Facing a giant budget deficit, Mayor Eric Adams proposed cuts to New York libraries. But they play an outsize role in the city, offering services and safety.
The children’s room at the Macomb’s Bridge branch in Upper Manhattan; below, the entrance and canopy outside refer to the original landmarked architecture. Justin Kaneps for The New York Times Image
A city is only as good as its public spaces. The Covid-19 pandemic was another reminder: For quarantined New Yorkers, parks, outdoor dining sheds and reopened libraries became lifelines.
But now Mayor Eric Adams wants to slash funds for parks ($46 million) and for libraries ($13 million this fiscal year, more than $20 million next), and the City Council is debating the dining sheds. The sheds need regulation and the city budget needs to be cut by perhaps $3 billion. That said, if you don’t find the current political conversation shortsighted, you might want to do what I recently did and check out some of the library branches that have opened since the start of 2020. I visited three of them — each one a boon for its neighborhood, and money well-spent. Continue reading →
No one, you would think, aspires to be a night-soil man. Yet in the late 1950s, Shi Chuangxiang’s labours in the latrines of Beijing briefly won him national praise. He was proclaimed a socialist hero and met the head of state. Back then, human excreta mattered, so much so that gangs fought for the plummest spots. Why? Because cities, until relatively recently in human history, were a part of healthy ecosystems that operated according to the principles of nutrient exchange: take, use, return, all in neat equilibrium. The spoils of Mr Shi (who was nicknamed ‘Stinky Shit Egg’), collected at a time when synthetic plant food was not widely available in China, became the organic fertiliser that was intended to power the country’s Great Leap Forward in agriculture. Continue reading →
The artist invited the community in Newark to reimagine objects that would otherwise be destined for a landfill — to look at them in a fresh, imaginative way.
“Spirit Catcher” by Willie Cole is made of thousands of water bottles held together with metal wire and sculpted to resemble a chandelier. Rachel Vanni for The New York Times
NEWARK — The artist Willie Cole has created two colossal new sculptures and generated a provocative group exhibition stemming from an unusual open call asking artists to transform objects destined for landfill into something imaginative and new. Continue reading →
The archives of the McMillan Memorial Library are being digitized. Kenyans are also being invited to bring items such as photographs or letters to create an archive anchored in collective memory. Patrick Meinhardt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Bronx River Foodway, the only legal place to forage in New York, celebrates the end of a season
Foodway team members gathered around a picnic bench at the New York Botanical Garden created by the artist Elizebeth Hamby. Photograph: Courtesy Elizabeth Hamby
Bimwala’s tours are a mix of returning foragers eager to learn more and newcomers, many of whom have lived in the Bronx for decades. Photograph: Courtesy of Nathan Hunter
On a crisp November day in the South Bronx, more than 300 people made their way from Westchester Avenue below the clamor of the 6 train down a tree-lined path leading to Concrete Plant park. This is the home of the Bronx River Foodway, a quarter-acre food forest full of edible, mostly native plants. What looks like a stretch of land dotted with trees appears at first glance to be overrun by weeds, but the wild foliage has been intentionally planted by the Foodway. It is the only legal foraging site in New York City.
Neighbors young and old poured on to the grassy banks of the Bronx River to celebrate the end of the season and the foliage of the Bronx, including an array of snacks made from foraged ingredients: ginkgo cheese and acorn crackers, and pickled mushrooms and herbal ales made at recent four-part cooking series put on by the Foodway over the last two months. Continue reading →
Van Cortlandt Lake, one of the many places popular with birds — and those who watch them.
Early in our life together, in the early/mid-1980s, Amie and I lived in two of the five boroughs that make up New York City. We never lived in the one that today, we learn, has had the most nature all along (we thank David Gonzalez for both the photographs and text of this article).
While we are not giving up the greener pastures we chose decades ago to be our home base, we are happy to know that The Bronx is so green, and can even picture making a special trip to visit this often unheralded part of New York City:
If you said Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island or Queens, guess again.
From hidden coves tucked along the Orchard Beach marshes to wide promenades covered by regal arches of trees in Soundview, there is a lot more green to the Bronx than the zoo or the infield at Yankee Stadium. The pastoral vibe might make you think you’re upstate, but as they said in the classic ’80s hip-hop movie “Beat Street,” this is the Bronx. Continue reading →
Installed in several locations on the Allen Street Malls between Broome and Hester Streets, this group exhibition features four artworks by five artists addressing themes of nature. Artists include Elizabeth Knowles and Eric David Laxman, Elaine Lorenz, Judith Peck, and Michael Wolf.
While at Cornell University last month I got my fill of early autumn florals and educational signage. While in the Botanic Gardens I was struck by a floral sculpture, a type of art I am not often moved by. But that one worked. And so, looking through the Art in the Parks section of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation website, the image to the right caught my attention. And scrolling further through that collection I saw the image below, which on a day after hurricane-driven rains in Costa Rica, with the morning sky clear of clouds, hits the spot:
September 25, 2022 to September 10, 2023
Morningside Park, Manhattan
Description:Tierra Fragil, depicts endangered insects and birds with the flowers and plants imperative to their survival. The mural informs and encourages the preservation of familiar species whose presence we may have taken for granted.
Grow wild Ordinarily only academics can walk on the grass courts of Cambridge’s colleges. Peter Dench
Tom Banham’s article in 1843, a masterpiece of longform writing on the topic of lawns, is preaching to the converted (me, at least). I live in a location with abundant rain and grass is more of a pest than the mainstay of beautifully manicured sprawling lawns (for which I am a sucker as much as anyone is).
We just planted the first couple dozen of 1,000+ coffee saplings and the grass on the hills where they are being planted plays a role in soil retention but we want the soil’s nutrients focused on the coffee. But there are plenty of more important reasons to be concerned about grass sprawl elsewhere:
PacifiCorp’s Ekola Flats wind farm has 63 turbines, most of them rated at 4.3 megawatts — almost six times as much power as some of the old steel-lattice wind towers in the California desert outside Palm Springs. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
I know the wind turbine blades aren’t going to kill me. At least, I’m pretty sure.
No matter how many times I watch the slender arms swoop down toward me — packing as much punch as 20 Ford F-150 pickup trucks — it’s hard to shake the feeling they’re going to knock me off my feet. They sweep within a few dozen feet of the ground before launching back toward the heavens, reaching nearly 500 feet above my head — higher than the highest redwood.
They’re eerily quiet, emitting only a low hum. But in the howling wind, the tips could be barreling past at 183 mph. Continue reading →
Fast-to-establish sassafras (Sassafras albidum), an Eastern native tree, has distinctively shaped leaves that fire up brilliantly in autumn. Michael Stewart/Courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden
One of the minor downsides to life in the tropics is decades of missed autumn leaves. But that downside is counterbalanced by so many upsides that the loss is trivial. And we have photos like the one to the right, as well as the possibility of travel (including to the botanical gardens featured in the story below), plus plenty of writing on the science of those colors, to dissipate the trivia.
Mr. Roddick is often asked to open up a tree’s canopy to let in more light. His answer is based on the tree’s species, its health and its age. “Better to train a young tree to fit into a garden as opposed to trying to change an old tree,” he said. Michael Stewart/Courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden
The base of an old London plane tree at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Tree roots on most landscape trees are shallow and prone to injury, yet we often fail to consider how our gardening and home-improvement projects will affect them. Michael Stewart/Courtesy Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Trees can take a lot of punishment, but they have their limits. Here’s how to work around them safely.
If trees could talk, they’d probably start by saying, “Enough with the insults already.”
In more than 30 years of working with trees, Christopher Roddick has made it a practice to listen to their unspoken language — and to show respect for some of the largest and oldest organisms among us. Continue reading →
What would Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) make of his works today, in the bicentennial year of his birth? No doubt he would be delighted by the survival and continued popularity of so many of his big-city parks, particularly Central Park and Prospect Park, but also parks in Boston, Chicago, and Montreal, as well as Buffalo, Detroit, Rochester, and Louisville. He might be surprised by the bewildering range of activities these parks now accommodate—not only boating and ice-skating, as in his day, but exercising, jogging, picnicking, and games, as well as popular theatrical and musical events. I don’t think this variety would displease him. After all, it was he who introduced free band concerts in Central Park, over the objections of many of his strait-laced colleagues. He would be pleased by the banning of automobiles; his winding carriage drives were never intended for fast—and noisy—traffic. Continue reading →
Darrel Morrison, the elder statesman of the ecological landscaping movement, offers some advice for gardening in a changing world.
Mr. Morrison’s mesic prairie design for the University of Wisconsin Arboretum Native Plant Garden, with the larger Curtis Prairie restoration in the distance. Robert Jaeger
Some gardeners react to any mention of ecological landscaping — the merging of environmental science and art — as if it were a compromise or concession meant to limit their creativity. Darrel Morrison, a landscape architect who has been practicing and teaching this philosophy for some five decades, begs to differ.
“There is the implication that you are suggesting a vegan diet,” said Mr. Morrison, the creator of influential designs at Storm King Art Center, in Orange County, N.Y., the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas. “A lot of people, when they hear a phrase like ‘ecologically sound landscaping,’ they think they are giving up something. But they are not — it only enhances the experience.” Continue reading →
A construction site in Vaxjo, Sweden, using prefabricated cross-laminated timber panels that are assembled on-site. Gabriel Leigh
In previous centuries building with wood was the norm, and then safety and efficiency considerations stopped the practice. Now, climate change and other considerations are turning the tide back in favor of building with wood. Counterintuitive at first–climate change is in part a function of deforestation, and reforestation is considered part of the solution–reading this article gives the perspective needed to get your intuition reoriented. Thanks to Gabriel Leigh and the New York Times for this:
A rendering of the completed Stockholm complex, dubbed Cederhusen, or Cedar House. General Architecture
VAXJO, Sweden — Stockholm and its suburbs are filled with construction cranes these days, reflecting a growing population combined with a housing shortage. But few of its developments are as extensive as Hagastaden, just to the north of central Stockholm where it meets the neighboring municipality of Solna.
First ever nationwide tally of trees reveals how communities of color and poorer neighborhoods lack canopy
With vast swathes of the American west baking under a record-setting heatwave, a new study has revealed how unevenly trees are spread throughout cities in the United States and how much it disadvantages communities of color and the poor. Continue reading →
Ietef “DJ Cavem Moetavation” Vita plants seeds with daughter Libya LeaDonvita in the garden at their home outside Denver. Vita is among a growing list of Black gardening enthusiasts-turned-entrepreneurs across the country who’ve launched seed businesses during the pandemic-inspired gardening boom. Rachel Woolf for KHN
Vita, a vegan rapper, wants to encourage people of color to eat healthier by growing their own vegetables. He sells his own line of kale, beet and arugula seeds. Rachel Woolf for KHN
Ietef Vita had planned to spend most of 2020 on the road, promoting Biomimicz, the album he had released on his #plantbasedrecords label in January. But the pandemic cut those plans short, says Vita, known to his fans as “DJ Cavem Moetavation” and “Chef Ietef.”
He was playing in Berkeley, Calif., on Feb. 29, and “literally got out of town right before they shut the whole country down,” recalls the 34-year-old vegan rapper, who has performed for the Obamas and is known as the father of eco-hip-hop. “It was scary.”
Suddenly sidelined at his metro Denver home with his wife, Alkemia Earth, a plant-based lifestyle coach, and three daughters, Vita struggled to pivot. Eventually, he accepted that he would need to stay put and, as the saying goes, bloom where he was planted.
Vita has mailed out more than 20,000 packets of his kale, beet and arugula seeds to urban farmers across the country. Rachel Woolf for KHN
He and his wife launched an impromptu campaign: mailing out thousands of the more than 42,000 packets of kale, beets and arugula seeds that he’d planned to sell at his shows, all emblazoned with his likeness and the QR code to hear his digital album. Continue reading →
UNITED STATES – March 30: Visitors gather to watch the sunrise under blooming Japanese cherry blossom trees along the Tidal Basin in Washington on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the original gift of 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the people of Washington in 1912. (Photo by Caroline Brehman/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossoms came early this year. Plenty was said, including on Texas Public Radio, about the implications related to climate change. Elizabeth Kolbert has this to say, pivoting from cherry blossoms to both environmental and economic policies in the USA:
The Administration has an ambitious vision for combatting global warming, but it’s only a start.
Illustration by João Fazenda
The first known reference to Japan’s cherry blossoms comes from the country’s oldest surviving text, the Kojiki, completed in 712. Japan was trying to shrug off the influence of its more powerful neighbor, China, and cherry blossoms became a symbol of Japanese identity, in contrast to the plum blossoms of the Chinese. By the early ninth century, the practice of cherry-blossom viewing had become so well established that the date of the peak bloom appeared in Japanese poems and other literary works. Continue reading →
All three avian species catapulted to celebrity status after they landed in Central Park, becoming the subject of news reports from Manhattan to India and attracting gaggles of groupies, snapping away on their smartphones.
These rare glimpses of nature in the heart of New York elicit a dose of joy in the best of times. Continue reading →
The blizzard of federal climate initiatives last week (a blizzard that might help allow actual blizzards to persist into the future) is without precedent. For the first time in the thirty-plus years of our awareness of the climate crisis, Washington roused itself to urgent action; veterans of the cautious Obama Administration—the domestic climate adviser Gina McCarthy and the global climate czar John Kerry chief among them—were suddenly going for broke. In fact, only one branch of the Cabinet seemed conspicuous by its muted presence: the Department of Agriculture, which has responsibility for the nation’s farms and for many of its forests—that is, for the natural features that will either speed or slow the flow of carbon into the atmosphere. Continue reading →
The image to the left is surely evocative for different people in different ways. I cannot see it without flashbacks to what that same spot looked and smelled and sounded like in 1987. It was a peculiar moment in time; I’ll leave it at that. This rendering reaches me just after seeing images of Penn Station’s recent renovation, which itself got me thinking about unique solutions to different kinds of urban challenges. In that case the interior was the thing. For cities where there is too much built space and traffic, greening of arteries is the thing. Also coincidental was last week’s news about the plan for the neighborhood where our sons attended school during the 2003-2004 academic year, which reaffirms my sense that good ideas are infectious.
Those news from New York and from Paris transported me to a very different urban space where we lived and worked for seven years. The image above and the title screen to the right both serve well to evoke an idea that was generated in one of India’s best preserved colonial harbor neighborhoods. Just prior to opening this property in that neighborhood we hosted four young creative professionals from Europe and the USA, two authors and two architects. One of the architects had recently completed work on our then-favorite model of urban re-utilization.
I stood with him on a rooftop overlooking the spice-trading on the street where our hotel was under construction. We had a breezy conversation about how this space might be made more accessible, and I commented on this neighborhood needing an urban design that, like the repurposing of two crumbling spice warehouses into our hotel would be respectful of history while not a slave to it. And the next day he disappeared, as guests do, but the idea is still out there, gestating, and in my hazy memory looks something like this image below.
“Envisioning Union Square’s Vibrant North Plaza” – Watercolor by Guido Hartray
Not the specifics, of course. But this dream-like watercolor rendering of Union Square Park’s future layout is a perfect reminder of that rooftop conversation about how Mattacherry might one day be a more effective version of its already awesome self. Carolyn McShea has posted this research note about the Union Square initiative on the website of Marvel Architects:
Union Square is famous for its rich activist history, successful Business Improvement District (BID) and 24/7 residential-commercial community that is also home to some of the city’s iconic buildings that have reached National Historic Landmark status. 14th Street is considered as a commercial corridor for New Yorkers and key cross-town thoroughfare. Continue reading →
An artist’s impression of the redesigned Arc de Triomphe, at the end of Paris’ iconic Champs-Élysées avenue, prepared by architects PCA-Stream under commission by the Paris mayor’s office. PCA-STREAM
Paris — Mayor Anne Hidalgo has confirmed that ambitious plans to transform Paris’ Champs-Élysées, the iconic avenue in the heart of the French capital, are still on the table. Her initiative will see the avenue with fewer car lanes, more room for pedestrians and much more greenery.
Often dubbed “the most beautiful avenue in the world,” the Champs-Élysées has gone three decades without a major overhaul, and many Parisians believe it looks tired and a lot less sophisticated than it used to. Continue reading →