day, you can still see traces of it.  Now with the success of this garden, developers became very interested in acquiring the property.  The community banded together and formed the Save Clinton Community Garden Campaign and were successful in their efforts to keep the garden exactly where and how it is.

Astro’s Dog Run is a beautifully maintained dog run right on 10th Avenue.  It is meticulously maintained (all by volunteers) and has a lush garden adjoining the property.  This dog run is probably one of the largest in the area.  It’s wonderful for dog’s to be able to take their human companions to such a peaceful place where they can sit and rest while they (the dogs) socialize.  The humans also do a great deal of socializing which is a wonderful thing since a good many of the residents of Hell’s Kitchen are getting on in years and the thought of taking “Fido” for a long walk can be daunting.

The Hell’s Kitchen Green Summit was held in Hell’s Kitchen Park, 554, West 53rd Street on March 14th of this year.  This is another opportunity for Hell’s Kitchen gardeners to get together and plan for a greener future. (web page below).


Alice’s Garden is probably the most near and dear to my heart.  It’s a difficult to find but once you locate it, it’s well worth it.  Who would expect a lovely greenspace right next to all the noise and pollution belching out of the traffic from the Port Authority?  (I am trying to get in touch with Shanti Nagel, director of the community cultivation).  Since Alice Pareskian’s death in 2010, this park has been well-maintained by volunteers.  I would like to meet with some of them and learn more.  On the day I visited I was unable to enter because the gate was locked.  It’s just a front to back strip of land next to a Fed Ex facility which would otherwise just have been an unsightly empty lot strewn with debris.  Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t need one more of these, for sure!  YAI, an organization for developmentally and intellectually disabled persons, partners with the volunteers and has been helpful with picking up the trash.

Juan Alonso Park Community Garden, located on 51st and 11th is the northernmost key park hear in Hell’s Kitchen.  This park stretches along side of a CHDC affordable housing development and one of the paths leads into the development.  An extension is in the works near the Irish Arts Center and this should make it open to the public – no keys necessary.

Teresa’s Park is yet another park that leases its land from the Port Authority, is situated on 39th Street west of 9th Avenue.  It was first developed in the 1990s by Teresa Mattia, who lives across the street.  Here there is a picnic table which makes it appear more like a private backyard garden.

These parks are jewels in the middle of a very rough environment.  Many (key holders) people come at lunchtime to relax and eat lunch since there are no large parks in the area.  With lunch breaks being a limited amount of time, there’s no time to travel by bus or subway to a huge city oasis like Central Park.

According to the article “Your $2 Trip to an Urban Oasis,” more keys to the community gardens are going to become available.

Street gardens involve over 3,000 square feet of plantings.  The tree beds not only contain trees but many shrubs, perennials and bulbs.

On a more somber note, my beautiful “weed” – he might have been called buckthorn by his family – was cut down in his prime.  The owners of the parking lot on 43rd Street thought that his stately eight foot plus presence was an eyesore so they cut him down – didn’t remove the roots.  He’ll be back, I’m sure!

Jean S.


Astro’s Dog Run “Pups and their people kick-off 2013-2014 season at Astro’s HKN Dog Run Community” – Astro’s Dog Run Team 14 June 2013

Chelsea Now, “Your $2 Trip to an Urban Oasis:  Key Parks of Hell’s Kitchen, 28 August 2014

Clinton Community Garden – About –

Cultivate HKNY – Community Projects & Partners –!community-projefts/c1iob

Brownsville Then and now

by Stephanie Shelton

When I was about 7 years old my family and I went on our regular picnic to Prospect Park in Brooklyn where we found Miss Tour Tell (we thought it was French for turtle).  While fishing in a pond with string, a tree branch and pieces of bread from our sandwiches, my siblings and I came across a land turtle.  This turtle was pretty big and we spirited it away with us when we left the park, unbeknownst to our parents.  There was linoleum tile on our floors and the turtle had very long nails that made a tapping sound on the floor.  There were five of us children so of course my mother had supersonic hearing.  Needless to say, it wasn’t long before our capture was exposed.  We begged our parents to give us permission to keep the turtle and promised to be responsible for its care.  My parents agreed after admonishing us for taking the turtle from its natural habitat and family.  I guess they figured it was the lesser of two evils since we had been asking for a dog to keep in the small apartment that would have been another mouth to feed.  My family lived in one of the NYCHA housing developments called Red Hook.  We had a 5 room apartment that consisted of 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, living room and kitchen.  I have 2 older sisters, 1 younger sister and 1 brother.  My neighborhood consisted of persons of Polish descent and the shopkeepers were Jewish.  My family was one of the first Black families to move into the community.  Prospect Park was filled with foliage, greenery, animals, fish, birds and insects in abundance.

There was even a zoo that exposed us to animals that were not native to our community.  We hunted for frogs, praying mantis, butterflies and the like.  It was such a wonderful experience.  Where it was once commonplace to see land turtles walking about or greenery, or simply being able to use a twig, string and piece of bread to fish, it is now almost non-existent.  The environment has been damaged by pollution and population growth.   The Prospect Park of my youth is long gone.  Oh how I yearn for yesteryear!  The lakes that were once filled with fish are now just muddied, stagnant waters.  The animals in the zoo are almost non-existent and/or very old.  If we don’t do something now, will there be any wildlife or plant life around when my grandchildren grow older?  Will Brownsville Brooklyn really be a concrete jungle?

Brownsville gets its name from speculator Charles S. Brown of Esopus, New York.  He originally named it Brown’s Village in 1862.  Brownsville was filled with land marshes and was considered to be foul and inhabitable by most people.  Charles S. Brown figured that only the working class would see this area as an opportunity to both live and work within their community.   The community was comprised of tenements and factories because it was easier to provide employment within the community as opposed to traveling to Manhattan which was not an easy task.

Brownsville Brooklyn 100 years ago was primarily a Jewish community.  In 1910 Brownsville the first generation of Russian Jews found housing and employment in this area.   This community, nestled in the Brownsville area, was often referred to as “Little Jerusalem”.  (Brownsville and the curse of geography. para. 7) The Jewish population settled in this area after escaping the Lower East Side where unions were being formed and their assimilation in the community was not accepted.  The community grew faster than expected which led to crowded housing and poor sanitation.  Although Brownsville started out as a less than desirable community, and to some extent has remained so due to high crime rates, there were some bright spots.

In 1910, the Brownsville Children’s Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, became the first children’s library in the United States when it was inaugurated in 1914.  Also Margaret Sanger opened the country’s first birth-control clinic on Amboy Street in 1916.  (Brownsville and the curse of geography. para. 10).  The library was used as a social gathering for children but also provided education and books for children who might not have had this level of accessibility to reading material without it.  Margaret Sanger introduced birth control to the Brownsville neighborhood, providing women with the choice, freedom of choice, to decide when they would have children.

In the most recent 50 years, Brownsville has changed from a primarily Jewish community to an African American – Caribbean community.    The community has gone through the turbulent times of the United Federation of Teachers and the mostly black community facing off regarding better education for their school children, high crime rates and low income status – 1967 (Brownsville and the curse of geography. para. 14).  The majority of teachers within the schools in Brownsville were Caucasian.  Some parents felt that these teachers were not providing the same level of education that schools in predominantly Caucasian neighborhoods were receiving.  There was also the thought that resources and funding were not made available to the Brownsville community in the belief that educating Black children was not profitable.  There was a supposed belief that due to the high rate of crime and low income of households that the children in the Brownsville community were not going to amount to much anyway.

In 1980, the East Brooklyn Industrial Park opened making the area attractive to businesses with expansion needs and to businesses from other areas looking for industrial sites. (Brownsville Brooklyn:  Blacks, Jews and the Changing Face of the Ghetto. Chapter 9, pgs. 269-270).  In the 1990’s Brownsville witnessed an increase in the economy due to retail stores springing up that increased employment opportunities and building.

The community of Brownsville and surrounding areas were ripe with plant and animal life, some of which are now non-existent or endangered.  The area was first used by the Dutch in 1860 for farming.  The area was rich in vegetables such as turnips, potatoes, spinach, cabbage, carrots, celery, lettuce, peas, broccoli, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, bell peppers, asparagus, beets and brussel sprouts.  There was an abundance of fruit – watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, pumpkins, raspberries, peaches, pears, grapes, cherries and apples.  The land was also able to support plant life – zinnias, wisteria, tulips, Shasta daisies, rhodedendrons, pansies, peonies, hyacinths, aster and daffodils.  Herbs did very well in this area also – rosemary, thyme, sage, garlic, parsnips and chives.

The animal life in this area consisted of birds – piping plover, short eared owl, black tern, loggerhead shrike; reptiles – mud turtle, bog turtle and three sea turtles (Atlantic hawksbill, Atlantic Ridley and the Leatherback); amphibians – tiger salamander, northern cricket frog;  fish – short nose sturgeon, silver chub, pug nose shiner, round whitefish; insects – tomah mayfly, karner blue butterfly, bog buck moth and mollusks – rayed bean, fat pocketbook, pink muckett that are now endangered.  These animals have died out due to pollution and building that have either killed them off or through expansion (building) has taken over their territory.

The only plant life that seems to be around in this community today are the ones that are planted by humans.  The land has been taken over by housing developments, industrialized sections and the decay that comes along with population growth.  Pollution has infected and affected the waters along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean disturbing the wildlife that was once in abundance in the area.

The land that was once available for farming and planting has been covered over with concrete to lay foundations for much needed housing to support the growth of humankind.  There still exists the presence of the herbs that are familiar to this area.  You can taste and smell them through the varied foods that are available in the melting pot of Brooklyn. There are so many different ethnicities in Brooklyn, including Brownsville that you can walk from one block to the next and savor the smells and tastes of the community.  There is the jerk chicken of the Caribbean, the southern fried chicken of the African American, the fragrant smell of arroz condules in the Puerto Rican neighborhoods and the rich textures of the African and Jewish communities.

Yet aesthetically, it is so barren of the natural life that once existed here.  I was able to locate an evergreen shrub, Maple tree, bunchberry, wild strawberry, false lily of the valley, beach strawberry, dagger leaved rush, minuteman shrub and red leaf plum tree that were all planted by humans.  I found this plant life in my neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods planted in the backyards of homes and along sidewalks.  Their presence brings about a life of its own.  The beauty of the greenery in areas that are stark and almost devoid of any promise or hope.  They give a sense of community and stability to the neighborhood.  Their presence lets everyone know that someone plans to stay around to care for them.

There are several community gardens springing up in the community such as the Hull Street Garden and the Brownsville Student Farm Project – an 8, 000 square foot farm project – that is tended by the students at P.S. 323.  These projects represent the hope that at least in Brownsville, the community is being educated in and receptive to the importance of sustainability. There appears to be hope on the horizon.  More and more communities are being provided information about sustainability and living in harmony with our environment.  There are 64 compost sites in Brooklyn in various neighborhoods so that we can begin to again take care of the land. (NYC Compost Project).

Although seeing a raccoon in your backyard or hearing a coyote howling in the near distance, was once seen as unfathomable in the city, we are beginning to realize that we are encroaching on the natural habitat of many animals.  There is less land for them to feed on.  There is less opportunity to care for themselves and their families.  They are also trying to survive during this period of expansion. We all need to live and survive in harmony.  If we continue to grow, and I am sure that we will, then we are going to have to come up with a way to maintain the food supplies and natural resources that are needed.


Stephanie S.


References/Citations –Brownsville Brooklyn:  Blacks, Jews, and the Changing Face of the Ghetto. – Brownsville and the curse of geography – Turning Brownsville Green… – NYC Compost Project



Of Muppet, Wildlife, and Biodiversity in Queens

by Savannah Mazda

Living in a fairly quiet, manicured neighbourhood in Queens, there are certain things I never expect to see. Wildlife happens to be one of them. I’ll never forget the day that I was walking my own rather-manicured additions to the neighbourhood, my Yorkie-Poodle mix, Daisy and my Maltese-Poodle mix, Muppet, and I saw just this: out of no where, a swooping bird of prey came down and tried to make off with Muppet, in the middle of a Queens park. My stepmother heroically managed to save the dog, but unfortunately the bird turned its attention elsewhere, and a common pigeon was less lucky. We later identified the attempted dog-snatcher as a red-tailed hawk, and while I couldn’t believe that this thing I had always associated with the wild was living and hunting in my neighbourhood, I later found out that there is a well-known nest of red-tailed hawks living not too far from me, in Astoria, Queens (Yolton,, p. 1). It just goes to show that my neighbourhood of Woodside, Queens, despite being manicured and man-made, still has diverse animal and plant life.

Queens has been growing in diversity and development since the early 1900s, over one hundred years ago now. The boom followed the building of the LIRR, which made Queens incredibly commuter-friendly in a way that it had not been before. Suddenly, real-estate developers had an interest in Queens, and the previously fairly undeveloped county saw new buildings and settlements erected practically overnight. One hundred years ago saw the population of Queens practically double, and all because of the addition of a train-line. This was the beginning of the change of the face of Queens, of urbanization, and of the diverse Queens we know today (Fons,, p. 10-12).

The real change and diversification of Queens, however, at least in terms of the human population, occurred just under 50 years ago, in 1968, when “Congress restructured the legislation on immigration from third-world countries,” leading to a surge in immigration, which in turn led to extreme diversification of the population of Queens. This also resulted in new buildings being erected, new stores opening, and a general cultural explosion as immigrants from all walks of life settled in Queens and made it their home. While it could be said that Queens lost some of its natural wildlife in terms of plants and animals because of the urbanization of the neighbourhood, it also grew in diversity because of the new population of people, such as Russians, Greeks, Asians, and the Irish. (Fons,, p. 13). Even today their influence can be seen in so many neighborhoods, such as the heavily-Irish populated Woodside, full of pub trivia and fish and chips, or Flushing Queens, which could be said to rival Chinatown.

While it is sometimes hard to find examples of really wild wildlife in New York City (excluding of course, our familiar friends the roaches, rats, and raccoons), there are actually many species of plants and animals that are native to Queens, and indeed the greater New York area, as one poor puppy of mine found out first hand. I’ve already spoken about the family of red-tailed hawks in Astoria, but in fact New York is home to a number of birds, including songbirds, waterfowl, and raptors, ranging from birds as large and imposing as eagles down to the common sparrow that New Yorkers often see pecking up breadcrumbs from the street. There are also many different kinds of mammals native to Queens and New York, as well as one marsupial, the opossum. As for the rest of them, although not many of the larger ones can be found inside the urban city any more,  some of the mammals native to New York include mice, rats, skunks, squirrels, weasels, raccoons, rabbits, bats, and even larger animals like bears and cougars, although it is uncommon to sight the latter animals inside the city outside of a zoo setting. Foxes, however, are common, and often rummage through garbage for food, just like raccoons. Aquatic rodents, such as beavers, are also native to New York, and can still be seen in some places where there are bodies of water (

The native plant life of New York and more specifically Queens is equally diverse. In terms of native trees, Queens is home to a variety of Maples, Birches, Ashes, and Oaks, as well as the Poplar, Hornbeam, Hackberry, Redbud, Fringetree, Flowering Dogwood, and many others. It is also home to a variety of shrubs, such as Alders and Chokeberries, and four different kinds of Sumac. The native flowers of New York State are too numerous, but it is home to a number of perennials that thrive in both the sun and the shade, switch grass, butterfly weed, wild ginger, and the yellow trout lilly, to name a few ( Although these species are native to Queens, the plant life in my neighbourhood appears to be manicured and planted by humans, with the exception of perhaps the trees.

When I walk around my neighbourhood, one of the first things I am always struck by is how much greener it is than it appears. I don’t think of myself as living in a particularly rural or even suburban area, but when I look around and see all of the trees and flowers and plants I realise that perhaps I am luckier than I realise, especially considering I actually live right across the road from a park. There aren’t many species that I see in my excursions that technically fit into the label of being ‘native,’ as most of them were planted by people to make for a nice living environment, but one thing you will always see in my neighbourhood at certain times of year is Maple Sycamore helicopter seed pods littered all over the ground ( The trees in my neighbourhood are perhaps the most ‘natural’ of the plant life, along with the plants colloquially known as weeds. One thing that isn’t hard to find in Woodside, Queens, are dandelions ( They pop up everywhere, in the cracks of pavements, on the side of the road. I happen to enjoy seeing them, whether or not they’re weeds or pests, because there’s something simple about them that makes me happy, the idea of this little plant that happens to crop up everywhere you go.

Some of the plants that I saw were clearly planted in order to be aesthetically pleasing to the neighbourhood, because while people here do not have yards, there is planting space on the roads. For example, I observed neat patches of daffodils ( and rose bushes (, and next to that a well-groomed patch of what I believe to be horsemint (  They were all planted around the same place, and at the very least I think the roses  and the mint were planted somewhat for smell, as that whole corner of the block had an amazing scent. The daffodils weren’t actually in bloom, but I recognised them right away, just by sight. Another plant that I found which was obviously planted by people for aesthetic purposes was a group of pansies ( Overall, I discovered that the plant-life where I live seems to be very deliberately planted, and yet there was diversity in it too, not to mention that there were still things like dandelions popping up everywhere, leading to a diverse mix of native plants (trees and dandelions), and implants brought in by humans. All of them contributed to the greenery in my neighbourhood, and they make for a pleasant walk and calming environment.

Among the greenery of my neighborhood you will often find little furry feet trotting along and on occasion, but while some of them are native New Yorkers, the majority of the ones I see on a daily basis and/or interact with are people’s pets, which consist primarily of dogs. As I’ve mentioned, I have two dogs, a Maltese-Poodle and a Yorkie-Poodle. My neighbour has a Pitbull, and while I walked around I came across a yellow Labrador as well. And of course, there is the tale of the now-infamous (at least in my family), dog-snatching hawk. Also common in my neighbourhood are pigeons and mice, in fact I have a very small house-guest currently residing in my kitchen. We’ve yet to collect rent, but needless to say we hope he won’t be staying for long.

Diversity can mean many things, and just because an area has lots of plant and animal life that came to be at the hands of human, does not mean that the community is not diverse. Regardless of what outside things are brought in, certain things seem to push through regardless, creating a sort of marriage between the manicured and the wild. Animals will sometimes invade you home, regardless of whether you want them to or not, and at certain times of year, you won’t be able to take a step without the crunch of helicopter seed pods under your feet. It is the mix of new and old that makes Queens unique, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re looking for a red-tailed hawk or a teeny tiny dog, look hard enough, and eventually you’ll find it. Muppet is doing just fine, by the way, and seems no worse for the wear despite his harrowing hawk encounter. In fact he still rushes to the park with excitement. No, he’s not concerned, it’s me that ends up keeping an eye on the skies.

Savannah M.


Works Cited

“Daffodils – Tips, Gardening, Pictures, Care, Meaning, Growing Daffodils.” The Flower Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

Fons, Mary K. “Long Live the Queens.” The Cooperator. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

Grieve, M. “Dandelion.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

“Heirloom Roses.” Roses, Rose Bushes, Rose Gardening, Rose Plants –. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

“Horsemint, Spotted Beebalm.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

Iannotti, Marie. “How to Grow Pansies in Your Garden.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

“Plants Profile for Acer Pseudoplatanus (sycamore Maple).” Plants Profile for Acer Pseudoplatanus (sycamore Maple). N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

“Regional Plant List – New York, NY, Pennsylvania, PA, Northern New Jersey, NJ.” Regional Plant List – New York, NY, Pennsylvania, PA, Northern New Jersey, NJ. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

“Wildlife of New York.” NYF. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.

Yolton, Bruce. “Urban Hawks.” ‘Urban Hawks’ N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015.