Monday, May 4, 2015

Hortus Gifts for Mother's Day 2015

Celebrate the mothers in your life with gifts from these three four women-owned businesses!

Gamine Co. makes workwear for women. All products are made in the US and designed to be functional, durable, and feminine. Taylor Johnston, horticulturist and greenhouse supervisor at the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston, is the head designer and company founder. Get your dungarees and other Gamine workwear here. (I hear that a curvy version of the dungarees in the works.)

I follow The Sill on Instagram and Pinterest. I haven't been to their Lower East Side shop but it's on my Field Trip list. I especially like the Olmsted (in Pink) and the Calvert (in Sonora) succulents which are pictured above. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed many great city parks throughout the US. The Sill was founded by Eliza Blank and the plants sold by the company are grown in the US. The tools used by a Sill indoor gardener were a Tools of the Trade feature.

I have heard great things about Shoots & Roots Bitters and briefly overlapped with one of the founders, Ashley DuVal, in the East Bay, California! The other two partners are Rachel Meyer, PhD and Selena Ahmed, PhD. Each bitter is influenced by the academic skill set of each of the partners -- ethnobotany, plant evolutionary biology, and food systems and agro-forestry. Each ingredient is genetically tested to ensure its authenticity. I am a big tea drinker so of course the Chai Jolokia made this list. Check out all 9 bitters.

We visited Nalata Nalata a couple of months ago in hopes of finding a birthday gift for a family member. The "birthday girl" creates beautiful invitations, so while there were beautiful objects in the shop, I decided on a set of pretty washi paper envelopes. For this Hortus list, the various plant shears seemed just right. Pictured above are the Tajika flower and herb shears.

My thanks to Gamine Co, The Sill, Shoots and Roots Bitters, and Nalata Nalata for providing the images. This post was edited on May 5, 2105 to include photos from Nalata Nalata.

P.S. I like the various Tajika shears at Nalata Nalata.

P.S. Edible Manhattan has an outstanding profile of Shoots & Roots Bitters in its May-June 2015 issue.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tree species of Washington Square Park

Have you used the mobile WSP Eco Map of the trees and historic Minetta Creek of Washington Square Park? There's nothing to download. Simply go to to use the map. The map includes almost all of the trees growing in the park. To come: locations of the nesting boxes and trees with ID tags and memorial plaques. Here's a list of the trees you can expect to find in the park.

P.S. The Eco Map was written about at WSP BlogCurbed NY, and 6sqft.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Interview with Tristan Donovan, author of Feral Cities

Tristan Donovan graciously answered several questions about his new book Feral Cities (read our review here), the top 3 surprising things about wildlife in the city, and his next book project.

You write about the genesis of the book on pages 4-6. It began with red foxes in the UK. Can you tell us how you chose the cities you include in the book? Did you travel to more cities than you included in the book?

Each one began with me, Atlas open, scanning the pages and going, 'Indianapolis - I wonder what might live there' or 'Phoenix! That's bound to have something'. Then I'd try to find out what animals were living there and whether there was a researcher or animal control team who could show me what was happening there. All the cities I visited are in the book but there were plenty more I would have gone to if money was no object.

Your first two book books are quite different topically from Feral Cities. In what ways was it different to research and write this book?

Feral Cities was very different. Replay and Fizz are history books so the research was mainly going through archives or doing remote interviews. By contrast Feral Cities involved traveling to places, tracking down animals and seeing what was going on first-hand. That changed the writing too. In Replay and Fizz I'm a silent narrator but in Feral Cities I'm often recounting what I saw so I'm a presence in the book, which gives it a bit more of a travel book flavor.

I expected the coyote, songbirds, baboons (from seeing the cover). Not even the rat or roach were surprising. But I did not expect the chicken. It's so different than escaped pets gone wild. The chicken is a domesticated animal + food source gone wild. Are there other animals that fit in this category?
There are a few. Feral dogs are probably the most common example, it's a particular problem in some of the former communist countries of Europe. When communism collapsed, people abandoned their pets because they couldn't afford to feed them so there's now sizeable populations of feral dogs in Bucharest and Moscow for example.

In India there are feral cows. Indian cities have these tiny dairies with one or two cows that sell the milk and they often have a, shall we say, lax approach to containing their cattle. So sometimes the cows go awol and end up eating garbage and plastic bags. The chickens in Miami have a much nicer life.

Can you tell us the top 3 surprising things you learned about feral life in cities?

One of the most surprising things is that cities can help protect endangered species. I didn't expect that. It's not enough to make up for the losses caused by urban expansion but enough to make it possible to think that cities could have a role to play in conservation.

I was constantly surprised at the ways animals adapted to city life too whether it's coyotes learning to cross the road or house sparrows working out how to operate automatic doors.

Another surprise is how little we know about the bug life in our homes. I assumed someone would have studied it but no, we know very little about household ecology. You have creatures like the house centipede and we know barely anything about its behavior and role within the strange, unexplored miniature ecosystems we call home.

Did writing the book change any of your perceptions about cities and wildlife?

Totally. Before writing it I was fairly oblivious to urban wildlife. I might see a pigeon and avoid stepping on it but I wouldn't think about it at all. Now I find myself scanning for urban animals everywhere I go and appreciating it.

If you were asked to spearhead a "Feral Cities" campaign or department in your city, what would it look like? Are there cities that you would consider model cities?

It'll be a mix of education and planning reform I think. I think raising people's awareness of what lives alongside them is a good thing - not just because it could reduce the problems caused when people feed some animals but also because it can help people enjoy city life more.

On the planning side it would be great to be able to encourage development that supports animals, maybe through encouraging the connection of green spaces or creating places that help animals to live within the city. I'm quite taken by Berlin's on-off vision for connecting up all of its green space, it's not happened but it's a great idea.

I would want the campaign rooted in realism too though. More wildlife in cities is great, but there's got to be a balance. If, for example, there's lots of urban deers causing traffic accidents or Canada geese threatening aircraft safety that's got to be dealt with. But an opossum knocking over your trash can, that's fine.

Of the animals you profile in the book, what are favorite 3? Why?

The chickens in Miami were great, I loved the way their presence reflects cultural attitudes and I don't think I'll ever forget the image of the team running around the streets with chasing chickens with fishing nets.

I thought the stone martens in Berlin were great too with their strange territorial relationship with automobiles. The way that behavior has spread around central Europe is amazing.

The baboons of Cape Town and how they acted like criminal gangs are another favorite.

What will you write about next?

Board games! I've just signed a deal for a book about board games, not a history more a look at what they tell us about ourselves. Also it's about time I gave Replay an update so a second edition of that is also on the cards. But I'd love to do a sequel to Feral Cities. I've already got a long list of animals and cities I want to cover if that ever happened.

Thanks for taking the time, Tristan. I appreciate your thoughtful responses.
All photos courtesy of Tristan Donovan.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Pop-Up Smartphone Photo Hunt in the Village

Hipstamatic in Action by Intel Free Press via Wikimedia Commons (source)

Open iCal or your old-fashioned planner and pen in May 2nd for a 2 Hour Pop-Up Smartphone Photo Hunt in the Village with SPY (NYC Spark Your Creativity).

Have you heard the saying: “The best camera is the one you have with you?” Use your smartphone camera to capture spring in the green open spaces of Greenwich Village. SPY photographer Margherita Andreani will be your techie and artistic guide for the session. Marghy and WSP Eco Projects meet participants at 11:00am sharp at 'NYU Starbucks’ 45 West 4th (map it) for introductions and photo hunt instructions before exploring the eco-friendly green spaces in the heart of the Village. We regroup at 12:15 at 'NYU Starbucks’ 45 West 4th for photo review and instructions on sharing your favorite pix of the day. Come have some fun on a springtime photo hunt and learn more about making art with your smartphone.

Remember: Bring your fully charged smartphone. We recommend you upload Camera+ for the adventure.

This SPY Village session is in conjunction with WSP Eco Projects.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Book Review: Feral Cities by Tristan Donovan

Image: Feral Cities cover photo of a Chacma baboon group raiding an apartment building in South Africa

Tristan Donovan’s new book about wild animals in cities is a departure from his previous books — about the history of video games and the invention of soda. Feral Cities: Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle has a broad geographic scope. Donovan recounts human-animal (and sometimes animal-animal) interactions in major cities in the U.S., Western Europe, India, and South Africa. The range of animals is equally, if not more, wide-ranging: rattlesnake, chicken, African land snail, starling, boar, raccoon, coyote, leopard, cougar, monk parakeets, yellow-bellied sapsucker, silver-eared bat, camel cricket, Norway rat, German cockroach, kit fox, and more.

The chapters — 19 in total — are evocatively titled; for example, Singing a Different Song (songbirds literally sing differently in cities). Each chapter packs a lot of detail and you will find more in the References. This book is full of the natural histories of the wild animals that live in cities but it does not read like a text book. Donovan writes like a cross between a novelist and a science reporter (he has a degree in ecology). In addition to exposing details, Donovan assembles big picture concepts such as the how of sustaining wild animals in our cities (or “gardening a city to support beneficial species” per Rob Dunn) and mindfully co-exiting with wildlife, a theme Tim Beatley wrote about in a Biophilic Cities blog post.

Below are some of my favorite details from the book. You can purchase a copy of Feral Cities at Chicago Review Press or on Amazon. My copy of the book c/o of Chicago Review Press. This review reflects my honest opinions.

The red fox in Berlin does not behave like a red fox in a rural setting. The urban red fox does not make dens in the soil. They make dens in houses or basements.

The coyote in Chicago can make you aware of overlooked landscape features. “In downtown Chicago, believe it or not, there’s shrubbery along the lakeshore and crevices in rocks that they use. There could be a trash pile somewhere and they would burrow underneath that during the day….These easy-to-miss hideaways, together with the railroad tracks they often use t travel around unseen, have helped coyotes go deep into the city.”

Relocating a leopard from Mumbai to forests can make the animal susceptible to stress — it is in unfamiliar territory without its social network — thus making it more likely to attack humans. “I realized that the animals living in human-sue landscape were living there with very low levels of conflict, and when you stat taking them out and leaving them in the forests because we expect them to be in the forests we are actually messing it up.”

Ant The pigeon makes an appearance in this book! And we learn that we are complicit in the species — both the tame ones in dovecotes and especially the ones that rebelled — complete acclimation to cities. “Some rebelled, abandoning the dovecotes to make their own way on the streets, where he characteristics we bred into them turned out to be powerful assets. Tameness, speed, agility, fast-breeding, adaptable.

Another surprising detail about the pigeon: not all pigeons rely on garbage. It is context dependent. In Leeds, 50% of a pigeon’s diet is garbage while in Prague, only 3% of the pigeon’s diet is human food. Half of Milan’s pigeon population flies to surrounding farms in the morning to eat grain. The other half eat human food in the Piazza del Duomo.

Remember I mentioned that songbirds sing differently in cities? In response to urban noise and in some cases to the acoustic effects of surfaces and buildings, songbirds sing when its quiet, sing loudly, sing at different pitches, and sing shorter or faster songs.

It might be impossible to reduce the number of bugs in your home. The researchers behind the Arthropods of Our Homes project in North Carolina observed about the same number of species (100) in each home they surveyed. The number of species was regardless of the amount of pesticide used and the frequency of cleaning of the home. New Yorkers might be happy to know that owning a dog made a difference in the diversity of bugs in a home. (The folks behind Arthropods of Our Homes are part of the Rob Dunn’s lab at North Carolina State University. I was a citizen scientist in the Ants on Broadway study which gets a mention in Donovan’s book.)

Speaking of less charismatic wildlife, Donovan cleared up an urban myth about rats. There is not a rat for every person in New York. Did you know that rats are wary and don’t like change? These traits make them suspicious of (poison laden) rat traps.

We have created “sugar-phobic” roaches according to research conducted by Rob Dunn. In response to the sugar bait used by pest controllers, German cockroaches have evolved to taste sweet as bitter!

Throughout Feral Cities we learn about our attempts to eradicate, moderate, and tenuously exist alongside weedy and charismatic wildlife. I’d like to end this review with an extensive quote from the last page of the book. It captures the next chapter in our ever-changing relationship with wild animals.
…we’ve first got to stop thinking of cities as barre, anti-nature zones. This environment we’ve built, this urban biome, is teeming with life, but all too often we just blank it out. “I was in a meeting just yesterday and a wow was there from another zoo, and she made this statement that ‘I love it when kids from to the zoo. For many of them it’s the first time they’ve ever seen a wild animal,’” Seth tell me as we sit on that bench looking out over Chicago.

“I just had to stand up and say, ‘That’s not true! They have all seen squirrels, they have all seen pigeons, and the fact that you don’t think of them as wildlife does not mean they aren't wildlife. It’s just that you are so attuned to them being around, you no longer think of them as wildlife.’”

And as I sit with Seth, I see the evidence all around us. The cliff swallows under the bridge. The rare black-crowned night heron standing in the water. The squirrels scampering up the trees. And out there in the city, beyond the oo, there are crows hunting dazed indigo buntings on the streets, ants nesting under the sidewalks, spitting spiders roaming apartments, pigeons pecking at crumbs, and coyotes snoozing unseen in the bushes.

The city is alive. The wild is here, right on our doorstep, in our streets and inside our homes.

All we have to do is open our eyes.

P.S. For more about Feral Cities, read Alissa Walker's Q&A with the author Tristan Donovan over at Gizmodo as well as Matt Soniak's 12 ways cities change animals and vice versa over at Next City.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

May Events - Photo Hunt & Nature Walk in Washington Square Park

May in Washington Square Park is lively - with people and wildlife both floral and faunal. WSP Eco Projects has organized two walks in the park and you are invited.

The May 2 event in Washington Square Park has been cancelled. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Smartphone (iPhoneography) Photo Hunt in Washington Square Park
Saturday, May 2, 11 am - 1:30 pm
Join art educator and photographer Roberta Fineberg on a photo-journaling tour of the park. Use your smartphone and master the Camera+ and Diptic apps to read and capture landscape features and tell your story of the park. Early Birds tickets are still available!

Spring Nature Walk in Washington Square Park
Friday, May 8, 11 am - 12:15 pm
Dr. Leslie Day returns to observe all the wild things of the park -- trees, herbaceous perennials, birds, and mammals. For the geology buffs, we don't have the Hartland formations found in Pelham Bay Park or the Manhattan schist common to Central Park, but Washington Square Park has approximately 122,640 cubic feet of Tuckahoe marble. Can you guess where it is?!

Eventbrite - Spring Nature Walk in Washington Square Park

Please note that 10% of ticket sales for the May 2 event will benefit WSP Eco Projects. The May 8 event is free but your suggested donation of $5 will help to offset WSP Eco Projects expenses. Thank you.

Monday, April 6, 2015

May 8 - Spring Nature Walk in Washington Square Park

Image: Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City by Leslie Day (source)

Spring is definitely here! Learn more about the nature in our favorite park on May 8. Join naturalist Dr. Leslie Day in exploring the park for birds, mammals, trees, and flowers. It's possible to see invertebrates (earthworms, for example, depending on the weather). Might we find mushrooms or even geologic remnants? The Arch is made of Tuckahoe marble. Come on out to the park and see for yourself!

Don't forget your notebook, camera, binoculars, or whatever tools you use on your nature walks.

Eventbrite - Spring Nature Walk in Washington Square Park

Until we see you on May 2, check out all of Dr. Day's field guides including her NEWEST book, Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City.

Image: Field Guide to the Neighborhood Birds of New York City by Leslie Day (source)