Sunday, December 20, 2009

O, Christmas Tree! Thy Leaves Are So Unchanging!

I've never had a Christmas tree before. However, raised in a loving, nondenominational household, I always had a proxy to fulfill my desperate urge to decorate in the holiday season. In early childhood, I made a succession of two-dimensional construction paper trees with removable paper ornaments. My parents finally broke down and bought me a small plastic tree from CVS, which I lovingly draped with origami ornaments. Last year, I greatly enjoyed the irony of hanging small glass ornaments from my tropical bonsai tree, a specimen that droops without a heat lamp in Brooklyn's winter climate. Poor thing.

This year, my boyfriend begged for a real Christmas tree. Although he had an upbringing similar to mine, he always had a Christmas tree. His entire family would trudge into the wilderness of Massachusetts (or drive to a Christmas tree farm; whatever, it's all weird to me) and chop down their tree themselves. How rugged.... As much as I love my boyfriend, I just couldn't do it. I could not have a dead tree in our apartment. So, I compromised: I bought a live, three-foot-tall Blue Dwarf Spruce (Picea glauca 'Haal').

Perhaps like many environmental enthusiasts, I didn't exactly think this one through. Evergreens go into a dormancy in cold weather. If they are brought indoors for an extended period of time, they come out of this dormancy and begin to grow. Once this happens, taking them back outdoors can shock them. Even if they don't emerge from this dormancy, one needs to have had the foresight to dig a hole in which to plant them before the ground freezes. Given the recent snow fall, I'd say that's no longer an option. Looks like I've got a new houseplant!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In Defense of Poison Ivy

I have always been a die-hard Batman fan, and one of my favorite characters besides the Bat himself is Poison Ivy. The origin story goes like this: Pamela Isley, a shy but attractive botany grad student, is seduced by her professor, who later poisons her. She survives and finds she has developed an immunity to all natural toxins. A supervillain is born. Yet this supervillain has a cause: Poison Ivy is a environmental preservationist turned fanatical bio-terrorist.

A friend of mine recently gave me a sweetly sinister little book
by Amy Stewart titled Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities, which details some of the "unfathomable evils [that] lurk within the plant kingdom." Stewart posits that plants should be approached with a guarded respect, noting that "we all benefit from spending more time in nature -- but we should also understand its power... [plants] can nourish and heal, but they can also destroy."

In an episode of Batman the Animated Series, Ivy poisons Gotham's DA, Harvey Dent, in revenge for his destruction of nature in the pursuit of civic development. She reasons, "
Plowing up a field of beautiful wild flowers for that silly penitentiary of his." "This little rose," she adds, gesturing to the poisonous agent, "would be extinct today if I hadn't saved my precious from those horrible bulldozers. The blood of those flowers is on his hands!"

It's hard not to like to Poison Ivy. She understands the power of nature and defends it, albeit in a twisted way. As the scales of the built and natural environment continue to tip in my Gotham, there's a small part of me that fantasizes about donning a green unitard and kicking some ass in the name of plants everywhere. But I'll settle for more reasonable methods. Persistence is key. As Ivy says
when vanquished, "They can bury me in the ground as deep as they like, but I'll grow back. We always grow back!"

Friday, November 27, 2009

Nature vs. Pavement: Round 5

I don't know how someone thought a sufficient amount of water could get through those holes in the concrete. Clearly the tree thought this was stupid as well.

Park Place between Classon and Franklin Avenues, Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rage, Rage Against the Change of Season

Since most of the fall leaves are grounded, I was delighted to find some ginkgo leaves on Greene Avenue that, though they have been separated from their branches, have stubbornly seated themselves within the links of the fence surrounding the adjacent handball courts. Here, they cling, mimicking their former canopy, as if to say, "Do not go gentle into that good night!"

But that good night has come, so I thought I'd share some photos that I took of the beautiful changing
foliage in the past month. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Challenges of Embracing a Waterfront

I picked up Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan by Phillip Lopate at the new Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene the other day. I am not too far into it and suspect it may be a bit outdated (published 2004), but Lopate has hit upon an interesting phenomenon: New Yorkers' mysterious hesitancy to "maximize [the city's] aqueous setting" and propensity to, instead, turn inland.

Lopate attributes this trend to several factors. He argues that the waterfront's past as an occupied industrial site deterred New Yorkers from conceptualizing it as a space open for residence and recreation, as they do Central Park and Central Park West. And, he posits, "nothing can replace the beautiful, urgent logic of felt need" that characterized the development surrounding industry (docks, warehouses, customs offices, bars, brothels and churches). While I agree that Manhattan doesn't yet adequately embrace its waterfront, I am not so sure about Lopate's argument. As noted in an earlier post, the waterfront was used as a recreational space even when that meant bathing in human and industrial waste, and, given many neighborhoods' current lack of inland park space, I would argue that there is certainly a "felt need" for public waterfront access.

Where Lopate and I do agree, is that the perimeter highways and railroad tracks in Manhattan constitute physical barriers to the waterfront. Unwelcoming and seemingly unsafe underpasses and overpasses create daunting obstacle courses that, let's face it, for many New Yorkers, is just too much of a schlep. Lopate dubs the West Side Highway and the FDR Drive "the Original Sin of Manhattan planning." To that I would add with heavy sarcasm, "thanks a lot, Robert Moses." As designs for new waterfront spaces are developed, designers continue to grapple with these obstacles to bring the public to the new amenities. My favorite proposal so far is to paint the underside of the FDR Drive a lavender color called "Mighty Aphrodite." I am not sure this will work, but I love the name!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I Want to Wake Up In the City that Doesn't Sleep

People seem to like disaster movies, particularly ones that leave New York City completely desolate. In these films, the city's infrastructure is intact, but bereft of human activity, it is defenseless as nature creeps back in. These movies play on the idea that urbanism and nature are mutually exclusive. As Eric Sanderson writes in one of my favorite passages of Mannahatta, "It a conceit of New York City—the concrete city, the steel metropolis, Batman's Gotham—to think it is a place outside of nature, a place where humanity has completely triumphed over the forces of the natural world, where a person can do and be anything without limit or consequence." The people are what make this city great.

This has been a frenetic, but exciting New York week for me. With Halloween, the marathon, the mayoral election and the Yankees' ticker-tape parade, I
spent most of the last week overwhelmed by masses of people, their excitement and frustration crushingly palpable. At each of these events, I felt pride and enjoyment (yes, even at the ticker-tape parade, thanks to Jay-Z), but I also found myself searching for a quiet moment, a place to breathe, my own personal empty Times Square with meadow grass sprouting through the asphalt.

And this is why I think we like these disaster movies: because New York is as stressful as it is uplifting. Though we love our skyscrapers, sports events and over-the-top celebrations, there is a part of us that wishes for a quieter and more profound experience, which we see distilled by an idealized natural world.

Image from I Am Legend.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sounds of Fall in the City

Nothing says fall like the sound of a brisk walk through paved streets covered in fallen leaves. That spectacular "clomp-swish-swish-clomp" heralds in the change of season in a way that is, I think, uniquely urban. And new fall boots always put a spring in a girl's step.

The Sounds of Fall in the City from Alicia West on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the Waterfront

Earlier this year, I accepted the dubious challenge of writing a historic plaque for the park at Catherine Slip in the Two Bridges neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. While trying to explain how a space that was once a docking place for boats between piers was now terra firma parkland, I was surprised to learn that much of the shoreline was filled in not only with earth, but with refuse. This tidbit didn't make it into my plaque text, but it's fascinating to me to think about how we have physically blurred the edges of our city both purposefully and through neglect and how our relationship with the waterfront has changed over time.

The shores of Manhattan once consisted sandy beaches, intertidal mudflats and salt marshes. With industrialization, the waterfront was put to work, much to the detriment of the ecosystem. Industry flourished with easy access to water transport and few regulations about waste dumping. According to Mark Kurlansky's book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, by 1910, 600 million gallons on untreated sewage was being dumped into the waterways daily. Surprisingly, New Yorkers still used the waterways for recreation, though they would often emerge caked in filth.

Today, under the auspices of the Bloomberg Administration, the City is endeavoring to return the waterfront and waterways for safe public use. Vast swaths of the waterfront have been rezoned for public access and new parks and esplanades are under construction. Oyster and mussel beds have been reintroduced to the waterways to naturally filter the water.

Of course, there are still areas where the waterfront is completely closed to the public, notably in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn. Here, the giant Con-Edison plant bars access to the water. I'd love to post a photo to show you how Con-Ed plant completely blocks views of the water, but a small man stepped out of a guard booth to inform me that photography was not permitted, as though I had not seen the signs.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Finally: Mannahatta, Ho!

It took me three months, but I finally made it up to see the Mannahatta exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. (Nothing like realizing it's the last weekend of the exhibit to send me scurrying up to the northern-most reaches of Museum Mile!)

Having read most of the book, the information within the exhibit wasn't new to me; but I was impressed by the presentation, particularly the 15 foot long topographical model of Mannahatta, onto which the curator projected the many maps and diagrams included in the book. This display was a brilliant synthesis of information, illustrating not only the island's transformation from Mannahatta to Manhattan, but also the different types of bedrock, levels of beaver population, areas of the Lenape's controlled fires, and more. It was really breathtaking at times. Since the exhibit is closed, I think it's okay to post a video of this central display, but I do encourage you to buy the book!

Mannahatta from Alicia West on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ode to the Ginkgo Tree

This week, the Times picked up an AP story about US cities removing perfectly healthy ginkgo trees because of the "stink bomb" seeds they drop this time of year. A forester (a forester!) in Iowa City commented that these seeds present a sanitation problem, noting, "No matter what we do, two seconds after we leave, there are more on the ground and somebody can step in it." I find this absolutely ridiculous. It's nature, people! God forbid you get your Manolos messy walking down the sidewalk. (Do people wear Manolos in Iowa City?)

Ginkgo trees are amazing. First off, they are one of the few species of trees in this country that is dioecious
, meaning it is distinctly male or female (it's the females that drop the "stink bombs"). They are also incredibly hardy and resilient trees, making them uniquely suitable as urban street trees. As the AP article points out, there were some ginkgoes that survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima. And they are beautiful, as evidenced by this grove of female ginkgoes in Fort Greene Park.

So, watch your step, but don't cut down healthy trees.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Nature vs. Pavement: Round 4

I'm not even sure how this happened, but the tree roots here look like they took molten form at some point and engulfed the decorative brick tree pit edge treatment. Awesome.

5th Street between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Weed Grows in Brooklyn

At a backyard barbeque in Gowanus this summer, I complimented my host on his spectacular tree (pictured below), to which he responded, "It's a weed." I didn't understand at first, thinking of dandelions and stammering, "But it's so pretty!" Then I realized he meant the tree was an invasive species, one that (often non-native) is able to outgrow and edge out others by monopolizing resources. While I know that I shouldn't like invasives because they detrimentally impact native ecosystems, I can't help but admire their pluck.

It occurred to me that this tree might, in fact, be the fabled tree from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) by Betty Smith. Used by Smith as a metaphor in the
book for the protagonist's perseverance despite every disadvantage, this tree "grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement." This tree knew how to overcome obstacles and would be a sure thing in the Nature vs. Pavement arena. Further Internet research revealed that many people believe Smith's tree is an Ailanthus altissima, which looks a little different, but I have been unable to definitively identify my host's tree. Whatever it is, those pink pom-pom flowers are fabulous!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Mon Oncle: A Lesson in Urban Design

This week, I went to see a screening of Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (1958) at MoMA. Mon Oncle focuses on the absurdity of the bourgeois' obsession with modern invention, which imprisons them as much as it sets them free. The film's main expression of this condition is the ultra-modern home of Monsieur and Mademoiselle Arpel, Monsieur Hulot's (Tati's cinematic alterego) sister and brother-in-law. The house (Villa Arpel) is strikingly sterile -- outfitted entirely in modernist furniture that no one finds comfortable, cabinets that open and shut with complex mechanical programming and a garden consisting of concrete stepping stones, steel edges and plants so manicured they hardly seem real.

There's a fantastic scene in Mon Oncle, where the Arpels host a garden luncheon. During this scene, Hulot's nephew, stifled by Villa Arpel and bored to tears by the shallow social display, rips down a portion of climbing vines, destroying the sad, manicured symmetry. The party rapidly deteriorates, ending in insult and injury (due in no small part to Hulot's bumbling navigation around the awkward "natural" space) and the nephew running around the garden in a Native American headdress. Later that night, when Hulot sneaks back to the house to finish tearing down the vines, the circular windows of Villa Arpel transform into patrolling eyes (the silhouettes of the Arpels' synchronized heads).

Obviously, I got a kick out of this battle enacted between the attenuated natural world and the anthropomorphized built environment. In reading Eric W. Sanderson’s Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York (as noted in a previous post, this study is also an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York), I learned that the Lenape, the Native American inhabitants of Mannahatta, created the structural beams of their wigwams by transplanting tree saplings in a circular plan and bending them inward. The contrast of the Lenapes literally building shelter from live nature with Villa Arpel's precise, tamed gardens brings me back to Anne Whiston Spirn, who posited in 1984 that to ensure the continued success in the urban environment, "nature in the city must be cultivated… rather than ignored and subdued." I think Tati would have agreed.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Nature vs. Pavement: Round 3

This tree has not only overthrown the concrete surrounding its once tiny tree pit, but it has split the granite curb and pierced the surface of the asphalt roadbed. This tree kicked three kinds of pavement ass!

Carlton Avenue between DeKalb Avenue and Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Take a Look, It's in a Book

You might have heard that after 26 years on PBS, Reading Rainbow aired its last episode this week. As an overly nostalgic, progressively educated 26-year-old, I am saddened by this news. Reading Rainbow didn't teach children to read; rather it taught children to love to read. This got me thinking about some of my favorite children's books, and among them is the Shel Silverstein classic, The Giving Tree. Just like the title character, this book offers me different things as I grow older and learn new things. When I was little, it was a simple story of a tree who loved and supported a boy as he grew into a man. When I was a teenager, it irked me as a disturbing allegory of a woman who gave all of herself to a man and received little in return. Lately, I see it as a commentary on shifting priorities in life and, with more recent study, as a testament to humankind's dependence on nature to preserve our way of life.

For those of you who don't own a copy of The Giving Tree, you can find the 1973 animated version narrated by the author here. Enjoy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book 'em, Danno -- Arborcide!

Always a lover of trees, I have become increasingly sensitive to the way people take them for granted. Many of you may have heard about the extraordinary tree loss in Central Park last week due to the violent storms. A sudden destruction of so many trees in a landmark park makes people stop and think about the significance of such a loss. But most of the time, many people think of trees as hindrance -- some object in the way of a view, or, in the case of my parents' neighbor in Philly, a post to be used as a fence anchor (see photo -- this iron necklace will strangle this tree) or something in need of ridiculous decoration (again, see photo -- I hate this tasteless tree art, and note it is affixed with long screws). Never mind the fact that a single mature tree can produce 1/4 of the amount of oxygen breathed by an adult human per day, that a tree can noticeably reduce the temperature on the sidewalk and remove harmful pollutants from the air! I am, therefore, extremely grateful that in 1996 NYC made it illegal and punishable by law (up to $15,000 in fines or jail time up to one year) to remove, murder or damage any street or park tree. Next time you see someone disrespect a tree, please remind them of all the wonderful things that tree is selflessly doing for them.

Photo by Alex Hills

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Secret Garden

Today, while doing laundry, I spent about an hour in the backyard of my building. It was too hot to focus on my book, so I spent nearly the entire time admiring the plants that my neighbor so carefully cultivates. (He even waters my little rosemary plant.) The variety and abundance of these plants in our shady little yard is amazing, so I wanted to share some photos of them here.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bonus Post (To Make Up for the Week I Missed)

Little bit off topic, since this video was taken in upstate NY, but I like how this vine is slowly making its way onto the deck and spiraling up the leg of this chair.

Untitled from Alicia West on Vimeo.

A New Perspective

I'm about 30 pages into the seminal text The Granite Garden: Urban Nature and Human Design by Anne Whiston Spirn. Spirn argues that, contrary to prevailing notions, the city is part of nature. She writes, "The city is neither wholly natural nor wholly contrived. It is not 'unnatural' but, rather, a transformation of 'wild' nature by humankind to serve its own needs." To Spirn, nature is a continuum, and its influence on how cities are designed is undeniable. One of her most striking examples of this so far is the Manhattan skyline. I have always thought it was strange how Manhattan's financial districts and their skyscrapers were located so far apart -- one at the tip of the island and the other in midtown. It seemed arbitrary, and I assumed money and influence gave rise to these two forests of steel 60 blocks apart. Not so! According to Spirn, these locations are particularly suited for building high because of the proximity of the underlying bedrock to the surface. There's something comforting about nature's power and endurance. As Spirn puts it, "Civilizations and governments rise and fall; traditions, values, and policies change; but the natural environment of each city remains an enduring framework within which the human community builds." Wise words.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ruining Nature, Then Beating it at its Own Game

Nature has a way of purifying itself, but then we come along and make of mess of things and throw nature off its game. Then we realize how much we screwed things up and devise ingenious ways of replicating natural systems with technology. It's a bit of a hopeless cycle, but it brings me to the topic of this post: water pollution control plants.

Water pollution control plants use physical and biological processes to closely duplicate how wetlands, rivers, streams and lakes naturally purify water. In the natural environment, this process can take weeks; at water pollution control plants, it takes only seven hours.

At New York City's 14 treatment plants, wastewater (i.e. whatever is flushed down the toilet or washed down the drain) undergoes processing to eliminate roughly 85% to 95% of pollutants before the treated wastewater is disinfected and discharged into local waterways. The "sludge" that is the byproduct of the treatment process is stabilized by converting it into biosolids, which can be utilized as a fertilizer, water, carbon dioxide and methane gas.

I had the unique opportunity to visit the Newtown Creek Water Pollution Plant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and it is really the coolest place I've ever been. The design of the plant, established by Polshek Partnership, makes an (admittedly) icky process
positively chic. Keep an eye out for the huge metal domes (these beauties are literally full of shit) when driving on the BQE or flying into Laguardia Airport.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Nature vs. Pavement: Round 2

This tree has seemingly eaten the remnants of the long-ago vanquished cobblestone tree pit treatment. It has actually grown around the stone blocks to the point where they cannot be removed.

Greene Avenue and Clinton Avenue, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Into the Woods: Shakespeare in the Park

To me, the Delacort Theater in Central Park is the absolute perfect place to see Shakespeare. Set against the backdrop of the Turtle Pond and Belvedere Castle and enclosed with a scrim of trees, this open-air stage epitomizes the transition and balance between the urban zone and the woods, a dichotomy that Shakespeare frequently explored and, after all, the subject of this blog.

To attend Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacort is to cast yourself in a Shakespearean comedy. New York City can easily be aligned with Athens in A Midsummer Night's Dream or Milan in The Tempest, cities where obligation and law reign, where passion is restricted by culture and power is worth killing for. The C train ride uptown to 81st Street is clearly a shipwreck (akin to Viola’s in Twelfth Night) that leaves you gasping for air and thankful that you arrived unharmed at such an idyllic locale. The park is a world of freedom, magic and romance. And hotdogs. I really love those hotdogs... but I digress.

Shakespeare in the Park is always a cathartic experience for me, "converting all [my] sounds of woe/into hey, nonny, nonny!"* At least until I get back on the subway.

*William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II, Scene iii

Sunday, July 5, 2009

America the Beautiful, Manhattan the Sweet?

Independence Day weekend seems like a good time to write a bit about the ecological history of New York City. The city is situated on an estuary, a semi-enclosed coastal body of water with rivers and streams flowing into it, where saltwater and freshwater meet, creating a diverse ecosystem. Early European visitors to Manhattan describe it as an Eden with fresh air, verdant landscapes and an abundance of wild fruit, fowl, fish and oysters (more on those bivalves in later posts).

I’ve always been amused that many of these early written accounts speak of Manhattan as having a "sweet smell." Anyone who is familiar with the unique putridity left behind after a rainy-day garbage collection in Manhattan, can attest to the seeming absurdity of the idea of this place ever smelling "sweet." Some time ago, I had the extreme misfortune of slipping and landing in a puddle of this muck. After three washes, my jeans still reeked of garbage, and I ended up throwing them out.

I find this dramatic juxtaposition fascinating, and cannot wait to see the exhibition Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City, currently at the Museum of the City of New York. The show recreates Manhattan as it was when Europeans first arrived and explores the balance of nature and urban development over time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tree Finder Guide

For my birthday this year, one of the excellent presents I got from my parents was a tree finder guide my science class used in the 7th Grade. It’s kind of like one of those choose-your-own-adventure books. You know, "If you decide to descend into the dark basement to investigate the low growling noise, turn to page 8." Page 8: "The last thing you ever saw was the gleaming white teeth of the werewolf that lay in waiting." Except with trees.

Apparently this guide – and the 7th Grade science curriculum – is extremely memorable, because when my brother saw the book, he was instantly jealous and eager to ID some trees. "This one has a compound leaf – turn to page 16!"

Fort Greene Park has a great "Tree Trail," which identifies many of the species/varieties in the park. It's a great opportunity test out the guide and make sure you're using it correctly.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Nature vs. Pavement: Round 1

One of my earliest memories is of being pushed in my stroller by my dad on Waverly Street in Philadelphia. As we rolled over the huge, canted flags of pavement that had been lifted by the roots of the hundred-year-old trees, he’d intone, “Uuuuup and dooooown, uuuuup and doooown.”

And so, in hon
or of my dad, this post and many in the future pays tribute to the sheer awesomeness of street trees in the ultimate battle of Nature vs. Pavement.

Lafayette Avenue and
Carlton Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Snapshot: Urban Forest

I thought I’d start with a snapshot of New York City's urban forest. According to the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR), there are currently 5.2 million trees in the city. Through the 2006 tree census performed by DPR staff and over 1,000 volunteers, at least 168 different tree species were identified in NYC. The most predominant type of tree planted along the city’s streets is the London planetree (Platanus x acerifolia), easily recognizable by its peeling bark.

5.2 million trees is a lot of green, but there is room in our city to expand the urban canopy. Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative has set the goal of planting one million trees across the city over the next ten years. I had the pleasure of personally planting about 30 trees, mostly Pin Oaks (
Quercus palustris), in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx last fall. If you are interested in getting involved, you can go to the milliontreesNYC website. Here, you can volunteer to plant, as I did, donate money, or simply give DPR’s Forestry division a heads-up about streets in need of trees.

An Introduction

I’m what you’d call a city girl, but I was lucky enough to attend a progressive grade school when I was a kid that based our education in the classroom on experiences both in the urban environment of Center City Philadelphia and the wilds of a nature preserve in Upper Roxborough. My school’s tenet was and still is City, Country, Classroom.

Until recently, my life experience led me a-stray from this well-rounded educational foundation. Misery in a de facto suburban high school caused me to insist that my roots were set firmly in concrete, certainly not in lawn.

And while it is true that I will never again be persuaded to go camping and will never, ever pee in the woods, I realize now that I find joy and curiosity in the natural environment present and growing in the built environment of New York City, my home for the last eight years.

My hope for these posts is to focus on subjects such as the historic ecosystem, current civic endeavors to green and clean the urban environment, fun things to do and see in the city’s parks, and things you can do to help the environment on an individual level. I hope also to hear from you, as I am by no means an expert and am eager to learn more.