Feb 5, 2016

Book Review - Children Around the World by Peter Guttman

We are several days into February and Black History Month, and less than three weeks ago we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Although Peter Guttman's Children Around the World: A Photographic Treasury of the Next Generation does not deal with African American history, it is a worthwhile book to share with a child this month.

The extraordinary diversity of ethnicity, culture, economic class, and really every aspect of how people inhabit the Earth are captured in Guttman's captioned photographs. I bought a copy of this book for our younger child because she enjoys looking at photographs of children, but it is my older child who looked deeply and asked many questions.

He was curious about why children his age dressed, lived, and engaged in activities unfamiliar to him. For example, on page 86, he was surprised to see a boy playing with a rubber tire in the road. The boy from St. Lucia was pushing a tire with the aid of two sticks. For other photographs he pointed to landscapes, animals, foods, and play with which he is familiar. The scene on page 171 of two children building sand castles on a beach on Prince Edward Island reminded of us of our times on the beach in New England. His favorite, though, is of the boy walking through a "crystal palace" of lake ice in New York State.

It was a pleasure to look through the book with my children, and on my own. My own questions were about how the author received access and permission to photograph the children featured in the book. He must have a very strong rapport with children. For the most part, the children's faces convey joy and trust. For the children with less than joyful expressions, it seems that it was a matter of personality or circumstance. Peter Guttman was interested in photographing "a disappearing world where youthful sensibilities connect more authentically with their actual friends and playmates" so you will note that none of the photographs feature a piece of contemporary technology. Another notable element of the photographs, and this likely is related to Guttman's focus on "slowly vanishing cultural diversity and fragile landscapes," is the lack of explicit symbols of material wealth.

The cover photo is an interesting choice given the global diversity focus of the book, but there is an equally delightful photo on the back cover. I couldn't discern the theme in the overall presentation of the photographs, but images on facing pages are related to each other. Also, the images in the first half of the book tend to be portraits of a single child while the photographs in the second half of the book are group shots. Still, I would have liked to see a table of contents or index. A world map displaying the places pictured in the book along with page numbers would be helpful for future readings of the book. However, the absence of these wayfinding features could have been deliberate. In his introduction to the book, Peter Guttman places a high value of spontaneity.

A review copy of Children Around the World was provided by Skyhorse Publishing.

Feb 4, 2016

Researching the Urban Ecologies of Parks in NYC

Image: Screenshot of Figure: Locations: Borough and Park, page 2, Research Permits Report 2015 Annual Report
There is a lot of research happening in New York City's parks! I’m putting together a permit application on behalf of WSP Eco Projects and have been reviewing Research Permit Reports [pdf] and NYC Urban Field Station Progress Reports [pdf]. The proposed research project for Washington Square Park is an extension of the one day wildlife data collection pilot we coordinated with SciStarter for the 2015 World Science Festival. Fingers crossed for our application! Now, let me tell you about those other research projects.

In a nutshell, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources Division granted 93 research permits in 2015. Of these, 33 were renewals of existing projects. Applicant affiliations spanned the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, with the majority of applications from universities. Also, projects are occurring in all five boroughs as well as citywide and across parkland types. The borough with the most research permits issued is Manhattan and the park with the most permits issued is Central Park. City-wide/multiple borough research projects account for 32% of research permits issued.

In terms of research topic, over 35 permits have been issued for plant research followed by over 25 permits for soil and close to 25 permits for arthropods. Research projects about amphibians/reptiles and worms each have below 5 permits.

The oldest ongoing research project is the Breeding Bird Survey of New York City by Susan Elbin of NYC Audubon. The permit was first granted in 1982. The next oldest project is Melissa Cohen’s Electrofishing Fisheries Surveys. This NYS Department of Environmental Conservation project was started in 1996. See page 5 of the Research Permits Report 2015 Annual Report for permits issued between 2011 and 2014. I am excited about the Avian Acoustic Ecology Project by NYU graduate student Joseph Doumet and professor Tae Hong Park. The project is based in Washington Square Park! Check out Tae Hong Park's Citygram, an "interactive environmental-sensing project." Two recently permitted projects use “barcode” in the title: Urban Barcode: Worms in Cunningham and Francis Lewis Parks by Christopher Ades at St. Francis Preparatory School and Urban Barcode Project: Sunset Park by Megan Wallner at Sunset Park High School. Do you know about the Billion Oyster Project, to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor plus engage K-12 students in STEM? Kimberly Schwab of the Speyer Legacy School received a permit for Billion Oyster Project/ water quality monitoring. I’ll also mention Ronald Sarno’s, based at Hofstra University, Selective behavior by rodents in the built environment: A pilot. There are 55 other new and fascinating projects. For all the permits issued in 2015 see pages 6 and 7 of the Research Permits Report 2015 Annual Report.

Image: Screenshot of Figure 1: 2014 Science Plan Research Themes, page 1, New York City Urban Field Station 2014 Annual Progress Report

So that was just one set of research in NYC parks. The other portfolio of research comes out of the NYC Urban Field Station, a collaboration between the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, and as of 2013, the Natural Areas Conservancy. Eight research buckets were summarized in field station progress report published in 2014. They are Tree and Vegetation Health, Disturbance and Recovery, Stewardship and Civic Engagement, Ecosystem Services and Health, Wildlife and Habitat, Inventory and Monitoring, Management Evaluation, and Ecological and Social Assessments.

Within each category are one to eight projects. One that I am particularly interested in following is Trees Flooded by Hurricane Sandy by Rich Hallett, Nancy Sonti, Ross Whitehead (Rutgers intern), and Michelle Johnson. After the hurricane I began thinking about how severe disturbances, especially to urban areas, affect people's sense of place and collecting stories about tree elegies. My dissertation was about the transition of the role of the street tree from one of beautification to environmental service provision in the policy and planning arenas and the actors, institutions, and mechanisms that mainstreamed the ecological view of the street tree in California cities. Because of this experience, I am very curious about Lindsay Campbell's project City of Forests, City of Farms in which she examined policy and planning documents and their implementation between 2007 and 2011 to theorize "how urban nature [was] constructed in New York City". There are two bird projects. One, Lifetrack Egret, co-led by Erika Svendsen, Susan Stanley, Susan Elbin (NYC Audubon), and John Brzorad (Lenior-Rhyne University), tracks egrets using GPS and cell phone technology and each egret's data is sent to a specific classroom to inform curriculum. The other is the Harbor Herons nest surveys by Susan Stanley and Susan Elbin. In addition to research, the Urban Field Station engages communities of interest through various science outreach and communication programs. The field station has dedicated staff but also supports, scholars-in-residence, fellows, interns, and fellows.

If you could, what kind of research project would you conduct in a NYC park, or in a park in your community?

Jan 26, 2016

NYC Street Trees by Species, a Map by Jill Hubley

A photo posted by Local Ecologist (@localecologist) on

One of the best things I did last year was to volunteer as a TreesCount2015! tree counter. I attended a presentation by Jaclyn Shanley hosted by Trees New York. Then I recruited a co-trainer from my neighborhood's mothers' list serve and founded Washington Square Tree Counters. Annie and I attended co-trainer training events then hosted mapping events of our own. Over the course of 4 events with 53 attendees as well as independent mappers, Washington Square Tree Counters mapped 99.7% blocks in our census area for a total of 1, 139 trees!

A photo posted by Local Ecologist (@localecologist) on

TreesCount2015! is ongoing. Staff and independent mappers are mapping this winter and voluntreers will resume mapping when trees leaf out. The current city-wide tally is over 527,000 trees representing 132 on 103,514 blocks counted by 8,263 voluntreers, staff, and independent mappers. Check out the progress map here.

The City's census progress map doesn't show individual trees. If you want to see individual street trees and their species, you are in luck. Jill Hubley used census data from 2005 to create her New York City Street Trees by Species map. There are 168 species recorded city-wide but only the top 52 species are color coded. The map also contains information about trunk diameter. All the images in this post are screenshots of Jill Hubley's map.

The distribution of street trees across New York City's boroughs.

The distribution of the London plane tree. The London plane tree is the most common street tree species in New York City according to the 2005 street tree inventory.

The distribution of the tulip tree, one of my favorite trees.

Explore the NYC Street Trees by Species map. You can learn about the coding behind the map in a guest post Jill Hubley wrote for Visualoop. Let us know your favorite species. And as always, thanks for reading.

P.S. There is a map of the trees is Washington Square Park at www.wspecomap.org.

Jan 21, 2016

Two National Park Service Memorials in Arlington VA + a Rawxies Review

We have a long bucket list of parks, memorials, monuments, and museums to visit while we live in the DC area. Last weekend we spent the morning at two National Park Service sites in the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington: the Marine Corps War Memorial (flag raising at Iwo Jima) and the Netherlands Carillon.

Learn about the Marine Corps War Memorial on the NPS website. What I found particularly impressive about the statues were the details of faces, clothes, and equipment. From the NPS website:
Sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, then on duty with the US Navy, was so moved by the image that he constructed first a scale model and then a life-size model of it. Gagnon, Hayes, and Bradley, the three survivors of the flag raising (the others were killed on Iwo Jima), posed for the sculptor as he modeled their faces in clay. All available pictures and physical statistics of the three who had given their lives were collected and then used in the modeling of their faces.

Across the road from the war memorial is the 50-bell Netherlands Carillon, a gift from the Dutch to thank the U.S. for aid given during and after World War II. We had seen this structure several times from the highway but did not know what it was until we visited. In fact, we had only intended to visit the war memorial; we hadn't realized the proximity between the two national parks. We also were unaware that there are automated concerts; we left before the noon performance. There a second daily performance at 6 p.m. Live concerts take place in the summer and the schedule is published in the spring. The carillon tower is fairly substantial; it is steel -- 127 feet high by 25 feet deep by 36 feet wide. The feature we gravitated towards were the two bronze lion sculptures at the foot of the plaza which were designed by sculptor Paul Koning. Joost W. C. Boks, an architect, designed the tower.

The morning of our outing was damp and very cold but the NPS memorials were engaging and the view across the river of several of the National Mall sites was impressive. After our sightseeing we treated ourselves to several Rawxies bars. According to Callie England, the founder, the bars "bridge the gap between indulgent cookies and nutritional food bars." Rawxies are gluten free, soy free, and dairy free. We ate Mint Chocolate Chip, Chocolate Brownie, Banana Nut Bread, Lemon Poppy Seed, and Cranberry Pecan.

Our favorites were surprising. I thought the chocolate bars would have won hands down but Lemon Poppy Seed and Cranberry Pecan each received two votes for favorite. We really liked the bright lemon flavor and the poppy seed texture. The Cranberry Pecan was a nice balance of nutty and tart. Find out where you can buy Rawxies.

Rawxies bars courtesy of Rawxies.

Jan 12, 2016

Becoming Familiar with Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington DC

With family in town last week we ventured back to Theodore Roosevelt Island. We visited for the first time last fall and enjoyed ourselves immensely. Our visitors liked the island, too; this could be our go-to spot to show out of town guests. Technically the park is in DC but we claim it since the only way to get to the park is from Virginia. Woods and water are a magical combination!

We parked. We slowly crossed the bridge. There's a lot to see. Paddle boarders, kayakers, and ducks. Sometimes other young children and dogs.

Once on the island we headed towards to the memorial which sits on top of a small rise on the northern tip of the island. It's a dramatic memorial officially named the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial. A 17-foot bronze statue of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the U.S., is flanked by four 21-foot tall granite tablets, two on either side, describing values he held dear. The memorial plaza also contains two pools each with a fountain and footbridges that span a moat. The moat is drained for the winter so on the first occasion we stepped into it and under the footbridges.

On our second trip, we stopped briefly at the sculpture and tablets then headed east towards the river.

We spent a lot of time at the water's edge. In addition to ducks, this time we saw a couple of crew boats on the water. The tide was low so we discovered a fairly large wooden structure in the interstitial zone. This became a balancing platform for my son, and I walked the planks, too. The next adventure was undertaken by my son and his uncle. They built a large structure from driftwood gathered from the bank of the river.

As was done last fall, there were several foot races on the boardwalk. We enjoyed snacks and water on the smartly placed benches on the boardwalk.

Since we visited at low tide, we were able to see the knees of the (only) bald cypress on the island. The boardwalk runs through the freshwater tidal marsh on the southern tip of the island. The bald cypress was specified by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. who designed the island, originally owned by and named for George Mason IV. The current landscape is very different from the original Mason Island.

We looked for red-winged blackbird nests again but did not see any. On way off the island, we also stopped at a large beech tree which has been repeatedly graffitied. The species is quite dominant on the western edge of the island. To learn more about the natural and cultural history of the island, read Saylor Moss's report titled "DC’s Island Sanctuary: Managing Nature and Culture on Theodore Roosevelt Island" for the 2011 George Wright Society Biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites.

Next time we should arrive earlier so we can eat lunch on the island, and we should time it for snow (will it happen this winter?) or spring bud burst.

Jan 5, 2016

WONDER at the Renwick Gallery Smithsonian American Art Museum

The new exhibit, Wonder, at the Renwick Gallery in Washington DC is awe-some. Using everyday objects, nine artists created nine "immersive" artworks to make visitors literally wonder. I recognized the name of three of the artists -- Patrick, Dougherty, Leo Villarreal, and Maya Lin. I first saw Patrick Dougherty's stick sculpture at the Parque del Retiro in Madrid. Leo Villarreal designed The Bay Lights in San Francisco and Hive in the Bleecker Street NYC subway station. Maya Lin is Maya Lin. The other six artists are Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Janet Echelman, and John Grade. The artworks are presented in the order in which I saw them.

Patrick Dougherty

Plexus A1
Gabriel Dawe

Tara Donovan

Volume (Renwick)
Leo Villareal

Janet Echelman
I have not done this for the previous entries but wanted to highlight the significance of the title of this work. The March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami were so strong that the earth was shifted on its axis and the day on which the event occurred "was shortened...by 1.8 millionths of a second."

Middle Fork
John Grade 
I'm going to annotate this work as well. This piece was created from a plaster cast of a living 150 year old hemlock in Seattle's Cascade Mountains. The artwork will be set in the same forest at the closing of the Wonder exhibit.

Folding the Chesapeake
Maya Lin

Chakaia Booker

In the Midnight Garden
Jennifer Angus

Do you have a favorite piece? I was really struck by the use of color in Jennifer's Angus piece. It's also a great celebration of insect life. As an urban forester, it was a pleasure to be introduced to John Grade's work and to see another sculpture by Patrick Dougherty. And I'm happy to finally see one of Maya Lin's works in person.

Dec 21, 2015

Four Sensory Maps of Washington Square Park

Last week I shared behavior maps created by School of Visual Arts (SVA) students who observed the behaviors of people and non-human animals in Washington Square Park. I am so excited to share another set of four maps with you. These maps were also created by SVA students. Sneha, Nga, Hanna, and Dami designed sensory maps of the park. A sensory map is a vehicle to "show how people use their different senses to navigate a city," writes Duncan Greere in his article about Kate McLean's incredible sensory maps. The SVA student maps of Washington Square Park illustrates how they sensed the park in mostly auditory terms but also emotionally.

The first map captures three types of sound and their temporal states. The second map uses nine emotional states to describe the park. The third map also represents sound but focuses specifically on performances and the density of the audience. The fourth map resembles a traditional behavior map in that it categorizes how people are using the park, but taken from a different perspective, the map could be conceptualized as chronicling the ways in which users are actually engaging or not with the park.

Image: Sound Map Washington Square Park (source)

Image: Emotional Map Washington Square Park (source)

Image: Density Map Washington Square Park (source)

Image: Sensorial Map Washington Square Park (source)

So what do these maps tell us about the park? Music is a dominant auditory force in the park. The impact of natural sounds is centered on the fountain. The power of children's laughter is noticeable at the mounds but insignificant at the other two formal playgrounds. The mounds are welcoming and associated with happy and joyful emotions as shown in the Emotional Map. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the emotions "anxiety, fear, and loathsome" which are generated when in the northwest corner of the park. Have you felt these emotions when walking through this area of the park? The performances near the fountain and in the eastern half of the park generate a lot of spectators. Finally, it's nice to see a healthy mix of recreating in the park -- napping, eating, reading, talking, simply sitting -- as depicted in the Sensorial Map.

I'd love to hear what these maps say to you! 

To Sneha, Nga, Hanna, and Dami, thank you for making Washington Square Park the object of your study. Your rich observations tell many stories about this beloved park. Thanks also to Michael Luck Schneider, faculty at the School of Visual Arts.

P.S. Really curious about sensory mapping, especially "scent-scapes"? Check out Edible Geography's fascinating 2012 interview with Victoria Henshaw, Ph.D. (Victoria died in 2014. Her obituary in The Guardian.)
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