The reservoir's historic structures & ecosystems are an opportunity to create a unique environmental education center for our children & their future.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Trespassing & Vandalism Supported by 104th Precinct

(*I've updated this post to include contact info at the end.)

This morning I went over to the reservoir to talk to Angel. What occurred before I found him has me seething.

There were 5 or 6 people playing paint ball in the north end of Basin 3. I could hear machine gun-like noise and splats from pretty far away. As expected, they were trashing the place. I called 311 to report the incident, which the operator referred to as "Criminal Mischief". I call it trespassing and vandalism of city property. Within about 20 minutes an unmarked police van with 4 officers arrived. They were quickly followed by a patrol car with 2 officers. I pointed them to the area of the basin near the pumphouse next to the Jackie Robinson. I was a distance away and watched as they disappeared around the corner. A few minutes later they all emerged, but without any of the guys with the paintguns. As I walked towards them I heard the sound of the paintball guns starting up again.

The officer who appeared to be in charge was a big guy with a shaved head, Officer Solomon, from the 104th Precinct. He told me, "We knows these guys, their good kids and we were told to leave them alone. Better they do it down there than on the street were someone could get hurt." I replied that I had been to meetings and had phone conversations with the Queens Commissioner of Parks, Dorothy Lewandowski, as well as, Highland Park Administrator, Debbie Kuha. Both said that the paintballs players vandalized the fences and trashed the forested basins, but that they've had trouble catching and stopping them. Officer Solomon replied, "I don't know what to tell you, we've been told to leave them alone."

I told Angel what had happened and he said that the police always make the same comment when they are called about the people on the ATVs.

Who is lying - the NYPD or the Department of Parks & Recreation? It occurred to me that parks was probably intentionally allowing these people to trash the reservoir, because it makes their argument to bulldoze the place that much easier.

I challenge Queen Commissioner of Park and Adminstrator Kuha to come out to the reservoir early one Saturday or Sunday. When they observe the paintball people or ATV riders destroying the place, call 311 but don't identify yourself as a city employee. Wait until the police arrive and say that they've been told to leave these people alone.

Here are some contacts if you like to send an email or letter of complaint. This is the new commander of the 104th Precinct:

Capt. Keith Green
64-2 Catalpa Ave.
Queens, NY, 11385
(718) 386-3004


You should also send a copy to Commissioner Kelly:

Mr. Raymond W. Kelly, Commissioner
New York City Police Department
1 Police Plaza
New York NY 10038
Here is a link to his email submission form.

Meetings: The 104th Precinct Community Council meets the 4th Wednesday of every month at 8:00 p.m. at the Covenant Lutheran Church located at 6859 60 Avenue.

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Air Quality, Asthma & Trees

The following article was published in The Brooklyn Rail. Note that one of PlanNYC's approached to solving the problem of higher than the national average asthma rates in New York City is to plant trees, not cut them down:

New York City’s Air Is Anything But Clean
by Jonah Owen Lamb

Sonia Guadalupe and her son Eric live in a fourth floor apartment overlooking the Bruckner expressway in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. The tidy apartment’s walls are hung with mirrors. Family photos rest on the TV and two blue sofas sit untouched. Hardwood floors and glass tables glint from the light coming in through the windows. That’s because Sonia is always cleaning. She dusts several times a day just to keep up with the dirt that creeps in from the roadway.

On a recent October afternoon she stood cooking pork and yuc==a on the stove while Eric sat fidgeting at the kitchen table. Sonia, a tall thin woman in her early forties, was born and raised in the South Bronx. When her parents moved here from Puerto Rico in 1952, there was no freeway. Now the Bruckner cuts through the heart of their neighborhood. The drone of passing cars on the expressway outside the apartment is a constant reminder that air pollution is never far.

From plaNYC
Like her neighbors, Sonia sucks down the dirty air. But Sonia, who smokes, has felt little impact so far from some of the most polluted air in the City. Eric has.

Diagnosed with asthma at six months old, the wheezing in Eric’s chest is perhaps one of his earliest memories. But for 13-year-old Eric, his asthma is something he’d rather forget. And he usually does, until he wakes up at 4 a.m. or starts coughing while playing basketball with his friends. In the winter, the bitter cold keeps him home from school. And summer’s hottest days find him hunkered down in his room under the cool breeze of the air conditioner.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Eric says he doesn’t know why he has asthma.

“Honestly, I’m going to tell you it’s the area,” says Sonia. “This area has a high risk of asthma because of the smoke that comes out of the truck traffic.”

National air standards, first put into law with the Clean Air Act of 1970, have helped to reduce air pollution across the nation—even in the Bronx. But inadequate enforcement and monitoring loopholes have enabled the air pollution to continue to adversely affect public health. Children like Eric are still getting sick.

In 2006, New York’s air pollution was among the worst in the country, and New Yorkers suffered the consequences. From asthma and emphysema to lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, thousands got sick (or sicker). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 68 residents per million are at risk of getting lung cancer from air toxins in New York, compared to the national average of 41 per million.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), most of the City’s air pollution comes from its streets. The majority of this pollution is coughed out of tailpipes. But a bevy of sources, from power plants and refineries to boilers, auto repair shops, diesel generators, and landfills, add to the collective fog. Finally, unregulated shipping and airline industries in the area pollute massively, according to scientists at the EPA and the DEC.

Most of New York’s hotspots are the result of massive infrastructure projects, like the Bruckner, whose ill health effects mattered little when built. In the South Bronx, highways and diesel truck traffic take a heavy toll on neighborhood health. In Queens, power plants, airports and highways concentrate pollution overhead. In Brooklyn’s Sunset Park and Williamsburg, residents inhale the fumes from the heavily used freeways nearby.

Among other pollutants, New Yorkers are inhaling ozone and particulate matter (PM), which cause the most damage to health. According to the EPA, ozone causes respiratory irritation, reduces air intake and creates shallow breathing. It can aggravate asthma and inflame and damage the lining of the lungs. It may worsen emphysema and bronchitis, as well as reduce the immune system’s fight against lung infection. PM can irritate airways and cause coughing and difficulty breathing. It decreases lung function, aggravates asthma and can cause chronic bronchitis. It can also cause irregular heartbeats and nonfatal heart attacks, and it can bring on premature death in people with heart or lung disease.

“People can die of a heart attack from air pollution and never cough once,” says Doctor William Beckett, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester.

The American Lung Association, which grades locations according to air quality, gave Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx an F in its annual State of the Air report. Brooklyn and Staten Island faired nominally better with Cs. The study reported that 1.4 million New Yorkers with cardiovascular disease live with unhealthy levels of particulate pollution, and 460,000 adults and 160,000 children with asthma in NYC are exposed year-round to high particulate pollution.

As for Eric, he knows little about the specific data. He just knows he feels his lungs constrict as if a fist-sized rock is pressing on his chest. He just knows that he relies on his inhaler to breathe. When his asthma is really bad, the only thing that will open up his airways is at the hospital. Sometimes after failed treatments of his misting machine, Eric walks down the steps of his apartment building and gets in the back of the ambulance with his mother. With an oxygen mask over his face, he waits until they get to the hospital. But he doesn’t feel real relief until, sitting upright on a hospital bed, the syringe of prednisone punctures the skin of his arm. Then the steroid opens his lungs, and he can breathe again.

While there are numerous health effects associated with air pollution, the most obvious is asthma. In 2004, according to the New York City Department of Health’s latest figures, 26,495 people were hospitalized for asthma attacks. The highest numbers were in neighborhoods associated with heavy diesel pollution.

“The gray area is that a specific facility [a factory, a freeway or an airport] is hard to pinpoint. That’s one of the loopholes. It’s hard to say that ‘x’ number of cases of asthma and cancer are caused by specific facilities,” says Ramon Cruz, a policy analyst with Environmental Defense.

A recent study of PM exposure in school children in the South Bronx claims otherwise. The study had children—including Eric Guadalupe—carry backpacks with air monitors attached to them that tested for elemental carbon, which is associated with diesel pollution, high in the South Bronx. “This study really nails down the relationship between diesel soot and asthma severity in these children,” says George Thurston, a professor of public health at NYU and director of the four-year study. “And also it’s been done right here in the South Bronx. So we’re showing that this isn’t just some theoretical relationship between pollution and asthma.”

Thurston’s study found that 20% of elementary students in the area attend schools within two blocks of a freeway. Half of the students from kindergarten to eighth grade go to schools two blocks from an industrial zone and about half go to school within two blocks of bus or truck routes. Asthma levels at least three South Bronx schools (PS 48, 60, and 75) are three times the national average.

Behind a wooden door on the second floor of a building on Kelly Street in the Longwood section of the South Bronx, a DEC air monitor station hummed away. Calibrators and computers filled most of the small room. Glass tubes and white plastic pipes led in and out of the room, funneling air to and from the street outside.

Sergio Fleishaker, a DEC technician, was checking each machine. Watching him were Ed Marion, a supervisor, and David Wheeler, the environmental engineer for the DEC’s Division of Air Resources.

The DEC’s monitoring system is meant to pick up the “average” air quality, according to Wheeler. Since anything from construction to wildfires in Canada can throw off the monitors, they are calibrated to calculate a regional average. “You can’t just grab a hold of the air and cut everything out,” he says. “It’s not a precise science. We are looking to capture air as it moves across the area.”

The site in the Bronx is one of the DEC’s 28 monitoring stations in the City and is part of a nationwide network that acts as the EPA’s eyes and ears on air quality. This network, the result of the Clean Air Act, directly informs the policies that protect air quality in the United States.

For many of the scientists studying air quality across the country, the DEC’s monitoring system presents limitations. The network wasn’t designed to monitor for specific locales, so it misses what people like Sonia and Eric Guadalupe breathe everyday as they walk the streets of the South Bronx.

“The monitors are in the right place for regional particulate mater, but not for localized monitoring, that’s the problem,” says Patrick Kinney, associate professor of environmental health at Columbia University. The monitors work fine; but they don’t capture street-level air pollution since most are on top of buildings. “It’s just not telling us the whole story,” he says.

On October 16, with the groaning Bruckner Expressway to his back, Congressman Jose Serrano stood at a lectern on the corner of Hunts Point Avenue and 165th street, TV cameras aimed in his direction, a crowd looking on. Serrano was there to announce the completion of Thurston’s air pollution study. As he spoke, buses passed by, dump trucks belched exhaust, and semis honked their low horns. In the small crowd nearby, Sonia Guadalupe stood listening to Serrano. Eric stood behind the Congressman on stage.

“Let me, in a somehow bizarre way, apologize to the members of the media for all the noise,” began Serrano. “Herein lies the problem that we are speaking about,” he continued, motioning to the freeway behind him. “This four-year study proves that there is a direct link between truck traffic and its soot and asthma in the South Bronx.”

Not long after the Congressman, Alexie Torres-Fleming of Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice took the microphone. “So you’ve heard that common sense is never going to fail us. The truth, as in this case, is often right under our noses, and all we have to do is pay attention,” she said. For years, she added, “the soot-blackened trucks stuck in traffic, the buses, the cars and the climbing asthma rates told us that something toxic was brewing in the South Bronx. We sensed something was wrong but we needed science to help put our fingers on it.”

The South Bronx air pollution study received wide coverage in New York City. Each report pointed out the connection between particulate matter and asthma. But other than the new coverage, little has changed in the South Bronx or the rest of New York City where air pollution is concerned.

Meanwhile the Guadalupe household still sits facing the traffic less than 100 yards away. As for Eric, his asthma continues to keep him up at night. On a recent winter Sunday, Sonia was up with him until dawn. He had been in bed all night, wheezing.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

A Tree Doesn't Grow in Brooklyn

This was in the recent issue of "The Villager":

The Villager
Volume 77 / Number 29 - December 19 - 25, 2007

A tree doesn’t grow on Bedford: ‘Why axed?’ they ask

By Katie DeWitt

With its cozy bakeries and candlelit restaurants, tree-lined Bedford St. is a picture-perfect piece of the West Village. But upon second glance, there is something missing. In front of 12 Bedford St. sits an empty tree pit. Home to a male gingko for nearly 20 years, all that remains is a dirt-covered stump and a yellow, laminated sign that reads:

R.I.P. Gingko Biloba 1985-2007

Shade Giver, Oxygen Provider, Friend to Humans and Even Dogs, A Good Tree
Died November 15, 2007
Victim of NYC Parks Department Arborcide

In the wake of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s recently launched Million Trees NYC initiative to plant and care for 1 million trees throughout the five boroughs in the next decade, the residents of 12 Bedford are confused and angered as to how their loss fits into this picture.

On Nov. 15, Stu Waldman and Livvie Mann were on their way out to an event at the Javits Center when Waldman noticed through their front window two people pruning their beloved tree. He and his wife had paid for it to be planted when they first moved to Bedford St. Having received no call ahead of time from the Parks Department, Waldman and Mann rushed out to find out who the pruners were and what exactly they were up to. Waldman said there was no indication on their uniforms that the man and woman worked for the Parks Department. But the pair of pruners said they were hired by the city to cut down the tree because it was cracked and posed a danger to local residents.

After a few minutes of arguing, the couple — hoping they had convinced the pruners to consult with their supervisor before going through with the job — left for their evening event. When they returned later that night, the tree was gone.

As they retold the story recently, they sat perched on their side-by-side sofa chairs, finishing each other’s sentences. When they came to the moment when they found the tree gone, they gazed wistfully out at the empty space where it once stood.

“We were upset, felt violated and lied to,” Mann said. “Everything about that tree represented years of work. It’s not easy to keep up a tree around here.”

Sasha Acosta-Cohen, manager of the Blue Ribbon Bakery next door to 12 Bedford St., was still at work when the tree went down. As he recounted the story of its removal, a young couple who live across the street looked up from their mugs of hot chocolate to listen. They, too, had been wondering what happened to that tree.

“I thought the guy was just trimming it. Then slowly but surely he whittled it away, and it was just a stump,” Acosta-Cohen said. “The tree was perfectly healthy. There was just a little crack on top, but it definitely didn’t look dangerous.”

Acosta-Cohen and Waldman and Mann have called in complaints to the 311 phone line and received no response thus far. Mann, who has served as president of the Bedford Downing Block Association for the past 10 years, worked closely with the Parks Department to plant trees in Washington Square Park, and is trained as a “citizen pruner.” She is exasperated over the irony that of all trees in the neighborhood, the one in front of her home would be cut down.

“I have done everything that has to do with trees in this city,” she said. “We can’t bring the tree back at this point, but I’d like a resolution and a better system for the entire city.”

For example, Mann suggested that residents be given at least a week’s notice so they can respond before a tree is cut down.

According to William Steyer, director of the Parks Department’s Manhattan Forestry Department, the agency does have a policy of telling residents ahead of time when a tree in front of their property is going to be cut down, unless the tree is in “emergency condition.”

“The tree was cracked all the way through, and it was only a matter of time before it would fall and injure someone,” Steyer said of the tree outside 12 Bedford. “In this case, we didn’t have time to call ahead because we had to take immediate action.”

Parks spokesperson Cristina DeLuca said a routine inspection was conducted on Nov. 14, when a Parks employee identified a split developing in the tree that could cause it to break off and hurt someone. The tree was removed the next day by two climbers and pruners employed by Parks.

“Climbers and pruners wear different uniforms than regular Parks workers, so that’s probably why they were confused,” DeLuca said.

Waldman and Mann conceded that the tree was cracked at the top and had been hit by a few delivery trucks in its time, but they maintain that it had remained sturdy and showed no signs of falling over or dying any time soon.

“Parks Department cut down a healthy tree and instead of owning up to their mistake, they’re covering themselves by lying,” Waldman said. “Of course, we can’t prove it, because they cut the evidence down.”

The pair plan to take the issue to Community Board 2 or the City Council if they don’t get a response from 311 soon. Bob Gormley, C.B. 2 district manager, said the board is working on a number of initiatives to plant trees in empty tree pits in the neighborhood, but he was surprised to hear about this particular case.

“Parks is not looking to remove trees, but to plant more of them right now,” Gormley said. “It wouldn’t make sense to put the time and money into cutting down a tree unless there was a real problem.”

When a tree is removed by the Parks Department, it automatically becomes a planting site for the next planting season, which will occur this spring.

“We realize how many people care about this tree and will try to replant it immediately,” Steyer said.

And when it grows, the new tree on Bedford St. will be one in a million.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Queens Chronicle Article

The following article just appeared in the Queens Chronicle. Before reading it, keep in mind that at the November 28th meeting with park officials, breeching the retaining wall of basin 3 (the largest) was not an option, but a priority. That action, alone, would have a huge, negative effect on the forest. The parks department's spokesperson asserted that any tree that they would remove are of lower value for habitat as they are non-native species. It's interesting to note that of the 42 species of trees recommended by the department of parks for planting in NYC, only 15 are native to North America.

The Queens Chronicle - 2/20/2007

City Mulls Three Options For Ridgewood Reservoir

by Colin Gustafson, Assistant Managing Editor

City officials say they’re still mulling the possibility of axing acres of lush vegetation in the Ridgewood Reservoir in order to clear space for new athletic facilities.

But preservationists continue to object to the plan, saying it threatens the area’s native plant species and migratory birds.

Built in Highland Park in 1858 to supply water to eastern Brooklyn, the reservoir serviced tens of thousands of residents until it was closed in 1959. The following year, the city drained two of the site’s three non-working water basins, eventually causing a huge growth of trees, grass and marshland.

Now, officials from the Department of Parks and Recreation are considering clear-cutting a portion of the third and largest basin under one of three options for redeveloping the 50-acre reservoir.

The proposals come as part of a $400 million project to refurbish Highland Park under the mayor’s long-term environmental mission to have a park within 10 minutes of every New Yorker by 2030.

At the reservoir, the most extreme development option calls for transforming the third basin — home to dense forest and vernal marshland — into an “active recreation center,” replete with running tracks, soccer fields and cricket courts, officials said.

A second option would preserve much of the reservoir as a “naturalistic park” with some outdoor “adventure type recreation,” according to Parks Department spokeswoman Abigail Lootens.

The most conservative option — and the one favored by preservationists — would leave the reservoir’s three basins largely untouched by developers and steer funding toward converting an old building on the reservoir into a nature education center.

Still, it’s the first option that bothers nature lovers, who say they’re furious over the prospect of forfeiting their beloved green spaces for synthetic turf fields.

“These basins are three distinct natural habitats — a bog, a lake and an emerging forest,” said Rob Jett, a 52-year-old amateur bird watcher who opposes the tree-toppling plan. “How many places in the city have these beautiful habitats side-by-side?”

Since closing to the public in 1989, these habitats have become home to a bevy of different mammals, amphibians, endangered plant species and more than 120 types of migratory and nesting birds. Now, nature lovers fear all this wildlife will be at risk if the city bulldozes the forest.

Not to worry, Parks officials assured this week. “The portion where we would possibly remove trees is of lower habitat value because it hosts many non-native trees,” Lootens explained. “We believe this will not displace or harm the bird or plant populations.”

However, even if the wildlife remains out of harm’s way, preservationists still believe the idea of wiping out as much as 20 acres of forest runs counter to one of the mayor’s key reasons for refurbishing Highland Park: to make trees, grass and others green space more accessible to the public.

Last month, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe argued in favor of building new athletic space, arguing that Queens is home to plenty of parkland already, but suffers from a shortage of recreational opportunities.

He believes the creation of new public athletic spaces at the reservoir will help combat pervasive health problems, like heart disease, obesity and diabetes, especially among children.

But critics say the park already abounds with recreational facilities, including a band shell, numerous open fields and baseball diamonds — many of which are run down.

Instead of clearing the reservoir to create new facilities, critics believe the city should simply take better care of the old ones. “The commissioner’s point about ... health is a legitimate concern, but not a legitimate argument, especially if we’re talking about destroying a beautiful natural habitat” Jett said. “There’s a huge amount of space in Highland Park that the city could spend more time renovating, first.”

Parks officials have vowed to heed such input from the community as they decide on the feasibility of the three development options. After finalizing a design sometime next year, the agency will also present its plan to local community boards and elected officials in Queens for approval.

In the meantime, Jett says he’ll keep fighting to preserve the reservoir in its entirety. “I think we just have to keep moving on the route we’ve been on,” he said, “and try to keep the basins as they are, all three at a time.

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Death of a Park Advocate

The New York Times just ran the following article. It may not be specific to Ridgewood Reservoir and Highland Park, but it shows what determination can accomplish.

M. M. Graff Is Dead at 97; Fought for New York’s Parks

By Douglas Martin
Published: July 22, 2007

M. M. Graff, a self-trained master gardener who became a New York legend by nudging, nagging and scolding — but seldom sweet-talking — in her crusade to improve the city parks she loved almost as much as she loathed her given name, Mildred, died at her home in Brooklyn on July 9. She was 97.

Tupper Thomas, the administrator of Prospect Park and recipient of not a few critical missives from Ms. Graff, announced the death.

Ms. Thomas called Ms. Graff both “naughty” and “wonderful,” saying she was “a lone voice” for improving Prospect Park in the 1960s and ’70s when it was unclean, untended and unsafe. Ms. Graff was a leader in successful efforts at the park to save trees like the magnificently gnarled Camperdown elm, landscapes like the Vale of Cashmere and buildings like the Boathouse. In Central Park, Ms. Graff helped start the movement to revive the great landscapes as natural history laboratories, said Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, a founder of the Central Park Conservancy.

Henry J. Stern, a former parks commissioner, said Ms. Graff was “really a generation or two ahead of her time” in her passion for and proficiency at advocating for parks. But, he said, she had little use for diplomacy. “She would take the view that everything we did was wrong,” he said.

In an interview with Brooklyn: A Magazine of the Other City in 1988, the woman who called herself “a dragon” and whom friends called “Dickey” added characteristic flair to Mr. Stern’s point: “There hasn’t been a parks commissioner since I’ve been here who knew which end of a tree to put into the ground.”

Ms. Graff rode on the back of an arborist’s truck in Central Park through the 1970s, directing the pruning of trees with early signs of Dutch elm disease. She wrote “Flowers in the Winter Garden” and other books on gardening. She studied park histories and came up with new interpretations in books and pamphlets.

Most controversial was her assertion in 1982 that Calvert Vaux was more important than Frederick Law Olmsted in designing Central Park. In a pamphlet sent to park devotees and, later, in her book “Central Park-Prospect Park: A New Perspective,” she cast Olmsted as a novice learning at the feet of Vaux, and she blamed Olmsted for mistakes like planting aggressive alien plants. “Horticulture is a profession in which no unqualified person ever hesitates to meddle,” she wrote. “Olmsted was no exception.” The New York Times said it was the equivalent of denouncing Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon.

Ms. Graff could also turn poetic about the natural things she loved. When a 300-year-old great American elm in Prospect Park was toppled by a storm in 1972, she said to The Times, “Where that majesty stood there is now just a sigh in the air.”

Mildred Millar was born in St. Davids, Pa. She said she began gardening as soon as she could crawl. Her mother’s father and grandfather were nurserymen from England. At 3, the family moved to Forest Hills, in Queens; she remembered long walks with her father in Forest Park collecting acorns to feed the deer. She majored in English at Mount Holyoke College, graduated magna cum laude and married John Filson Graff soon after graduation. While living in Manhasset, N.Y., and Tenafly, N.J., she wrote about gardening for The New York Times, Popular Gardening and other publications. She was divorced after 30 years of marriage.

Ms. Graff then moved to Brooklyn, hoping, she said, that a single person would be less conspicuous there than in the suburbs. She worked at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for $3 an hour and finished her winter gardens book. Even though the Botanic Garden is across the street from Prospect Park, she ignored the park until she saw a slide show on it at the Brooklyn Camera Club. Her first campaign there was to find financing for the healing of the very sick, very eccentric Camperdown elm, given to the park in 1872. It recovered and looks robust this summer. She wrote books on trees and other phenomena in Central Park and Prospect Park that the Greensward Foundation, a park support group, published.

Ms. Graff is survived by her son, John Filson Graff Jr., of St. Thomas, Pa., and two grandchildren. Lola Horwitz, a friend of Ms. Graff’s, said Ms. Graff had never stopped writing to seed companies to point out that they had described a color incorrectly. In later years, friends helped tend her beloved garden, but she sometimes ventured out alone with her walker, fell and crawled back. She declined invitations to see generally admired landscaping improvements in Prospect Park, fearing disappointment.

In an interview with The New York Times Magazine in 1967, Ms. Graff did concede that a garden might not have to be perfect to be nice. She quickly added, “It just does for me.”

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New Link

Check out a new link that I just added to the sidebar. It's an organization called Wiser Earth and it has a wealth of information to help find like minded organizations in your area.

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Ballfields to Wetlands, Wetlands to Ballfields

The following is a parks department press release from 2004. It's interesting to note how easy it is for Commissioner Benepe to contradict himself on the importance of wetlands and green spaces. In this case, he made an intelligent decision to "make the city a healthier and greener place for all New Yorkers." In the case of the Ridgewood Reservoir, he wants to do just the opposite, take a forest and wetland and turn it into ballparks because it is better for New Yorkers. So, Mr. Benepe, which of these two bits of logic do you actually believe?

New York City Department of Parks & Recreation
For Immediate Release
Wednesday, May 19, 2004
No. 43

Parks & Recreation Celebrates Restoration of Strack Pond

Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe today joined Secretary of State for New York State Randy Daniels, Council Member Dennis Gallagher, Parks & Recreation Queens Borough Commissioner Richard Murphy, President of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 32 Pat Toro, and family members of Laurence Strack to celebrate the $550,000 restoration of Strack Memorial Pond in Queens. Officials and family members unveiled the new signs for the pond and planted a Red Oak tree to re-dedicate the site to Private First Class Laurence E. Strack.

"Once a soggy and often unusable ballfield, this site is now a beautiful pond, teeming with life," said Parks & Recreation Commissioner Benepe. "By continuing to restore our city's wetlands we make the city a healthier and greener place for all New Yorkers. The over half a million dollar restoration of PFC Laurence Strack Pond gives nature lovers a great new spot to see butterflies, Red Tail Hawks and Great Blue Herons."

Parks & Recreation's Natural Resources Group (NRG) has restored wetlands in Forest Park, transforming two former ballfields back into a pristine kettle pond, or natural bowl-shaped depression. NRG added three acres of freshwater wetland habitat, stabilized the landscape around the pond and restored the slope of the water's edge. NRG also planted native species to create a healthy ecosystem. Visitors can enjoy the pond's new trail and viewing areas. The New York State Clean Water/Clean Air Bond Act and the Mayor allocated the $550,000 to restore the pond located at Forest Park Drive off Woodhaven Boulevard.

In 1966, two ballfields were constructed at this site at the bottom of a glacial kettle. Over the years, the ground settled, and runoff from the surrounding slopes flooded the fields, making them unusable. There were once kettle ponds throughout Forest Park, formed by the last glacier that withdrew from New York twenty thousand years ago. These ponds were filled with plants and flowers, and were a home for salamanders, frogs, birds and other animals.

On February 11, 1969, this site was named in honor of Private First Class Laurence E. Strack (1948-1967), the first Woodhaven resident to die serving in the Vietnam War. Strack was an avid baseball player and fan. In 1966, he enlisted in the United States Army and received his paratrooper training. He returned to Woodhaven to marry his childhood sweetheart before being assigned to the 173 Airborne Brigade. On March 3, 1967 during a combat parachute jump in Vietnam, PFC Strack was killed in a fierce firefight. He posthumously received the Combat Infantrymen's Badge, the Vietnam Service Medal, The Parachutist Badge, The New York State Conspicuous Service Medal and the Bronze Star with "V" Device and Purple Heart.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More about nature and children

The following is from USA Weekend. You can read the article in its entirety here.

Mother Nature: Raising healthier kids

Getting your kids back in touch with the great outdoors can improve their health and well-being.

Recess, soccer practice, the neighborhood playground -- all are great avenues for getting our kids up and out. But when it comes to their mental as well as physical well-being, children need something else, something elemental: They need nature.

So says a new school of thought that is gaining notice by children's medical and mental health experts. Supporters assert that, for a child, a deep forest or sprawling parkland can be the best playground ever. Author Richard Louv's groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, has been a catalyst for kick-starting the movement. Louv's new book also gives a name to what he says is a troubling disconnect between today's children and the great outdoors: "nature-deficit disorder."

Blame it on shrinking green space, overscheduling by families -- whatever the reason, the result is limiting the potential of today's young people, Louv says. He brings together anecdotal evidence gathered from years of traveling the United States and talking to kids, as well as the most comprehensive research on nature and its benefits. He concludes that the absence of nature in many children's livesis key when it comes to problems they increasingly face, such as obesity, attention disorders, depression and stress. Louv posits that exposure to nature can help prevent these ills and enhance our children's academic and emotional growth.

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Daily News article

Here is another battle that's relevant to our cause. When will the people in power take their heads out of their #!* and realize the huge economic value and health benefits of open space, and in particular, forests.

Battle over University Woods for condos

By Heather Appel

Tuesday, December 11th 2007, 4:00 AM

Brandy Cochrane, 27, and others have been doing cleanups at University Woods Park since October 2006.

Brandy Cochrane, 27, and others have been doing cleanups at University Woods Park since October 2006.

Abused and just about abandoned, a little Bronx park tucked away above the Harlem River is finding itself caught in a tug of war.

Once a dumping ground for carcasses of animals sacrificed in Santeria rituals, the community board wants to use hilly 3.3-acre University Woods Park for an affordable condo complex.

But some local activists have been working to clean up and save the park.

Two years ago, Community Board 5 approached developer Andrew Lasala about swapping the park for his property on the waterfront just north of it, which would be ideal for a greenway, said District Manager Xavier Rodriguez.

The state was interested in buying Lasala's waterfront property, Rodriguez said, and there was interest in swapping it for the University Woods acres, which have been a haven for drug addicts and homeless people and last year was ranked as the worst park in the city by an advocacy group.

An alternative goal is for the city and Bronx Community College to develop the park.

Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión has "wanted to see this place become an outdoor lab," Rodriguez said. "With BCC's involvement ... there's a real chance for this park, I believe."

Carrión supports the swap idea - if it would result in the acquisition of a waterfront parcel, said spokesman Mike Murphy.

"However, we may be receptive to the idea of keeping it undeveloped as a natural area with environmental programming, possibly with the support of Bronx Community College," he said. "This land should not simply sit there abandoned and useless."

Bronx Community College representatives said the school has no public plans for the park.

The Parks Department had a similar response.

"We do not have any capital projects lined up," said spokeswoman Jesslyn Tiao. "We would be happy to renovate if there's funding allocated."

Community resident Brandy Cochrane has been organizing monthly park cleanups since October of last year, and, with the support of the Natural Resources Group, planted 636 bulbs and learned about rare trees, plant life and wildlife there.

Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates, said the park is not beyond repair.

He pointed to Pugsley Creek and Highbridge parks, which he said posed bigger challenges than University Woods yet are undergoing capital improvements. University Woods could even accommodate bike trails, he said.

"I think there's some very real solutions to that park," he said, "and they certainly do not involve putting housing on it."

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The Nature of Nature-Deficit Disorder

The following article is The Trust for Public Land's magazine "Land and People", Fall 2007:

A Conversation with Richard Louv
By William Poole

Three years ago, Richard Louv was a San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper columnist and book author who wrote often about social trends. Today he is chief spokesman for a rapidly growing movement that seeks to reconnect children with nature. Published in 2005, Louv's Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder details the many ways in which modern children are disconnected from the natural world. Now in its 14th printing, the book makes a powerful case for the importance of experiencing nature in childhood. Such experience, Louv contends, is essential for both the good of the children and the future of the planet—a message that has hit home with the American people. Louv speaks before packed houses nationwide, and the nonprofit he started, the Children & Nature Network, works tirelessly to promote programs that give children access to nature. Recently he shared with Land&People his thoughts on this work and its meaning for conservationists.

Your book and work call attention to the fact that children get a lot less outdoor play and time in nature today than they used to. Can you tell us a little about your own childhood experiences in nature?

Well, I grew up in the 1950s on the edge of Kansas City and spent hours outside. This was where the suburbs met farmland and woods. I write in the book how many of the farm fields had trees planted between them as windbreaks, and my friends and I would climb high up in them, to look out over the fields and mountains. Or sometimes I would climb alone, and I would imagine I was Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli—the boy raised by wolves. High up, the tree would sway in the wind, and it was both frightening and wonderful to surrender to its power. We had a creek to explore. And I built various outdoor shelters and tree houses. Looking back on it now, I realize that nature was both exciting and calming, and it helped me to focus.

In Last Child in the Woods you write about how when you talked about your childhood to your son Matthew, he would ask why it was "more fun when you were a kid." Was this what got you thinking about how nature is experienced so differently by today's children?

That was one of many things that got me thinking about it. I have been writing about children and parenting and nature for years, and the more I researched this topic, the clearer I saw this growing and destructive gap between children and the natural world. Today's kids are aware of global threats to the environment but at no other time in our history have children been so separated from direct experience in nature. At the same time, we are beginning to learn the importance of such experience. Recent studies show that nature can be powerful therapy for depression, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. Experience in nature can increase the ability to concentrate in both children and adults. And studies here and in Scandinavia strongly suggest that childhood experiences with nature increase creativity.

You use the term "nature-deficit disorder" to refer to the human costs of alienation from nature. What's changed for kids these days?

Parents typically give a number of reasons why their children spend less time in nature. There's more competition from television and computers; children have more homework and activities that demand their time. And in some instances, they simply don't have access to natural areas. Fear plays a big part, too—fear of traffic, of crime, of stranger-danger, or of nature itself. In some areas, neighborhood covenants and government regulations seem almost to criminalize natural play and put nature off limits. But it's not only children who are subject to nature-deficit disorder. It's a much bigger concept than that. You could say that nature-deficit disorder also affects adults, neighborhoods, whole communities, and the future of humankind's relationship to nature.

Can you say a little more about what today's kids lose by being cut off from nature?

Health is one thing that can be damaged. Also an understanding of where we fit into the natural world and our communities. Without contact with nature, kids may also fail to develop what Harvard Professor Howard Gardner calls "naturalist intelligence"—an ability to identify and classify patterns in nature that have been with us through all of human evolution. There is also a sensual loss. Direct experience in nature simultaneously stimulates all of a child's senses, and the use of our senses is essential to learning. By moving childhood indoors, we deprive children of a full connection to the world.

But most of all, I think our plugged-in kids, who spend so much time in front of the TV and computer screen, are missing out on many chances to feel a sense of wonder. What I'd really like to communicate to fellow parents is that we shouldn't think about a child's experience in nature as an extracurricular activity but as a vital element for healthy child development. That's what the new research strongly suggests.

Your work has certainly struck a chord. Last Child in the Woods continues to sell well and a new edition is coming out next year. You are speaking to large crowds around the country about an emerging "children and nature" movement. Have you been surprised by the reaction?

Well, I have been immensely gratified by it, and it has given me hope. The issues in the book touch something deep within us, both biologically and spiritually. When I speak around the country, I like to tell how, as a boy, I would pull up survey stakes to discourage development of the farms near my home. At one speech in New Mexico, a rancher, probably in his sixties, stood up to say that he did the same thing when he was a boy. Then he started to cry. Despite his deep embarrassment, he continued to talk about his fear that his might be one of the last generations of Americans to feel a sense of attachment to land and nature. So many people feel that, and it's what's powering the interest in this movement. Many of us sense that something has been taken from our lives, and we know our kids are missing out. I think that once parents and other adults understand not only what is being lost but also what can be gained by reconnecting our kids, and ourselves, to nature, that great change will follow.

TPL and its supporters work to create neighborhood parks and other close-to-home natural places. What lessons does your work have for conservationists like those who support TPL's work?

Well, of course, we need places for kids to connect with nature, and we need the help of TPL and all conservation groups to make that happen. TPL's Parks for People program in cities is particularly helpful in putting nature where kids live. But we also need to think about specific ways to support children's use of natural areas. One idea would be to dedicate a portion of any proposed open space to children and families, where there could be nature centers, outdoor-oriented preschools, nature education programs, and other offerings.

And no matter how good a job they are doing now, conservationists and environmentalists need to do more. They need to realize that the future of the environmental movement—indeed of the planet itself—may depend on this work. Studies show that people who care deeply about the future of the environment almost always enjoyed transcendent experiences in nature when they were children. If nature experiences for children continue to fade, where will future stewards of the earth come from? I hope that Last Child in the Woods challenges conservation groups and environmental organizations to ask that question—and then bring their own creativity to the protection of Western society's keystone endangered species: the human child in nature. Ultimately, this is a matter of common sense.

More information on Richard Louv, the children and nature movement, and the Children & Nature Network can be found at Last Child in the Woods is available in bookstores and from online vendors nationwide, including TPL's Web store at TPL's reports detailing the benefits of parks can be found here.

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Juniper Berry article

Here's a link to an Op-Ed piece in the current issue of the "Juniper Berry".

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City Council Environmental Protection Committee

There are some matters before the City Council's Environmental Protection committee that are relevant to our cause. Removing any trees from the Ridgewood Reservoir forests, for example, flies in the face of what lawmakers are trying to accomplish with Int 0628-2007.

Latest Matters before the Environmental Protection Committee

November 28,2007
Reducing the emission of global warming pollution.
Click to Read Int 0020-2006

November 28,2007
Reducing the emission of global warming pollution.
Click to Read Res 1171-2007

November 26,2007
Oversight - Cleaning up the Oil Spill in Newtown Creek: An Update
Click to Read T2007-1702

November 08,2007
Allowing on-site disposal of storm water runoff.
Click to Read Int 0321-2006

November 08,2007
Sustainable stormwater management, trees and vegetation.
Click to Read Int 0628-2007

Click to view the Environmental Protection Committee Archive

Monday, December 3, 2007

Meeting at Oak Ridge

Last week, on November 28th, the department of parks had a meeting at their Forest Park headquarters. The breakfast meeting was attended by several people in our group, as well as, Jennifer Manley (Queens Director of the Community Affairs Unit for Mayor Bloomberg's office) and representatives from Senator Maltese office, Assemblyman Darryl Towns office, Queens Community Board 5, The New York Environmental Law and Justice Project, Juniper Park Civic Association, The Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association and Partnerships for Parks. There were a few people present that I didn't get to meet, so forgive me if I omitted any groups. The meeting was organized by Forest Park and Highland Park administrator Deborah Kuha and was motivated by parks perception of "miscommunication" regarding the Ridgewood Reservoir plans.

Representing the department of parks were Jonna Carmona-Graf (Capital Projects), Deborah Kuha (Administrator for Forest Park and Highland Park), Dorothy Lewandowski (Queens Commissioner of Parks), Kevin Quinn (Capital Projects) and Josephine Scalia (Landscape Coordinator, Forest Park).

The meeting began with Ms. Lewandowski making some opening remarks, which included pointing out that I was the person who created "the video". I'm not quite sure why that was necessary, but whatever. She asked that we go around the room and introduce ourselves and our affiliations. Kevin Quinn then gave a PowerPoint presentation that began with the history of the Ridgewood Reservoir and ended with the New York City Department of Parks ideas for the future of the 50 acres. It was a very thorough presentation that also gave preliminary information obtained from an ecological assessment report being prepared for the city by Round Mountain Ecological LLC. Included in that segment of the slideshow was the recognition that basin 1 and basin 3 contained several endangered species of plants.

The final slide of the presentation was divided into sections; an opening list of priorities followed by three columns - Option 1, Option 2 and Option 3. The options ranged from leaving the basins as nature preserves (Option 1) to Option 3, which would be the most disruptive to the reservoirs and include turning basin 3 into active recreational facilities.

Kevin Quinn opened with the aforementioned graphic by stating that certain items were "givens", things that would happen regardless of the option chosen. Included in the list of "givens" was the breaching of Basin 3, in a location opposite the parking lot, exactly where I had described in a previous posting. When I asked about the fact the basin 3 would be breached not matter what, I received explanations from both Ms. Lewandowski and Ms. Carmona-Graf that didn't make a lot of sense to me, but included the concept that they were just exploring ideas. I replied that if it was just something that was being explored, shouldn't it be moved from the top list to the options list. I didn't get a good feeling about the responses. It also didn't make a lot of sense to me that parks recognizes the existence of endangered plant species in sections of basin 3, but all drawings indicating possible recreational facilities in that basin have it butting right up against that section of forest. I'm not sure those plants would be around for very long once any construction began. I also addressed the use of the word "miscommunication". Commissioner Benepe used the word at a recent presentation for New York City Audubon in reference to this group's concerns and activities. I pointed out to Commissioner Lewandowski that we were merely responding to public statements and documents from the Department of Parks and Recreation. One such document is the department of parks "Open Space Report" for PlanNYC 2030. Regarding the Ridgewood Reservoir it states, "the largest will be transformed into a 60-acre active recreation center." I'm still not sure how they plan to do that considering the entire parcel is only 50 acres and the largest basin 26 acres.

Unfortunately, there were times during the presentation when questions from the audience became fervent and somewhat adversarial. For the most part, I think that the people who put together the meeting were sincere in their desire to have our group work with parks. Unfortunately, given the current Department of Parks and Recreation's reputation for misleading the public about capital projects, I think we should remain open minded but vigilant. At one point during the question and answer period, Ms. Carmona-Graf was asked if any development would occur in basins 1 and 2. Her response was, "I'm thinking that nothing will be happening with basins 1 and 2." How about a "yes" or "no".

Click here to watch a video on Washington Square Park.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Nature Conservancy article

The following article is from The Nature Conservancy's magazine "Nature". Commissioner Benepe seems to understand the need for trees in New York City. So why would he be so determined to ruin a forested area that resides at the top of the Jamaica Bay Watershed and serves the very functions that he correctly believes NYC desperately needs?

From "Nature New York", Fall/Winter 2007

A Shady Plan for New York City

Deep in the Adirondacks, The Nature Conservancy is safeguarding millions of trees from development and destruction. Miles away in New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced a plan to add an additional one million trees to the city's urban forest by 2017.

Nature New York wondered how this plan will make a difference to New York City, and how it might play into the Conservancy's own global forest initiative. Adrian Benepe, NYC Parks and Recreation commissioner, took time out to talk.

NNY: What will an additional one million trees do for the city?

Benepe: Trees are a vital part of our city, they improve air quality by reducing temperatures which in turn, reduces energy consumption by buildings. They remove pollutants from the air and they mitigate climate change by capturing and storing carbon. Trees also help our water systems by intercepting rain before it reaches sewers and filtering runoff through their soil and roots. And finally, they benefit the health and safety of our residents and promote neighborhood revitalization, economic development and greater community pride.

NNY: What will it cost, and who will pay for it?

Benepe: The money will come almost completely from New York City's budget. The great part is, when you take into account all the services we get from trees, the USDA Forest Service estimates that for every dollar we invest, we get a return of five dollars in property value, pollution mitigation, energy savings, and storm water management.

What can The Nature Conservancy do to support this effort?

Benepe: The Conservancy already does so much by raising awareness, promoting conservation, and encouraging people to think about healthy ecosystems. The bottom line is that trees, whether in the Adirondacks or New York City, are of tremendous value for people and or nature.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Birds at risk

The following article was in today's New York Times. I thought that it was relevant to our cause given the amazing number of birds that have been observed at Ridgewood Reservoir. I have added a link to Audubon's watchlist to the sidebar.

December 1, 2007

A Rising Number of Birds at Risk

Relentless sprawl, invasive species and global warming are threatening an increasing number of bird species in the United States, pushing a quarter of them — including dozens in New York and New Jersey — toward extinction, according to a new study by the National Audubon Society and the American Bird Conservancy.

The study, called WatchList 2007, categorized 178 species in the United States as being threatened, an increase of about 10 percent from 2002, when Audubon’s last study was conducted. Of the 178 species on the list, about 45 spend at least part of the year in this region.

Among the most threatened is the rare Bicknell’s thrush, a native of the Catskill and Adirondack highlands whose winter habitat in the Caribbean is disappearing. Although less at risk, the wood thrush — whose distinctive song was once emblematic of the Northeast’s rugged woodlands — is on the list because a combination of acid rain and sprawl has damaged its habitat and caused its numbers to decline precipitously over the last four decades.

The Audubon list, which was released Wednesday, overlaps the federal government’s official endangered species list in some cases. But it also includes a number of bird species that are not recognized as endangered by the federal government but that biologists fear are in danger of becoming extinct.

“We’re concerned that there’s been almost a moratorium on the listing of endangered birds over the last seven years under this administration,” Greg Butcher, Audubon’s bird conservation director and a co-author of the new study, said in a telephone interview. Placing a threatened bird on the new watch list can bring it the kind of attention it needs to survive even if the federal government does not act, he said.

“When we pay attention to these birds and do the things we know need to be done, these birds recover,” Mr. Butcher said. “All these birds have a chance to rebound if we put the right actions in motion.”

Those actions include channeling new development to established areas, being vigilant about new invasive species that can devastate habitats and limiting carbon dioxide emissions, which contribute to climate change.

The national watch list is divided into two categories: 59 species, including the whooping crane and the lesser prairie-chicken, are on the “red list” for species that are declining rapidly and facing major threats; 119 are on the “yellow list” for species that are declining or rare but are not yet endangered.

In New York, 10 birds — including the Henslow’s sparrow — are on the red list. The cerulean warbler, the short-eared owl and 35 other birds are on the yellow list. New Jersey’s list includes many of the same birds as New York’s. The count in Connecticut is similar, Mr. Butcher said.

The region’s coastal location raises issues of particular concern. Mr. Butcher said he was especially worried about beach birds like the piping plover, the least tern and the black skimmer, as well as birds whose habitat is the region’s disappearing salt marshes. They include the saltmarsh sharp-tailed sparrow and the clapper rail. And he noted that migratory shore birds, including the red knot and the semipalmated sandpiper, would face increasing difficulties in this region.

“As sea level rises, and the salt marshes disappear, these species don’t have anyplace to go,” Mr. Butcher said. “In New York and New Jersey, so many people live close to the coast that we do what we can to safeguard people but we don’t necessarily protect the natural habitat.”

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