Some may think of New York City as just a mess of taxi cabs, concrete, and steel high-rises. However, Assistant Professor Patrick Hurley’s Urbanization and Environment class recently got the opportunity to explore the complex interplay between this human-made cityscape and the living environment which grows in and all around it. As Professor Hurley put it, it was a chance “to explore the ways nature is woven into the urban fabric of a city like New York.”The group first visited Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where they experienced the open meadows, wooded walks, and trickling waterfalls designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Ethnobotanist and locavore Leda Meredith also introduced the students to the park’s array of wild edible plants, which includes dandelions and plantains. The class then explored the “Woodlands,” where they discussed the influence of urbanization on local ecosystems amongst the black raspberries, sassafras, and highbush cranberries–further edibles–that inhabit the space.
The students later met with officials from the U.S. Forest Service’s New York Urban Field Station for a tour of the new Brooklyn Bridge Park and Red Hook neighborhood. There they learned about the creation of Brooklyn’s newest park, the influence of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway on the neighborhood in the 1960s, urban weather effects, and local street tree care. Finally, the class visited community gardens and ended their trip at an urban farm run by “Added Value,” a local not-for-profit dedicated to educating local youth in food production and providing fresh food to nearby low income communities.
This abundance of sites allowed the students to examine both the living, natural world and the world that humans have created. According to Hurley, the experience prompted them to “consider the multiple relationships that we have with nature and the ways that our technologies mediate and alter our experiences of our surrounding environments.” — By David Hysek 2011