February 19, 2016

Short Stack of Books

On February 18, 2014, I shared the first short stack of books on the blog. The theme was urban animals and featured the following titles: Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather; On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz; and The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. The second installation was more than a year later and featured picture books about dogs. Since then, I have been posting the short stack series on Instagram (#shortstackofbooks). You can follow the series even if you are not on Instagram by clicking the previous link but I thought it might be nice to share the short stacks here.

Please let me know what you've read and your recommendations.

February 18, 2016

Washington Square Park by the Numbers

Image: Plate 31, 1921-1923. NYPL Digital Collections.

Washington Square Park was not always parkland.

The land was upland meadow and a marsh supported by the Minetta waterbody. It was farmland, too. The farmers were indentured but free blacks. The land east of Minetta Waters was purchased by the City in 1797 for a potter's field (reportedly 20,000 burials occurred there). The next use for the land was a military parade ground.

The 2-tributary, almost 2-mile long Minetta originally flowed west of the current location of the Arch and the fountain. In the late 1820s, the land between the creek and current day MacDougal Street was purchased by the City, and in 1827, the former marsh/farm/potter's field/parade ground became a public park. By 1828, the flow of the "Minetta Waters" was completed culverted from the park to the Hudson River. Read more about the park's timeline here.

Image: Washington Square looking north, 1935. NYPL Digital Collections.

Given the uses of the land before it became a park, Washington Square was not an extensively wooded landscape. In 1908, 81 trees were planted. In 1911, fifty more were planted, and another 43 in 1913.

The picture is different now. There are currently at least 338 trees growing in the park in addition to shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Each of the green dots with the exception of one represents tens of trees. Do the math at www.wspecoprojects.org.

Image: Public squares, parks and places in the City of New York, 1852. NYPL Digital Collections.

Despite the square in its name, Washington Square Park is a rectangle. I measured each side several times early one morning in late August 2015. The north side is approximately 952 feet and the south side is 954 feet. The average of the north and south sides is 953 feet. The west and east sides are 449.2 feet and 448.6 feet, respectively, yielding an average of 448.9 feet. Thus, the approximate square footage of the park is 427,801 square feet. This converts to 9.8 acres. The official size of the park 9.75 acres according to the NYC Parks website. Interestingly, the park's square footage was listed as 424,684 on a 1852 map. The conversion to acres is 9.74940312.

Washington Square Park, Phase 1A Archaeological Assessment by Joan H. Geismar, PhD., 2005.
Washington Square Park, NYC Parks page. http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/washington-square-park.
Washington Square Park wiki page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington_Square_Park.
Minetta Creek wiki page. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minetta_Creek.

February 5, 2016

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.

February 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?