Category Archives: Uncategorized

Making Man’s Best Friend More Eco-Friendly

by Savannah Mazda

The bond between dog and dog owner is a unique and special one. For many people, there is nothing better than coming home after a long day to a wagging tail and a furry face that is happy to see you. But just how environmentally friendly are our canine friends? Is it possible to both live green and own a dog? There are steps that can be taken in order to lessen our pooches’ impact on the environment, even for urban apartment-dwellers like myself. I also interviewed three urban dog-owners, Cecelia, Kacie, and Lissa, who gave me insights on how they care for their animals.

Dogs, while being fairly simple creatures, can have a negative impact on the environment, particularly when it comes to two points, their food and their waste. Dogs are omnivores, and need both meat and vegetables in order to have a rich, nutritious diet. The problem, of course, is that meat has an extremely negative environmental impact on the planet (latimes.com). Most dog owners don’t feed their dogs fresh meat, but some sort of kibble or can, or in the case of Sadie, a mid-sized rescue from a high-kill shelter who shares an apartment with her human Cecelia in NYC, they might have dog food rolls, a meat log which provides a lot of nutrition. According to Cecelia, she won’t eat dry food because, “she’s a delicate Princess and it hurts her dainty mouth.” While we want our fluffy companions to be comfortable, the unfortunate fact is that the meat in dog food contributes to a lot of methane being produced (latimes.com).

The answer? Well, don’t panic about not being able to find vegan dog food, because you can make a major difference just by switching your dog to a food that is made with chicken or rabbit, rather than beef, lamb, or other red meats. Chicken and rabbit produce much less methane than red meat, and it’s often fairly easy to find well-known commercial foods that come in these varieties (latimes.com). For example, Lissa, the owner of Molly, a sweet small breed who charms everyone she meets, feeds her dog Blue Buffalo. In their Wilderness line, they offer a rabbit option, as do many other main-brand dog foods (bluebuffalo.com). Kacie, who owns Ripley, a small breed in Queens, gives her dog a food comprised of pheasant, which is also a big improvement on red meat based foods.

We can also reduce the amount of methane produced in general by reducing our own meat consumption in order to let our dogs have a little more. Hey, who said that friendship doesn’t come with a little sacrifice? Overall, it’s easy to make feeding our dog just a little greener by taking a few simple steps, such as researching chicken and rabbit foods, and cutting back on the meat grilling ourselves!

One of the major issues with having a domestic dog is waste disposal. When you throw away dog faeces, there are multiple factors at work. Dog waste left on the streets ends up, “washed down storm drains into streams and the ocean, fueling toxic algae blooms that suck up oxygen and turning coastal habitats into dead zones,” and even when picked up (which Cecelia, Kacie, and Lissa all do), thrown out faeces emits methane, and adds significantly to trash pollution (latimes.com). I know, it’s shocking, because I as a dog owner thought I was doing the right thing by scooping up my dogs’ leaving with a plastic bag and throwing it in the trash. Then there’s the added factor of the plastic bags themselves.

I thought I was being green by saving and reusing any plastic bags I had in order to clean up waste, but actually the plastic bags contribute to pollution as well (ecowatch.com), which means that every time we scoop up and throw away dog faeces, we’re contributing to methane production, and plastic pollution. Cecelia, Sadie’s human, and Kacie, Ripley’s human, both use biodegradable bags designed especially for the purpose, which certainly helps, but the questions remains, just what can we do in order to deal with the Poop Problem?

First off, we can do exactly what we do with our own waste: flush it away! By flushing, you’re ensuring that the waste won’t end up in a dump, and also won’t end up contaminating a water source, which can have a serious impact on local wildlife because dog faeces contains toxins, as well as diseases which could adversely affect the lives of both plants and animals (latimes.com). The problem with flushing, of course, is it contributes to water waste, but as indelicate as it may seem, following the saying of, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down,” may be the answer in order to combat any extra water usage.

If you’re lucky enough (unlike most of us urban-dwellers) to have an outside living space, you can get rid of your dog’s waste even more efficiently. The simplest way to do it without purchasing anything new, is to bury it in your yard at least a foot deep, beneath the run-off zone, avoiding any vegetable patches you might have (latimes.com). Of course, who has the time to dig a new hole for every piece of waste, and I know I certainly wouldn’t want to save it up somewhere for a weekly deposit. Better than the hole-in the ground trick though, is the device which might change the way we think of pet waste disposal as whole, the Doggie Dooley (doggiedooley.com).

The Doggie Dooley is something between a septic tank and a composting system for dog waste (note: any kind of animal excrement can NOT go on your ordinary compost pile). It’s a small, relatively inexpensive canister that is installed fairly simply and can be done yourself. It then functions like a septic system, using water and purification tablets to eliminate the toxic parts of the waste and break down the rest. Once installed, you just have to add a new tablet and some water every now and then (doggydooley.com). This solution is less ideal for apartment-dwellers, but in my opinion an absolutely fantastic idea for anyone with access to an outside space.

Overall, our pooches do have an impact on the environment, but the love and support they provide is incomparable. According to Lissa, Molly’s human, “She is such a joy to have in my life. Her cuddles take away all the stress.” Cecelia felt similarly, saying of her dog, “Sadie is the light of my life, I love this stupid creature so much. She eats my shoes, pees on the floor, eats questionable things off the sidewalk…she is a jerk and I adore her.” Kacie said of Ripley, “She forces me to get outside more…I’ve gotten to know the green spaces in my neighborhood…she is adorable and gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling to hang out with.” My own dogs, Muppet and Daisy, are fun and fluffy and I love them to distraction, and so as a dog owner, it’s my job to try and be as green as possible so I can keep on experiencing the joy of canine companionship. Even just a little step makes a difference.

In my opinion, a Doggy Dooley is the absolute best option, although if you don’t have a yard it’s unreality. However, we can take the time to write to our local councilmen and see if they can be installed in dog parks, since they’re both cost-effective and green. As an apartment-dweller, it would seem that the best option is to use biodegradable bags and flush. While it may be a little inconvenient to carry the waste home, flush it, and then throw away the bag, even just these few simple changes could really help reduce the environmental impact dogs are having on the world. After all, I know I personally couldn’t imagine a life without dogs, and I wouldn’t want to. Besides, we’re not just trying to save the planet for us, we’re saving it for them too.

What We Can Do

by Spencer Oakes Dawson

New York City is vast and expansive. I can imagine it being nearly impossible to travel anywhere in the world, and for someone from that culture to not know of New York City (NYC). Covering four hundred and sixty nine square miles, more than eight million people call it home. Over 400 years after the first European explorers came to what is now called Manhattan, there is hardly any land that has not been covered over with cement, pavement, and massive skyscrapers.

As a result of exponential growth, many native plant and animal species have become completely extinct from the area. Additionally the native diversity inherent in such an ecologically rich land has lessened with the increasing distance between parks and nature preserves. It is easy to forget about the biological richness of the greater Manhattan area as concrete and metal abound, but there are plenty of ways that city residents can attract wildlife, while helping to increase the biodiversity of the city.

It may be difficult to imagine, but the Wildlife Conservation Society has this to say about the richness that once inhabited this island, “With 56 ecological community types, it rivaled the biodiversity of Yellowstone.” One can still see remnants of some of that richness in the upper parts of Manhattan, and on many parts of Staten Island.(1)

New York City’s laundry list of parks and green spaces rivals that of other large cities, but more needs to be done to protect those spaces, and promote biodiversity. The American Museum of Natural History published a Biodiversity Assessment handbook that details the state of biodiversity in the greater New York City area. Given the distance between New Yorks green spaces they recommend that “green corridors must be established among certain sites to accommodate the need of many plants and animals to move from one habitat to another at different times of the year; to connect them with nearby populations so that genetic interchange can occur; and to enable them to respond to climate change as habitat shifts and the sea level rises.”(2)

But how can individual citizens help without getting involved in local politics, you ask? There are a myriad of small steps that many New Yorkers can take in order to attract wildlife back to the city, and increase and support biodiversity. I have had plenty of friends with backyard, and roof access. If you have either, it can be as simple as planting a flower box with Wild Geraniums, or Brown-eyed Susans. If your backyard is open grass and soil, you may ask your landlord about starting a small garden, or planting a cranberry bush, or swamp rose. Bushes, and small trees that grow berries are a great way to attract wildlife to any yard, or park.

An incredible thing that the New York City Department of Sanitation does is composting. They work with the parks department to use the organic waste that they compost as fertilizer for city parks. This greatly increase the richness of the soil in parks, and ultimately increases biodiversity as the health of plants increases.

Long before the urbanization of Manhattan and its surrounding areas, many native plants that are still found in the area thrived. Given the great distances between plant habitats in New York City the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, a division of the NYC Parks Department, created a bold initiative to study native plants and their genetic variability.

In their rationale they state that, “little attention has been given to the management of rare species in the urban context, and no attempt has been made to assess and manage the more common, yet declining, species found in urban, fragmented populations.” (3) The reason that this conservation research study is so bold is due to the fact that conservation efforts are most often directed at rare or endangered species.

In New York City, despite the sprawling concrete landscape we have a great friend in our local government. It will take partnerships with borough presidents and local officials to create and manifest such feats as “green corridors” that the Museum of Natural History suggests. If we are able to identify the species that are suffering as a result of the distance between habits, we many also be able to identify areas where we can create such land passages.

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, thinking that this area’s ecosystems once rivaled today’s Yellowstone Park makes me want to work so much harder to protect what we do have, and to create more green spaces. If there is anything that we can learn from New York City’s cultural richness, it’s that our ecological richness is just as important. So start composting.

You can save your scraps in the freezer to avoid any smell, and bugs, and then bring them to your local farmers market. Find out where here:

http://www.grownyc.org/compost/locations.

For a more focused look at composting in the borough of Brooklyn, and specifically at Empire State College’s campus visit:

facebook.com/escbkcompost

Talk to your neighbors about composting, and what they think of your hood. Look around for trees on your street that need to be taken better care of. NYC’s 311 call center is a great resource to use if you identify a tree that needs some love. Check out:

http://www.nycgovparks.org/opportunities/volunteer

for clean up days. Take public transportation, and think about investing in a pair of rollerblades or a bike.

The possibilities, and opportunities to increase and protect our great city’s biodiversity are endless. We just have to care enough.

  1. http://archive.wcs.org/sw-high_tech_tools/landscapeecology/mannahatta/phase1science.html
  2. http://www.amnh.org/our-research/center-for-biodiversity-conservation/publications/for-policymakers/biodiversity-assessment-handbook-for-new-york-city
  3. http://www.nycgovparks.org/greening/greenbelt-native-plant-center/conservation-initiative

Canis Latrans

by Aisling Murray

“A coyote is seen wandering on Riverside Drive,” and “Coyote eludes NYPD from top of a bar in LIC, Queens,” and “Coyote is captured in Middle village Queens”: these are headline news stories that flashed across our TV screens and appeared in the New Yorker and National Geographic during spring of 2015. It seems as though coyotes are all over the city. Like most New Yorkers, I have asked myself why coyotes have chosen New York City as their destination. Coyotes, I soon discovered, are highly intelligent mammals that learn quickly through their keen observational skills, just like dogs. The Eastern coyote has the immense capacity of adapting to a multitude of different environments from suburbia to densely populated cities, therefore the likelihood of coyote sightings may become more common as they continue to thrive and create new territory in and around the New York City metro area.

Beside wild black bears, coyotes have become New York State’s largest carnivore. The mystery of the coyotes’ arrival in NYC has grabbed the attention of media outlets everywhere with headlines such as the ones above. But to understand this amazing mammal I traced backed its heritage to Algonquin park in Canada, where many generations ago the western coyote interbred with the eastern wolf; this created the Eastern coyote or coy-wolf. Humans have played a role in bringing the Eastern coyote to New York State because its number one competitor, the wolf, has been wiped out. The coyote has taken up residence from Maine down the Eastern coastline to Van Cortlandt Park and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. According to Dr. Chris Nagy, a wildlife biologist and Director of Research and Land Management at the Mianus River Gorge and co-founder of the Gotham Coyote Project in 2006, “The coyotes that have made New York State their territory are thirty percent wolf,” by which she means that they are coy-wolves, also known as Eastern coyotes.

Mainly carnivores, coyotes eat small mammals such as rodents, squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. They rarely kill healthy deer but will eat road kill, as they tend to be opportunistic scavengers and eat vegetation such as mulberries, leaves and grasses. The first coyote sighting in NYC since 1946 occurred in February 1995. She was killed on the Major Deegan Expressway and a bronze statue in her honor sits at the southwest entrance to Van Cortlandt Park. Otis arrived in central Park in 1999 and was taken to the Queens Zoo to live out his days. Then in 2006, Hal appeared in Central Park and was captured. Unfortunately, Hal died right before his release. There are reasons why he died, but one of the big factors is that he had eaten a rat that had ingested rat poison. Poor Hal, who was just trying to create his space in Central Park, died from internal hemorrhaging caused by the poison along with the stress of captivity and heartworm. In 2010, three coyotes were spotted in and around Columbia University. When a coyote has evaded being captured, just like a ghost, it maintains the ability to disappear into the landscape, whether it’s a concrete jungle or a forest.

After I spoke with Nagy about the breeding patterns of coyotes, it made sense to me that March and April might become common times to spot a coyote somewhere beyond the borders of the Bronx. Couples mate for life and breed in January and February with gestation lasting approximately sixty-two days after which a litter of four to six pups are born. Coyotes have the incredible ability to reproduce only as many pups that can be sustained in regards to the availability of food and territory. This may be why the coyote population has only slowly increased in increments over the past decades. The pups stay with their parents for nine months with dispersal occurring between late October and January. Similarly to wolves, coyotes are very territorial and will not encroach on other coyotes’ territory. They signal to each other in a string of short and quick yips and through scent markings and scat droppings if a piece of territory is taken. The young coyotes will travel between 50-100 miles in search of new territory. After doing the math, I came to the conclusion that the coyotes showing up in Chelsea, Battery Park City, Middle Village Queens and Long Island City may have been coyotes looking for new territory and mates—except for the fact that the coyote that was eventually captured and taken to Animal Control was a four-year-old female. Nagy says that now, “any coyotes captured in the metro area are micro chipped and moved to a coyote green area where they can be somewhat monitored.”

When I asked Nagy how and why coyotes are migrating from upstate NY to Manhattan, he responded that “They are doing really well as a species and because of this each younger generation needs more territory and coyotes are adapting to our ever changing environment.” Looking at a map of the outer boroughs, one can easily figure out that coyotes travel along the corridor of train tracks and green areas in a straight line from the Upper Bronx into Queens and Manhattan. They walk over and under bridges and swim. Nagy also pointed out to me that downtown Chicago has a thriving population of coyotes. According to National Geographic, an estimated two thousand coyotes have adapted to urban living in the greater Chicago area. Many of the Chicago coyotes are equipped with GPS’s and critter-cams, which give us a view into the secretive lives of these resilient and adaptable mammals. What I find of particular interest is that initially the people of Chicago were not welcoming to coyotes, but now most have accepted the fact that coyotes are not going anywhere; they are there to stay.

When I pose this question to Nagy in regards to NYC becoming a territory for coyotes, he explains that “With the gradual increase of human structures and green areas coyotes will do fine. The Bronx and Queens are suitable for coyotes, Manhattan is only eleven miles long, and so that’s the big question.” Nagy along with co-founder of the Gotham Coyote Project Dr. Mark Weckel have set up motion sensor cameras in wooded areas around the metro area to learn more about these very shy animals. Next, they would like to gather DNA and scat samples so as to track the coyotes’ whereabouts and pinpoint exactly what their urban diet consists of. Only time will tell if coyotes can set up home in NYC, as their windy city counterparts have done in Chicago.

The village of Pleasantville in Westchester county is about thirty miles north of Manhattan. Chris Straface, a Chiropractor who works in midtown Manhattan, lives in a house built in the mid-60s, which is situated among other houses in adjacent lots, all of which are surrounded by wooded areas. One spring evening in April of this year at around nine-thirty, Straface was walking his 108 lb. Rottweiler, Koda. He felt Koda tense up on the leash and realized there was a coyote a few yards from them. He described the coyote as “about thirty pounds, greyish and tan color.” As soon as the coyote saw Koda it scampered away pretty fast towards the back of his house where more bushes and tall trees grow. On another occasion while walking Koda in the evening, a coyote surprised them by running right out in front of them into the wooded area opposite his home.

Straface stores his garbage in a trash bin outside and has never had a problem with coyotes rummaging or making any kind of mess. When I asked Straface about the rodent population he said, “I never see any rats in the neighborhood.” This might indicate that the coyotes are keeping busy and well fed by eating rodents in the area, although there have been instances where coyotes have taken unsupervised small pets in and around Pleasantville. Further south, closer to Kensico Reservoir, Straface’s parents live with their three German shepherds. The Great Island and Cranberry Lake Preserve border the reservoir. During spring and summer evenings they often hear loud yips and howling from coyotes coming from the vicinity of the reservoir. They have never had any conflicts with coyotes, though the “sounds can be a little creepy,” Straface tells me. Though Canis Latrans translates to “barking dog,” many actually call the coyote the “singing dog,” for it is known to have “thrilling nighttime choruses and howls.”

Speaking with Frank Vincenti, the founder of the Wild Dog Foundation based in Long Island, it’s obvious he has a passion for coyotes. He claims, “Coyotes often get a bad rap in the media and by people who don’t understand them.” Vincenti wants to educate people about coyotes and explains how coyotes easily adapt to their environment and are an important part of the ecosystem from Canada to NYC. He says, “Coyotes keep rodent population down, which is really good PR for them as no other predator is doing that.” Later, I discovered that coyotes are Canadian geese number one predator; they steel eggs from the nests. (Personally I think this is better than gassing geese, which happened to four hundred geese in NYC a few years ago).

Vincenti told me a story about his encounter with a coyote. “If you don’t allow a coyote to get comfortable, they will move along to the next place.” He explains, “I chased a coyote out of NYC botanical gardens up and down rocky crevasses all the while making loud noises…the coyote ran like a mountain goat…up and down always looking behind at me and eventually running into the woods.” The coyote has yet to return to the gardens or has not revealed itself since. Coyotes can live in an area anywhere from .5 square miles to 5-15 square miles. Vincenti tells me that humans can live on top of each other as in big cities, but few if any other animals are capable of that; so maybe the coyote will be the next mammal to live in tight living quarters, just like us New Yorkers!

On an overcast morning in March of this year, Birk O’ Halloran, originally from Fort Collins, CO, was working at his desk in an office above the LIC Bar in Queens. At around eleven, something drew his attention to the small roof opposite his office window. A coyote was on the roof. O’Halloran knew it was a coyote because he had often seen them on his camping trips in Colorado. And, similar in temperament to the coyotes in CO, this one seemed “pretty relaxed and was trying to figure a way off the roof.”

I asked O’Halloran about the coyote’s behavior that morning. It turned out that the coyote was up there for a few hours resting in the shade of a HVAC and never showing any anxiousness. O’Halloran made a video and took many photos of the coyote that day, which he has shared with me for the purpose of this essay. The NYPD showed up and soon enough the coyote escaped from the roof through the opened window which led into an abandoned warehouse, never to be seen again. “Locals were mostly amused and surprised” is how O’Halloran described the reaction from the community.

I asked O’Halloran, if he would mind if coyote sightings became a regular occurrence in the NYC area. “I think it’s testimony to how adaptable the species is, but no I wouldn’t be an advocate for them moving to the city. My sister’s cat was torn to shreds by a pack of coyotes during a long cold winter in Colorado about 6-7 years ago. They had come down from the mountains looking for food. I don’t really blame the coyotes…Just having them in NYC is a recipe for a lot of conflicts.”

When I spoke with Nagy, he talked of the human and pet interaction with coyotes in urban areas. “There are worst things that can happen to a pet whether in the woods or the front yard and coyotes pose no real threat to people and that dogs should always be leashed even when in forested areas.”

It seems that coyote sightings will continue to rise in urban areas and with this, conflicts might ensue, but if everyone is educated on what to do and how to behave if they ever come face to face with a coyote then there will be fewer problems. Coyotes are very shy and have a natural aversion to people. If a person leaves food for a coyote they will associate food with people and lose their fear of people. This is a sure way to guarantee conflicts between coyotes and people. This is the number one reason why we should never feed wild animals. Coyotes have survived for a really long time without our help and they do not need us to feed them. In regards to cats, who are pretty smart animals, I nevertheless would not allow them—or at least my own—to roam outside without supervision if I suspected that coyotes were in the area.

On a chilly winter evening in February, Laurie and her boyfriend Eric were walking around   Van Cordlandt Park in the Bronx. Fire trucks with sirens blaring were heard from the parkways that surround the park. Within moments Laurie heard howls and yips, maybe 40-50 feet away. “We couldn’t see the coyotes, but are pretty sure they were watching us, their sounds take you back to the wilderness.” The wide range of vocal sounds that a coyote creates is very impressive and are often compared to Jazz music variations. When heard in the wild it’s as if there are many coyotes singing, when in fact there might be just two. Coyotes are always watching their surroundings. This is why they have become New York State’s top dog and why they are surviving even when they are continually hunted throughout North America.

It has become a fact that coyote sightings and stories are on the rise in communities from all over NYC. As Nagy says, “Coyotes are incredibly intelligent animals and are extremely adaptable.” They have become a regular four-legged bushy tailed pedestrian in suburbia and might become as regular on the streets and in green areas in and around NYC. They arrived here on the eastern side of the US because they are explorers, opportunists, and adapters, just like New Yorkers. This is finally a “Good conservations story,” as Nagy states. They have proven over time that they are survivors and if we try to prevent them from moving south they will find other ways. The bronze statue of the coyote standing on a boulder in Van Cortlandt Park has become an sign for others to follow in her paw prints, for it is positioned looking south towards NYC. She didn’t make it south, but many of her relatives have and will continue to because coyotes are here to stay.

Sources:

Gotham Coyote Project http://www.gothamcoyote.com

Wild Suburia Project http://www.wildsuburbiaproject.com

Wild Dog Foundation http://wilddog.hypermart.net/

Dan Bogan, Ph.D. “Rise of the Eastern Coyote Understanding coyote ecology will allow us to coexist.” Conservationist. NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation. June 2014.

Meet the Coywolf. Documentary. Nature. Thirteen. Public Broadcasting Service.

References:

http://www2.dnr.cornell.edu/ext/info/pubs/Wildlife/NYwildlife/eastern%20coyote.pdf

Dell’Amore, Christine. “Downtown Coyotes: Inside the Secret Lives of Chicago’s Predator.” nationalgeographic.com. 21 Nov. 2014.

Morais, Betsy. “Wily.” newyorker.com. 13 April 2015

Jen Kirby. “Why coyotes are flourishing in New York City.” nymag.com. New York Magazine. 20 May 2015

Keller, Mitch. “Coyote Adorable.” nytimes.com. The New York Times. 30 April 2006

Hell’s Kitchen: A Surprising Wealth of Greenery

by Jean M. 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, who run a Farm Project on a rooftop right here in Hell’s Kitchen. It is the 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. According to their website:

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. (http://www.hkfp.org/)

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.

There are other organizations in my community that work to support those in need, such as Covenant House and Clinton Community Garden. Covenant House, located on 10th Avenue, 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. However, what impressed me most was the Clinton Community Garden.

(pic #1)

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.

According to their wordpress site:

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. (https://theparkclinton.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/unnamed.jpg?w=232&h=300)

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 have become 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.

(pic #2)

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.

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? Shanti Nagel serves as its 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.

(pic #3)

On a more somber note, my beautiful “weed” that I found on an earlier nature walk through Hell’s Kitchen, and which was likely a member of the buckthorn 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, but they didn’t remove the roots. He’ll be back, I’m sure!

References

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 – http://clintongarden.org/about/history-2/

Cultivate HKNY – Community Projects & Partners – http://www.cultivatehkny.org/#!community-projefts/c1iob

Community Gardens in Brooklyn

by Stephanie Shelton

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a novel written by Betty Smith in 1943. It was first published in 1943 and is about an Irish-American family that lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The story depicts the hardships that this family encounters through poverty, alcoholism, lost hope and dreams, the decline of the patriarch of the family, birth and death. In the midst of all this turmoil and barrenness, a tree grows which represents growth, change and hope. You might ask what does this have to do with an essay on community gardens in Brooklyn. My response is: everything. There have been many changes in Williamsburg since this novel was written, but throughout the county of Brooklyn, many of these situations have remained the same. The influence of greenery and gardens on individuals and communities still have the same effect. The gardens represent hope, growth, having a hands on approach to the community, care for the community and a respect for the community that is not always conveyed in words or brought about through social action and change.

In my research on community gardens in Brownsville/Brooklyn I was able to look at the history of these projects, the resources that undergird them and the people who are impacted by them. The Hull Street Garden is located near the Broadway Junction train station in Brownsville that is home to 4 different subway lines: A, C, J, and L trains. There is always a hub of activity taking place in this area. Most people are on their way to work or school and often do not have the time to “stop and smell the roses”.

This garden is a bright light in an otherwise stark neighborhood that is void of any greenery other than what you see growing in the cracks on the street or vacant lots. The garden serves several needs within the community. It is a playground for children, a meeting place to sit and have coffee and conversation with friends and is fitted with a small barbecue grill that appears to have been unused for some time. There are flowers growing and plant life that is not seen everywhere. There is also a shade tree that stands guard for all who are hot and weary.

The garden was opened in 2005 and is 2500 square feet. This garden is not adopted. The Garden of Hope is located in Bedford Stuyvesant and was founded by local residents in 1982. The garden was adopted by interior designer Ellie Cullman, Co-Founder of the design firm Cullman & Kravis, Inc. Cullman was instrumental in the designing and fund raising for this project and the garden was reopened in 2008. The space boasts 2000 square feet and has an area for performances and a neat lawn. Organizations have held numerous events here from art galleries to weddings to mini concerts. The Imani Garden is located in Crown Heights and is 4000 square feet. Its history is rooted in the adjacent Our Lady of Charity Church. The garden was initially tended by members of the congregation with limited success in 1982. The garden is now beginning to flourish due to the community making use of the space. Community members hold neighborhood gatherings, grow vegetables and raise animals such as chickens and rabbits. The Williams Avenue Community Garden is located in East New York.

The garden is 2500 square feet and is tended by the mainly Spanish- speaking residents of the community. The residents began developing this space in 1989. The only other garden located in this community was started in 1998 as a part of an industrial redevelopment plan. The garden has perennials, flowering shrubs and trees along with a variety of vegetables and plants. What is unique about this particular garden is that a lot of the ornamental plants are native to Puerto Rico.

The hours that these gardens are open to the public, similar to most of these types of gardens, are during the daytime hours when I was not available. The gardens are usually open 20 hours per week. I was unable to speak with anyone who actually worked in the gardens and did not receive any contact via email. I did have the opportunity to speak with some of the residents in the community who utilize these gardens. There was a common thread within in each community that spoke to the joy of having a beautiful place amongst the normally frayed and tattered community existence. There was much appreciation for the safe environment that is provided for the children at the Hull Street Garden. One elderly woman stated that “even the drug dealers/users and winos in the neighborhood know that the garden is a hands-off space”.

There is a respect held by all for the garden and those who tend it, who based on the information that I received, are mostly elderly persons. The Imani Garden uses its space to teach children about caring for others through their interaction with the chickens and rabbits. It provides them with a sense of community and demonstrates first- hand the connection between man and his environment.

Crown Heights has a high incidence of children who are affected with asthma. This green space also serves the role of producing a cleaner environment for the children to breathe healthy air. I even like the connection between the name of the garden and the name of the church. Imani means faith. The church has the word charity within its name. The community garden is a ray of hope for the neighborhood. Faith, Hope and Charity. The Garden of Hope in Bedford Stuyvesant is a forum to spotlight local talent and businesses. I met a young woman who stated that her cousin had been married in the garden and not charged a fee. She said that the family did not have a lot of money so this was an excellent opportunity for her cousin and family. The Williams Avenue Community Garden provides a slice of home and familiar community for its Spanish-speaking residents. There is a sense of “home” and connectedness to your roots when you are able to plant and grow vegetables from your home of origin.

If a person or family can feel at home in their community they will stay and provide the stability that a community needs to grow. Both The Hull Street Garden/Playground and The Garden of Hope can be reserved for events. There is a calendar of events that is posted online where you can attend and participate in the events, meetings and workshops that take place. There is no fee for gardens that are sponsored by the New York restoration Project (NYRP). Most of the gardens are supported through NYRP through their initiative to make as much green space as possible throughout the five boroughs.

Diversity and biodiversity are demonstrated through the gardens that incorporate animals and plants/vegetables from other areas. I am sure that the children get a big kick out of feeding the rabbits and chickens as well as having the opportunity to interact with them up close and personal.

Thinking back to the story of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I note that although this family encountered many hardships throughout their lives, the tree in this story continued to grow and weather every storm that it encountered. The tree was planted in, andconnected to, the community and provided a sense of steadfastness that was needed for the community, its individuals and the family in the story. The same is true today. The green spaces and gardens provide needed clean air space, activity, community interaction, purpose and hope. The garden in East New York provides vegetables for those individuals from Puerto Rico who miss home and encourage a healthy diet. For now the gardens are used as safe havens and the pride of the community. I am sure that given time, with more information being disseminated related to healthier lifestyles, the idea of sustainability will take hold. The love of growing, gardening and a positive neighborhood life already exist. It is not too much of a leap. In the movie adaptation of her book in 1945, the tree’s branches are cut as part of the pruning process. There was concern that the tree would die because it appeared that too many of its branches were cut. The movie ends with a close up of the tree budding new branches. Perhaps some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn have simply gone through a pruning process and are now starting to show buds. There is hope.

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.

(http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/munshisouth10/group-projects/flushingmeadows/flushing-meadows-past/)

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.

References:

“Flushing Meadows Corona Park.” Seminar 3 Science Technology in NYC. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015. http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/munshisouth10/group-projects/flushingmeadows/

“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. http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2013/05/the-corona-ash-dumps-brooklyns-burden.html

“Flushing Meadows Corona Park.” Highlights. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015. http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/flushing-meadows-corona-park/highlights/12907

“Neglected Fountain of the Planets Has Few Friends in Queens Park.”DNAinfo New York. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 June 2015. http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121217/corona/fountain-of-planets-may-be-replaced-by-mls-stadium-queens

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. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/20/nyregion/with-universitys-help-new-park-on-harlem-river-is-a-marshland-sanctuary.html?_r=0

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. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/04/mapping-racial-diversity-by-county/361388/

Notes:

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/major-league-soccer-won-coming-queens-pol-article-1.1394221

[2] http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/munshisouth10/group-projects/flushingmeadows/problems-and-solutions/

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/20/nyregion/with-universitys-help-new-park-on-harlem-river-is-a-marshland-sanctuary.html?_r=0

[4] http://macaulay.cuny.edu/eportfolios/munshisouth10/group-projects/flushingmeadows/problems-and-solutions/#fnref-1458-5

[5] http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/flushing-meadows-corona-park/highlights/12907

[6 http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20121217/corona/fountain-of-planets-may-be-replaced-by-mls-stadium-queens

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.

Sources

  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

 

Photographs

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.