Jul 30, 2015

A Brief History of the Minetta Waters in Washington Square Park, 1797-1828


A brook or stream (or was it a creek) once flowed diagonally aboveground in what is now Washington Square Park. Historically, the waterbody was known as the Minetta Waters. Minetta flowed into the parkland west of the arch and exited the park at the southwestern corner -- at West 4th Street, east of MacDougal. Minetta formed the western boundary of the eventual burial ground. The waterbody supported a swamp up until the end of the 1700s. The land east of Minetta was acquired by the city in 1797 to establish a paupers' grave or Potter's Field aka a burial ground for poor and unknown people.

Upland meadow habitat was located in the northwestern and northeastern portions of the park, "on the relatively high ground above the 'valley' of the Minetta Waters." The area between Fifth Avenue and Waverly Place to University Place was once covered by a sand hill.


In 1808, the upland areas were levelled and the soil was used to fill in the swamp in order to create a burial ground. This intervention affected the eastern two-thirds of the park. (The western one-third of the current park was acquired between 1825 and 1828.) A drain was installed in 1819 to divert Minetta to the south of the burial ground. In 1823 and 1824, Minetta was deepened and culverted in a wooden sewer. The wooden culvert routed Minetta from the easter section of the site to west of the burial ground. By 1828, Minetta is completely culverted from the park to the Hudson River. In that same year, the burial ground becomes a park and is officially named Washington Square. A storm and sanitary sewer was transversely laid through the park sometime between 1880 and 1892. After the park's official founding, trees were planted in 1908 (81 young trees), 1911 (50 trees), 1913 (43 trees), and between 1934-1936. There was a major redesign of the park between 1934 and 1938 and again in the 1990s and 2000s.

Images and content sourced from Washington Square Park Phase 1A Archaeological Assessment by Joan H. Geismar, PhD, LLC through Thomas Balsley Associates for NYC Parks.

P.S. Want to learn more about Minetta, read Marsh Madness (aka Brackishology): Minetta Brook.

P.P.S. To see the Minetta Watershed, check out the WSP Eco Map.
wspecoprojects.org > Options (upper right corner) > Explore > Follow Minetta Brook.

Jul 24, 2015

Book Review: Nature Anatomy, by Julia Rothman


When it rains, it pours, goes the adage. During the last few months, several nature guides have been added to my bookshelves.  One is Nature Anatomy, by Julia Rothman, the subject of this post. Two are large format books won at a school auction: Maps, by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski; Animalium curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom. Recently I met in person Tristan Donovan, author of Feral Cities, and talked about the book and the animals therein. Read my review of Feral Cities and interview with Tristan. On July 5th, the New York Times published, Wild in the Streets, an hour-by-hour guide to the wildlife one could see in New York City written by Dave Taft and illustrated by Matt McCann.

I had seen Nature Anatomy in several places including on Brainpickings and How We Montessori and was wowed by the illustration-heavy storytelling about nature. The book successfully engages the reader and communicates the fine-grain elements and large-scale processes of the natural world with gouache paintings. Nature Anatomy is beautifully drawn and diagrammed, and if you are curious about the typeface, it's based on Julia Rothman's handwriting.

The book's origin story also resonated with me. In her introduction to the guide, Julia Rothman tells readers that she lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and spends time in the park everyday. She writes, "I cherish being surrounded by greenery for just a small period of time each day. It keeps me sane to be able to smell grass after being squished likes a sardine in a subway car. I really look around the park wanting to know more. What is that tree with the beautiful leaves called? When will those flowers I saw last year show up again? Are those really bats flitting above our heads? How funny to see so many dragonflies attached, making love!"

What do you see on your daily walks?!

Nature Anatomy is organized into seven chapters. Each chapter describes a particular aspect of the natural world.

Chapter 1 is about the inner workings of the Earth -- its movement around the sun, the rock cycle, landforms, mountains, landscape types, and field to forest succession [note: the end product of the succession is not necessarily a climax community as disturbance plays a role in forest composition over time]. While the book has a North American plant and animal bias, the processes described are fairly universal. Rainbows and sunsets follow a similar script everywhere. Chapter 1 ends with tips on "loose landscape painting."

Image: The Rock Cycle.
Excerpted from Nature Anatomy (c) 2015 by Jula Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

One of my favorite diagrams in this chapter is the one illustrating the rock cycle on page 18. It reminded me that sedimentary or igneous rocks can be directly transformed into metamorphic rocks via heat and pressure. To transform metamorphic rock to either sedimentary of igneous is a multi-step process.

Chapter 2 directs the viewer to look up. The hows and whys of atmospheric layers, weather, the water cycle, storms, snowflake morphology, rainbows, sunsets, moon phases and constellations are contained within this chapter.

Image: Some flowers, cones, seeds + fruits of trees.
Excerpted from Nature Anatomy (c) 2015 by Jula Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

Chapter 3 is all about getting up close to flowers -- their pistils and stamens -- and [insects] such as bees, butterflies, spiders, and ants. Also featured in this chapter are sedges, rushes, and grasses.

I recently acquired a macro lens for my phone so am keen to photograph the pistils and stamens of flowers as well bark details. The drawings of butterflies and moths would make nice posters for a child's bedroom or classroom.

Chapter 4 is a primer for taking a walk in the woods. You will learn about the anatomy of a tree and its trunk and to use a leaf key. Julia Rothman gets up close in this chapter, too, to bark. You will see the things a tree bears -- flowers, cones, seeds, and fruits. Ferns, lichens, mosses, and mushrooms are featured too. Look for the how-to make prints from leaves and how to saute bolete mushrooms.

Have you heard of waterbears? They are micro-animals associated with mosses and lichens.

Chapter 5 moves into the faunal realm. Opossums, raccoons, chipmunks, badgers, bats, tree and ground squirrels, grizzly and black bars, snakes, lizards, wild cats and dogs, antlered and horned animals, even the lyme bacteria cycle. Aquatic (ex: river otter) and marine (ex: harbor seal) mammals as well as salamanders and turtles are also included in this chapter.

Image: Owls.
Excerpted from Nature Anatomy (c) 2015 by Jula Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing.

Chapter 6 is all about birds. Their anatomy kicks of the chapter followed by feather types, birdcalls, nesting structures, eggs, beaks, and bird behavior. The chapter ends with a look at bird of prey, owls, big birds, and water birds.

I wouldn't mind hanging a poster of A Bevy of Birds in my apartment. Two birds of prey familiar to New Yorkers are drawn on page 180 -- the red-tailed hawk and the peregrine falcon.

Chapter 7 takes us to the water. You will learn about different types of waterbodies, how a pond functions, the life cycle of a salmon and a frog, the differences between a frog and a toad (the presence/absence of teeth is one of them), examples of freshwater and saltwater fish, jellyfish, seashell morphology, and (eating) seaweed.

The geoduck remains unattractive to me, even drawn by Julia Rothman!


Nature Anatomy is a great reference book. I would give it to the nature generalist in your life. I would recommend the guidebook for families with young children and for budding naturalists. If your child has a collection of crystals, rocks, shells, insects and bugs, sticks, leaves, and acorns and cones or talks about that time he saw a jellyfish on the beach or the red-tailed hawk eating a rat in the park or watching the caterpillars become butterflies in his classroom, this would be a great gift. The book would fit well into any classroom though it would be a particularly strong fit with Montessori settings.

The only drawback of the book is its lack of an index. I'm sure it's not an oversight; you are implicitly encouraged to read the entire book the first time and subsequently to flip through the chapters until you get to the bit of information you need. It's pleasant to do so.

I received a copy of Nature Anatomy courtesy of Storey Publishing. All images excerpted from Nature Anatomy (c) 2015 by Jula Rothman. Used with permission of Storey Publishing. Thank you.

Jul 6, 2015

New York Citizen Science Projects on SciStarter


We are big fans of citizen science. A few years ago, we volunteered with Your Wild Life to collect Ants on Broadway. WSP Eco Projects was fortunate to work with SciStarter on a prototype wildlife observation tool called WSP Nature Finds. The launch of the prototype coincided with the last day of the World Science Festival 2015. To see data collected on May 31, go to www.wspecoprojects.org > Options > Explore > deselect Park Trees if necessary > Additional layers > sci starter > click on each tree (green dot) to see the wildlife observations. We hope to "mark" the six observation points (trees) in the park so visitors can log their wildlife sightings and we can identify patterns over time.

In  addition to being a generator of and collaborator on citizen science projects, SciStarter is also a project database, and projects are located throughout the USA and worldwide. You can search for projects by activity, topic, or location. I was curious about other citizen science projects based in New York so used the location search. New Yorkers, here are your choices:

Gotham Whale: Gotham Whale monitors marine mammals in the waters around New York City. We work primarily on board the whale watching vessel, The American Princess. We enlist other on-the-water observers to report sightings of whales, dolphins, and seals in the area.

NYC cyclists: what are you breathing?: The goal is to understand how much air pollution you are exposed to as you ride your bike in NYC, and to measure how this exposure affects your heart. We are particularly interested in measuring your "inhaled dose" of air pollution - how much pollution you actually draw into your lungs - and how it varies as you exercise.

Who's Whoo-ing: We know that owls live in nature preserves, but do they live in residential areas (like your backyard) in-between? Join researchers from the Mianus River Gorge Preserve (Bedford, N.Y.), in a study to map owl habitat in our suburban environment.

Scenic Hudson Volunteer Herring and Eel Monitoring: The Hudson River Estuary Program and Scenic Hudson are working with citizen scientists to monitor herring and American eel in Ulster County's Black Creek Preserve.

New York Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Network: The New York Horseshoe Crab Monitoring Network encourage participants to get involved with the annual horseshoe crab monitoring program on various reference beaches throughout New York’s Marine District. Participants assist with the collection of scientific data that is used to assess the status of horseshoe crabs in NY State, and will help determine the management and conservation of this important species throughout the region.

CrowdHydrology: The CrowdHydrology mission is to create freely available data on stream stage in a simple and inexpensive way. We do this through the use of “crowd sourcing”, which means we gather information on stream stage (water levels) from anyone willing to send us a text message of the water levels at their local stream. These data are then available for anyone to then use from Universities to Elementary schools.

Did we leave out your NY-based SciStarter project? Tell us about it in the comments.

Jun 30, 2015

About Trees, edited by Katie Holten


I am so excited about Katie Holten's new book, About Trees. I pre-ordered a copy. You too can pre-order a copy of About Trees at Broken Dimanche Press (BDP). If you pre-order by Wednesday, July 1st, your name will be included in the book as an early supporter.

Also, to celebrate Katie's residency, BDP is offering pre-sale copies of About Trees with free world-wide shipping and a set of bookmarks. They also have some new drawings and prints available. All proceeds go towards production costs. The book will be released in the USA September 18-20, 2015.

More about the book:
About Trees is an artist book by Katie Holten. It will be the first book in BDP's new series: Parapoetics - a Literature beyond the Human. Holten has created an alphabet from her tree drawings and made a new typeface called Trees. Registering a crisis of representation, About Trees considers our relationship with language, nature, information, drawing, ecology, memory, systems, and time in the Anthropocene.

Texts by Jorge Luis Borges, Inger Christensen, William Corwin, Charles Darwin, Nicole Davi, Tacita Dean, Brian Enquist, Amy Franceschini, Charles Gaines, James Gleick, Fritz Haeg, Amy Harmon, Natalie Jeremijenko, Eduardo Kohn, Elizabeth Kolbert, Irene Kopelman, Ursual K. Le Guin, Ada Lovelace, Robert Macfarlane, E.J. McAdams, Arianna Occhipinti, Katie Paterson, Thomas Princen, Pedro Reyes, Robert Sullivan, Rachel Sussman, Nicola Twilley, Gaia Vince, Aengus Woods, and others.

Jun 25, 2015

Tree Story Game


I am pleased to share with you this interview with Darcy Troy Pollack of Zig Zag Zoom. I reached out to Darcy after reading about the release of Tree Story, a mobile game that combines virtual tree care and on-the-ground tree planting. We've played the game; it's fun! Download Tree Story from iTunes. It will be available for Droids next month.

Can you provide a brief bio? What was your experience with the app/game space - if any - before engaging with the Tree Story game?

Believe it or not, I had no experience with apps or games prior to joining Zig Zag Zoom!  I started my career in investment banking, then spent some years in the film and location-based entertainment businesses, finally ending up as a consultant to early stage start ups.  I was a consultant when Z3 found me, but I fell in love with the idea of planting trees through its fun mobile game Tree Story… and then with the broader idea of "changing the world one game at a time”… For anyone who would like to know more, they can check out treestorygame.com for the game and zigzagzoom.com for the company.

What was the impetus for developing Tree Story? And which came first - Zig Zag Zoom or Tree Story?

Actually the inspiration for Tree Story was a mobile game in South Korea called Tree Planet.  Tree Planet was created by three friends who wanted to address the deforestation and desertification they saw in Asia.  The game became a social hit in Korea, where players have planted nearly a billion virtual “trees” … which has translated to over half a million REAL trees in ten countries!  Tree Planet’s creators are our partners in Tree Story, and they were also the inspiration for our company’s double bottom line mission: "Have Fun. Do Good.”  


Can you describe the development process? Approaching and securing partners? Funding? Staffing an app company?

This is a tough question to answer!  Each game is different… sometimes we have a great game, like Tree Story, and we look for partners who are a good fit.  For example, our partners in Tree Story are the US Forest Service, Arbor Day Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Project Learning Tree and Alliance for Community Trees. But with other games, we may identify the partner first and develop a game specifically for them.  We have a couple of amazing partners that fit into this category… but I can’t tell you about them yet!  We have been fortunate to have had introductions to best—in-class organizations.  The strength and talent of our team, who almost all come from Disney Interactive, have helped to bring those partners on board.

How many trees have been planted since the launch of the app?

Thus far we have planted 11 groves or forests all across the country -- from a school planting in Washington DC to wildlife habitat reforestation in Michigan to a fruit tree planting in Portland. And we have lots more coming, including international plantings in places like Brazil!

There's been a recent update to the game. Can you talk  about the new features? What was the decision-making  process behind these features? Were they incorporated based on user feedback, for example?

Like any good mobile game, there are continual updates of content for players, and Tree Story is no exception. We have many updates to the game that we have added since its launch in April. These updates include:

Screenshot sharing: Players can show their friends screenshots of their adorable trees!
Taking care of planted trees: Players can now continue to groom and play with Treelings already planted in The Grove.
Flappy Seed: Players can navigate a flying seedling through the forest to earn extra in-game currency. Great for players looking for more of a challenge.
New vanity items are available for purchase.

We will also be adding new mini-games, more clothes and other items to choose for your trees, new Groves for your trees, and much, much more. But the biggest news is come July Android players will be able to play Tree Story as well.

Are  there other Zig Zag Zoom apps in the works? Will they have an environmental focus?

YES!  We have over a half dozen additional games slated for the next six to nine months.  Some are environmental, but others address issues like fighting poverty and saving endangered species.  We also are launching a platform called mobiliz3 that will allow players to accumulate mobiliz3 points by playing a variety of mobile games, not just Zig Zag Zoom games. Much like earning frequent flyer miles, these mobiliz3 points can be allocated to causes the player cares about… and that translates to real dollars for those causes!  Look for that soon!  

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about Tree Story and Zig Zag Zoom, Darcy. 

Jun 23, 2015

Mapping Street Trees with the Washington Square Tree Counters


One training and one mapping event down, one mapping event to go.

At the end of last Saturday's training event, Washington Square Tree Counters had mapped 14.9% of our census area. By the end of Monday's mapping event, we had mapped 42.5% of our census area and counted 570 trees! Thank you to TreesCount! Team and the volunteers who are made this happen! During Monday's mapping event, NYC Parks staff Justin and Keenan mapped the street trees surrounding the park.

We have high hopes for tomorrow night's mapping event. We would be pleasantly surprised to reach 100% of goal so we are talking about hosting another mapping event. Stay tuned.

Jun 12, 2015

Short Stack: Picture Books about Dogs


Besides pigeons and squirrels, one of the most common animals in our city is the dog, at least in our neighborhood. Lately, we have been hanging outside the dog run for small dogs in Washington Square Park, a lot. One of us is intrigued by dogs, big and small, but dog watching is easier at the dog run for small dogs.

Here are some picture books we have been reading to complement our happenstance dog sightings and purposeful dog-watching.


The National Geographic Kids Everything series is encyclopedic; a great resource. The Dog volume does not disappoint. The photographs and graphics are appealing to young children (and adults, too).


Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion with pictures by Margaret Bloy Graham is a classic picture book though it's taken us more than five years to finally read it! The story is funny and Harry is not quite unlike a young child.


I am a big fan of the Ladybug Girl books by David Soman and Jacky Davis. Ladybug Girl is curious and adventuresome and her sidekick is her dog, Bingo. In this particular book, Ladybug Girl and her family go camping. She goes hiking and boating on a lake, but the real adventure happens in the forest.



This last book is not about dogs but I couldn't resist borrowing it, too. Animal Supermarket by Giovanna Zoboli, illustrated by Simona Mulazzani, and translated by Laura Watkinson is a clever take on grocery shopping if you are an animal. Snails arrive early to select the best greens, foxes steal chickens, and polar bears shop for cod, cuttlefish, and squid. The frozen section was replaced by a meadow of poppies, bluebells, and violets; you can find the bees there.

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any dog-themed picture books to recommend?