Like Seeing Santa Claus On A Beach

Bird-watchers and photographers on the lookout for the snowy owl. Mark Rightmire/The Orange County Register.

Closing out 2022 with a story that all in our bird-centric community will enjoy, I know from firsthand experience what unexpected encounters with birds can do:

Neighbors have come to notice a pattern with the bird, which seems to take off in the evenings before reappearing sometime later. Mark Rightmire/The Orange County Register

‘Extremely Rare’ Snowy Owl Sighting Transfixes a California Suburb

What brought the owl to the city of Cypress, in Orange County, remains a mystery.

The forbidding frozen wilderness of the high Arctic tundra is the natural home of the snowy owl, a great predator perfectly adapted to hunting its primary food source, lemmings. Continue reading

The Bronx & Greener Pastures

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:

The lagoon at Pelham Bay Park.

Soundview Park

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

Prairie Revival

Sunrise at the Hempstead Plains on Long Island, New York. STEVE PFOST / NEWSDAY RM VIA GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360’s Janet Martinelli:

Amid the Sprawl, a Long Island Prairie Makes a Quiet Comeback

Tucked into quintessential suburbia, the Hempstead Plains Preserve is a small sliver of the grassland that once covered a vast area of Long Island. New research shows that thoughtfully planted yards and gardens can bolster the biodiversity in such urban wildland fragments.

Volunteers remove invasive Chinese bushclover from the Hempstead Plains Preserve at Nassau Community College. FRIENDS OF HEMPSTEAD PLAINS

The Hempstead Plains Preserve is a place where you can imagine the presence of creatures past. Birdfoot violets, now gone, once colored the landscape with a wash of purple in spring. The heath hen, a large grouse that went extinct 90 years ago, performed its elaborate courtship dances on the Plains.

On a late afternoon in October, the slanting autumn sun lit up in a blaze of gold the grasses and wildflowers on this narrow, 19-acre sliver of land — almost all that is left of the tallgrass prairie that once covered more than 50 square miles at the heart of Long Island, New York, a fish-shaped island that stretches east into the Atlantic Ocean. Continue reading

Artificial Islands, Natural Grasses & Wildlife Oases In Urban Waterways

Floating wetlands along the Chicago River’s Wild Mile. DAVE BURK / SOM

Thanks to Susan Cosier and Yale e360 for this:

How Floating Wetlands Are Helping to Clean Up Urban Waters

As cities around the world look to rid their waterways of remaining pollution, researchers are installing artificial islands brimming with grasses and sedges. The islands’ surfaces attract wildlife, while the underwater plant roots absorb contaminants and support aquatic life.

Five small islands roughly the size of backyard swimming pools float next to the concrete riverbank of Bubbly Creek, a stretch of the Chicago River named for the gas that once rose to the surface after stockyards dumped animal waste and byproducts into the waterway. Continue reading

Plus De Ce Méfait, S’il Vous Plaît

As an energy crisis looms, Paris officials have taken steps to reduce nighttime lights, as have conservation-minded Parkour practitioners. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

We cannot presume to cheer this type of mischief anywhere else, but considering the origin story of parkour, and the incentives for activism, it seems fitting for the City of Lights:

With Leaps and Bounds, Parkour Athletes Turn Off the Lights in Paris

As an energy crisis looms, nimble young activists are using superhero-like moves to switch off wasteful lights that stores leave on all night.

Kevin Ha extinguishing a store’s lights last month. Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Paris— After taking a few steps back to get a running start, Hadj Benhalima dashed toward the building, pushed against its wall with his foot, propelled himself upward and stretched out his arm.

At the peak of his leap, he flipped off a light switch, more than 10 feet off the ground. A click sound rang out, and the bright lights of a nearby barbershop went off instantly.

“Oooh,” his friends cheered, as Mr. Benhalima, a thin 21-year-old dressed all in black, landed back on the sidewalk. It was the second store sign he had turned off on a recent nighttime tour across Paris’s upscale neighborhoods. Many more would follow as he soared up and dropped back down across the city. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City

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:

Naomi Lawrence, Tierra Fragil

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.

Tierra Fragil is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Engagement a regrant program supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, UMEZ Arts Engagement a regrant program supported by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation and administered by LMCC. Additional funding was provided by the Friends of Morningside Park.

Bee Bus Spots

A living roof in Cardiff planted with pollinator friendly plants. Photograph: Clear Channel

Phoebe Weston brightens our day with this story:

Planting at one of 30 bee bus stops in Leicester. Photograph: Clear Channel

Buzz stops: bus shelter roofs turned into gardens for bees and butterflies

Bee bus stops first appeared in the Dutch city of Utrecht. Now the UK is planning for more than 1,000 and there is growing interest across Europe and in Canada and Australia

Butterflies and bees are getting their own transport network as “bee bus stops” start to pop up around UK cities and across Europe. Humble bus shelter roofs are being turned into riots of colour, with the number of miniature gardens – full of pollinator-friendly flora such as wild strawberries, poppies and pansies – set to increase by 50% in the UK by the end of this year. Continue reading

Smart Cities, Japan Edition

A delivery robot makes its rounds at Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town in Japan.Credit: Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/Alamy

Frustrated but determined leadership on environmental challenges facing urban constituencies is worthy of our attention and even admiration, even if “smart cities” can be problematic terminology. Nature magazine offers this snapshot from Japan:

Houses equipped with solar panels in Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town.Credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg via Getty

Why Japan is building smart cities from scratch

Purpose-built sustainable communities can boost energy efficiency and support an ageing population.

By 2050, nearly 7 out of 10 people in the world will live in cities, up from just over half in 2020. Urbanization is nothing new, but an effort is under way across many high-income countries to make their cities smarter, using data, instrumentation and more efficient resource management. Continue reading

Frederick Law Olmsted At 200

Portrait of Frederick Law Olmsted (detail), 1895, by John Singer Sargent (1856–1925); The Artchives/Alamy Stock Photo.

From Hedgehog Review, a bit of scholarly reflection on a man whose impact on the landscape of cityscapes is still worthy of consideration:

The Man Who Built Forward Better

On Frederick Law Olmsted’s Bicentennial

Witold Rybczynski

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

Carless Berlin

A cyclist in Berlin, Germany.

A cyclist in Berlin, Germany. HENDRIK WIEDUWILT VIA FLICKR

Thanks to Yale E360 for Berlin Looks to Create Car-Free Zone Larger Than Manhattan, a snapshot of the city’s fewer cars campaign, with links to further details in related stories by the Guardian and Fast Company:

Berlin’s regional parliament is considering creating a car-free zone in the German capital in response to a concerted push from a local advocacy group. Continue reading

Wooden Building Blocks 2.0

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:

Wooden Buildings Reach for the Sky

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.

Here, it looks as if an entirely new city is being built. Continue reading

Urban Jungles & Biodiversity

A peregrine falcon flying over Leipzig, Germany. Peregrines survive and reproduce more easily in cities than in rural areas. SEBASTIAN WILLNOW / PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

We have frequently considered urban greening in reference to social justice and to agricultural innovation. Thanks to Janet Marinelli for this consideration of a more fundamental possibility:

Urban Refuge: How Cities Can Help Solve the Biodiversity Crisis

Cities have long been considered species deserts, devoid of wildlife beyond pigeons and squirrels. But with animals such as snowy owls, otters and bobcats now appearing in urban areas, scientists are recognizing that cities can play a significant role in fostering biodiversity.

Last year, as billions of people around the globe were in coronavirus lockdown, students of Queens College ecologist Bobby Habig discovered a bobcat roaming around the Bronx River in New York City, better known for its recent past as an open sewer and repository for automobile tires and rusted chassis than as a habitat for elusive wildcats. In January, a snowy owl, native to Canada’s Arctic tundra, touched down in Central Park for the first time in 130 years and spent more than a month supplementing its usual diet of boreal lemmings with choice urban fare such as mice and rats. For weeks a coyote was spotted in the Ramble, a 37-acre “wilderness” of rocky crags and hilly forest in the heart of Central Park. Continue reading

Canopy Equity

The number of urban trees is shrinking due to storms, construction and insects: at the moment, the US is facing a projected loss of 8.3% in urban tree cover by 2060. Photograph: Mary Altaffer/AP

Regardless of the viability of tree-planting as a solution to climate change, the need for more trees in some locations is overwhelming:

US needs 30m new trees to combat shade disparity, study finds

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

New Methods For Bee Species Protection In Photos

Apiarist Darryn McKay of Bowral Bees inspects hives in Bowral. McKay is a ‘farm to gate’ beekeeper with a number of hives hosted in the southern highlands. He also provides bee swarm collection and runs workshops.

Thanks to the Guardian:

Blooming Where We Are Planted

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

Urban farming was an early and has been a frequent topic on this platform, and we have covered it from multiple angles and elevations. In the last year we have focused on a few acres of urbanized land to regenerate bird habitat. So when I scan daily for a story to share, this has been a top-of-mind topic for years. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for another:

Black Entrepreneurs Sow Seeds Of Healthier Eating During Pandemic Gardening Boom

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

Celebrating Urban Birds, Uptown Story

A mama hawk in West Harlem. No big deal. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Yesterday was Global Big Day, an annual birding event that we have participated in each year since we became aware of it. We became aware when Seth began working with the Celebrate Urban Birds initiative, which was also when I started paying more attention to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s important work in citizen science. We have been featuring that work in these pages ever since, including non-bird citizen science. This story from uptown New York City gives a fresh perspective on a citizen non-scientist celebrating urban birds:

He Wasn’t a Bird Person. Then a Hawk Built a Nest on His Fire Escape.

Life, death, renewal and social media ensued.

Alba, at 2 weeks old. Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Michael Palma Mir’s first encounter with the hawk was not auspicious. Around the first of March, he noticed it outside his West Harlem apartment.

In his 57 years living there, Mr. Palma Mir had never seen anything like this beautiful bird, a killer. He grabbed his camera and stuck his head out the window for a better shot.

The next thing he knew, it was right there. “It was three feet away from me and coming in real fast,” he said. “All I saw were the talons coming right at my head.” He yanked his head back inside and slammed the window, never expecting to see the bird again.

He was wrong. Continue reading

Urban Power Shifts

Center City Philadelphia, viewed from the Schuylkill River. ZOONAR GMBH / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Thanks to Jonathan Mingle  and Yale e360 for this analysis:

Cities Confront Climate Challenge: How to Move from Gas to Electricity?

Ending the use of fossil fuels to heat homes and buildings is a key challenge for cities hoping to achieve net-zero emissions. Nowhere is that more evident than in Philadelphia, where technical and financial hurdles and a reluctant gas company stand in the way of decarbonization.

In 1836, Philadelphians mostly used whale oil and candles to light their homes and businesses. That year, the newly formed Philadelphia Gas Works caused a stir when it lit 46 downtown street lamps with gas made from coal in its plant on the Schuylkill River. Continue reading

Taste Of Place Experiences In Costa Rica

While bee populations have waned throughout rural America, urban hives are thriving in cities such as Detroit, producing honey that’s reminiscent of mint, clover or goldenrod. Photo by Patricia Heal. Prop styling by Martin Bourne

Terroir is a word that has appeared often in these pages. Taste of place, a phrase with related meaning, likewise has appeared plenty of times. This phrase is a tag line used frequently in our work, based on an experience I had in Paraguay in 2005. We will begin weekly “taste of place experiences” for guests in both Authentica shops tomorrow; starting with mead, followed by chocolate, then honey, coffee and so on. Every week an artisan will present how they source ingredients, how they make their product, and how the taste of it reflects the particular location in Costa Rica where sourcing is done. So, great to see this about urban taste of place movement in our neighbor to the north:

The Growers, Bakers and Beekeepers Embracing the Terroir of American Cities

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

Long celebrated in France, the concept of place-specific tastes is spurring the revitalization of neighborhoods and communities.

THE GRAPEVINES RISE at the corner of East 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, 14 trim green rows claiming over half a city block — a little less than an acre — beside an abandoned building with boarded-up windows, whose rolling lawn on a summer morning is as lush as Versailles’s. The sky is brilliant and wide above stoplights and swoops of telephone wire. Across the tar-patched street stand storefronts behind scissor gates and a former grocery whose facade half collapsed last May, raining brick on the sidewalk. Down the avenue, the walls of another boarded-up building have been commandeered as an outdoor art gallery, papered over in posters with messages: “I survived the Hough riots”; “Growing your own food is like printing your own money.”

For centuries, the French have used the word “terroir” to describe the environment in which a wine is produced. Going back to the Latin “terra,” “earth,” it’s rooted in a traditional vision of the countryside and has become more fervently embraced as our agrarian past recedes. Continue reading

Urban Greening Ideas Are Infectious, Union Square Park Case In Point

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:

A Guiding Vision for Union Square and 14th Street

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

Bike Sharing Effectively

Getty Images

Thanks to the BBC for this feature story:

Why some bike shares work and others don’t

Bicycle share schemes have had huge success in some cities and flopped spectacularly in others – what is it that makes or breaks a bike share?

A set of iconic photos from 2017 show brightly coloured fields which, at first glance, look like meadows filled with flowers in full bloom. It takes a while to register that the images aren’t of verdant fields, but ones filled with bicycles: hundreds and thousands of two-wheelers, stacked end-to-end in what came to be called China’s bicycle graveyards. Continue reading