June 28, 2012

Gems of the Greenwich Village superblocks

Inspired by Untapped New York's new weekly series titled "5 Spots in 5 Minutes", we'd like to share 7 gems you can see in 15 minutes on 2 blocks in Greenwich Village.

1. Alan Sonfist's Time Landscape
Location: Laguardia Place and Houston Street

The Time Landscape park was created by landscape artist Alan Sonfist.  The landscape was proposed in 1956 "as a living monument to the forest that once blanketed Manhattan Island" prior to the arrival of Dutch settlers in the early 17th century.  Sonfist conducted "extensive research on New York’s botany, geology, and history."  The 25' x 40' forest park is composed of native trees, shrubs, wild grasses, flowers, plants, rocks, and earth.  

Image: Time Landscape
(Sonfist's conceptual/land art peers are Martha Schwartz ("The Bagel Garden"), Robert Smithson ("Spiral Jetty"), and Richard Serra ("Spin Out (for Robert Smithson)).

Image: Time Landscape (Hubert J. Steed, http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/image/51859770)

2. Grove of willow oaks, an endangered species in New York State
Location: Bleecker Street, south, between Laguardia Place and Mercer Street

The oak grove on Bleecker Street is composed of red and willow oaks. There are six willow oaks which are also known as peach oaks. Decaying tissue and mushrooms on two of the willow oaks indicate poor condition.  Two of the willow oaks are in poor condition: decaying tissue and mushrooms are visible.  The willow oak is an S1 listed species under the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) which means it is "endangered/critically imperiled in New York because of extreme rarity (typically 5 or fewer populations or very few remaining individuals) or is extremely vulnerable to extirpation from New York due to biological factors", but only naturally occurring individuals or populations are considered.  Unfortunately, for listing purposes, the willow oaks  in the grove on Bleecker Street were planted.

Image: Red and willow oak grove, Bleecker Street

Image: Red and willow oak grove (Hubert J. Steed, http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/image/96466554)

3. Carl Nesjar's sculpture of Piccaso’s "Sylvette"
Location: Bleecker Street, NYU Silver Towers lawn

The concrete sculpture of Picasso’s 1954 “Sylvette” was created in 1970 by the Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjar.  The sculpture sits in the central lawn of the Silver Towers residential complex.  The site was conferred landmark designation by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in 2008.
Image: "Portrait of Sylvette" (Hubert J. Steed, http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/image/139557376)

Image: "Portrait of Sylvette" (Hubert J. Steed, http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/image/93570533)

4. Bleecker Street Sakura
Location: Bleecker Street near Mercer Street

Sakura is the Japanese word for "cherry blossoms."  In NYC, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is famous for its sakura display in the spring.  Greenwich Village has a smaller but no less impressive sakura show on Bleecker Street.  Mark your calendar for 2013!

Image: Kwanzan cherries, Bleecker Street

5. Sasaki Garden at Washington Square Village
Location: Washington Square Village courtyard (between old Greene and Wooster Streets)

The Sasaki Garden is a 1.5 acre garden and green roof in the center of the block bounded by Bleecker, Laguardia, West Third, and Mercer.  The garden was designed by the firm Sasaki, Walker and Associates and completed in 1959.  Approximately 13 species of trees totaling 69 individual trees can be found in the garden.  At least twelve species of birds have been observed in the garden (Northern Cardinal, Mockingbird, Thrasher, Catbird, Mourning Dove, Pigeon, American Robin, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Hermit Thrush, Sparrow (House & White-throated) and European Starling) and additionally, at least three species of butterflies have been sighted in and/or near the garden: Red Admiral, American Lady, and Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.

Image: Aerial of WSV Sasaki Garden, October 2011
(The garden is threatened by the NYU expansion plan.  You can learn more about the garden here.)

Image: WSV Sasaki Garden crabapple bosquet

Image: WSV Sasaki Garden southeast section

6. Allées of London planetrees
Location: Washington Square Village courtyard (old Greene and Wooster Streets)

An allee is a straight way lined on both sides with trees.  The courtyard of Washington Square Village features two allées, one on either side of the Sasaki Garden, of 15+ inch diameter London planetrees.

Image: Eastern allée of London planetrees looking south

Image: Eastern allée of planetrees looking north (Hubert J. Steed, http://www.pbase.com/hjsteed/image/85430827)
Image: Laguardia Place commercial strip, circa 1961, SHPO Resource Evaluation (source)

7.  Laguardia walkway to the Sasaki Garden
Location: Laguardia Place near West Third Street behind the La Guardia statue
This gem has been lost!  In the late 1990s, NYU filled in the walkway with a postal center thus eliminating a significant physical and visual access point to the Sasaki Garden.  The university also installed gates on either side of the commercial strip on Laguardia Place; these gates are permanently locked further prohibiting access from Laguardia Place to the Sasaki Garden. Don't miss the statue of former Mayor Fiorello La Guardia!

p.s. There is an 8th gem!  The Seed Labyrinth is on Laguardia Place between the community gardens and the Time Landscape.  We wrote about the labyrinth here.

June 18, 2012

Trees of Tot Playground, Washington Square Park

Image: Tot Playground, Washington Square Park

Ever wonder about the trees in your local playground?  We've written a series about the trees in five Manhattan playgrounds for ioby.  Read the first installment at http://ioby.org/blog/recipes-for-change-the-trees-of-tot-playground.

June 15, 2012

Updated: 10 Most Common Street Trees in NYC

This post was originally published on March 26, 2010 but was edited in June 2012.  A reader suggested that we include a photograph of each of tree -- a visual guide to the City's 10 most common street trees.

In 2005, the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation organized a street tree inventory. Surveyors counted 592,130 trees which represents a "19% increase" in the population over the 1995-1996 population count of 499,130 trees. The 10 most common street trees in New York City in 2005 are listed below and annotated with quotes from Arthur Plotnik's The Urban Tree Book (2000).

Image: London planetree bark

 1. London planetree 15.3%
"The London planetree is widely considered to be the world's most reliable city tree."  We wrote about the planetree for our Tree Walk: London planetrees of Washington Square Village.

Image: Linden flowers

2. Littleleaf linden 4.7
"...the beauty of the plant, its perfume, its pugnacity, have made it a city choice for generations--long enough to become an urban fixture throughout much of the United States and Europe." An allee of littleleaf lindens or Unter den Linden is famous in Berlin.

Image: Norway maple leaf

3. Norway maple 14.1
"The very shade that endears the tree to some planters is bad news to others....The resulting shade can seem as refreshing as a forest glen or as somber as a Norwegian winter--even menacing, depending on temperament or the neighborhood situation."

Image: Green ash leaves and keys (seeds)

4. Green ash 3.5
"...even these most common street ashes have their charms. The leaves grown fern-like, almost feathery, allowing dappled sunlight to reach the grass or espresso drinkers below."

Image: Callery pear in flower and in leaf

5. Callery pear 10.9
"A charming, widely used, and controversial street tree, cultivated from a hardy Asian species and embraced by urban landscapes for the last half of the twentieth century."

Image: Red maple leaves (source: Catz at Wikimedia Commons)

6. Red maple 3.5
"Come spring, small, mostly red flower clusters emerge. The infant leaves that follow tend to be red. The paired seed wings (samaras) come out early, generally red-tinted. Through summer, the slender leafstalks glow a rhubarb red, though the leaf itself is medium green on top and whitish green below."

Image:Honeylocust leaves and bark

7. Honeylocust 8.9
"The tree made it in New York, Chicago, and scores of other tough towns only when it lost its lethal thorns....But the hybrid kept the traits that equip a tree for urban life: It shakes off heat, drought, air pollution, salt spray, and root drenching."

Image: Silver maple leaf

8. Silver maple 3.2
"A venerable big tree on American streets, Widely planted by earlier generations for its quick growth, shady spread, handsome two-toned foliage, and shaggy bark. Controversial for its tendency to break under stress."

Image: Pin oak

9. Pin oak 7.5
"A native of wet places (palustris is Latin for "of marshes"), the pin oak does fine in Cementland if it gets sun and acidic soil."

Image: Ginkgo fruit (female plant)

10. Ginkgo 2.8
"One of Earth's oldest plant species, it spanned the temperate forests more than 200 million years ago.  And judging by fossil remains, it has not changed its essential character for perhaps 150 million years."  Would you like to know more about the ginkgo?  Read our post About the Ginkgo biloba.

Stay tuned for more about New York City's street trees. Next time: most common trees by borough. In the meantime, What are the most common street trees in your city?

June 12, 2012

Eating your urban forest

Image: Sidewalk plum tree, Berkeley
 On the east coast of the U.S., juneberries are ripening, Berkeley's plum trees are already full of ripe fruit, and at the end of May, black locusts near the Spree River in Berlin were in bloom.  local ecologist is a long-time advocate of the edible urban forest and we've eaten its fruits, too.  You can learn about our Eat Street Trees! project here.

The existence of edible trees on streets and in parks and other public spaces can be a result of informal practices, sanctioned tree planting, or both.  In Seattle, it is unlawful under Park and Recreation code to pick fruits, flowers, or other parts from shrubs and trees which de facto bars foraging.  Planting fruit trees in the sidewalk is also prohibited under Department of Transportation policy.  Research recently published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening (McLain et al., Vol. 11, Issue 2, 2012) find that the dominant official vision for Seattle's urban forest is environmental service provision and not forest products provision.  In policy documents such as the city's 2007 Urban Forest Management Plan, environmental benefits such as air and water quality improvement were assigned to urban forests while the provision of products like food were relegated to timber forests.

But McLain et al. observe that edible trees are planted in Seattle's public spaces, sometimes in collaboration with city agencies.  A 2009 Department of Neighborhoods and Earthcorps fruit-tree giveaway program proved so fruitful that in 2010 the partnership offered up to four trees to be planted in yards or in the sidewalk.  The tree species included serviceberry, dogwood, and Italian plums.  All produce edible fruit but the Italian plum - the most well known of the species - was limited to yard plantings and apples, cherries, and pears were still off limits for sidewalk planting.  Edible trees are allowed in parks; P-Patch community gardens were started in the 1970s on parks department land.  More recent efforts to develop orchards, food forests, and edible hedges on parkland have been successful.

Sour oranges, Sacramento
 In the conclusion to their paper, McLain et al. argue that despite the expansion of the palette of edible tree species and the spaces where they can be planted, only fruits, nuts, and berries are deemed "appropriate" to harvest.  The authors noted that leaves, barks, cones, seeds, flowers, grasses, reeds, moss, and fungi remain "off-limits" as do "heavily wooded areas and wetlands."

Have you ever foraged/harvested from your urban forest?  Tell us about your experience in the comments section.

June 7, 2012

Animal art in the subway

Image: Model of a fish at the Whitehall R Station
Check out our newest Flickr photoset: a collection of animal art at subway stations

The model of a fish at the Whitehall R Station - shown above - is part of Passages by Frank Giorgini installed in 2000.
For the restoration of the Whitehall Street subway station, Frank Giorgioni designed elements in ceramic, stone and metal to blend with the historic fabric of the station, such as the original bands of mosaic tile work. The cityscape begin at the entrance of the station with a view of the city today and then travel backward through time, through the age of steamships, a montage of New Amsterdam, the arrival of the first settlers, and finally the era before European settlement, with Native American canoes and a marshland of flora and fauna. In another area, schools of fish are seen, in both two- and three-dimensional form, accompanying a mosaic of sea and sky. Railings in the area are in the form of cattails, capping Giorgioni's homage to the past.

June 6, 2012

Market Street clock, San Francisco

Matt's of I'm Just Walkin writeup of the Steinway Street Clock in Astoria reminded me of our photograph of the Albert S. Samuels, Co. clock on Market Street in San Francisco.

The Samuel's clock was installed in 1915 and is a registered San Francisco landmark. It figures that Mr. Samuels was a watchmaker. One, he installed a clock for the sidewalk in front of his business. And two, according to Forgotten New York, most street clocks - in New York - were placed outside jewelry stores to attract customers.

Learn more about New York City's street clocks on the Street Clocks page of Forgotten New York.

June 4, 2012

Landscape Architecture: A Guide for Clients by Landscape Institute

Image: Front cover of "Landscape Architecture, A guide for clients" (source)
"Landscape Architecture, A guide for clients" is brilliantly executed.  The guide begins with the Landscape Institute's definition of landscape architecture.  The profession "is rooted in an understanding of how the environment works and what makes each place unique.  It is a blend of science and art, vision and thought.  It is a creative profession skilled in strategic planning, delivery and management.  Landscape architects...create delight with beautiful designs, protecting and enhancing our most cherished landscapes and townscapes."

Divided into three main sections, the first two -- What landscape architects offer and The landscape architect's role -- describe a landscape architect's skills and roles, respectively.  Criteria for selecting a landscape architect and summaries of the projects featured in the report make up the third section.  The project summaries is an excellent resource -- clients can easily compare projects across client type, location, size, landscape architect, funding, etc.  A web-based version of the project summaries would be a great extension of  the guide, especially if it regularly updated.

I like the palette of projects used to illustrate the skills and roles of landscape architects is fantastic.  Projects varied across scales and client types.  The graphics were also diverse: sketches, photographs, sections, maps, and more.

I have not come across a U.S. version of a landscape architecture guide tailored to clients.  "Landscape Architecture, A guide for clients" could also serve as a guide for landscape architects.  There are numerous ways to answer, "What is a landscape architect?"  The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) might consider publishing such a guide for next year's National Landscape Architecture Month

The guide is available for purchase on the Landscape Institute's website.  Thank you to Stephen Russell for a review copy.