It makes all the difference in the world having easy access to a green area, as an extension of our homes and offices. For us living in urban areas, it is our platform for Nature’s green glories.
Sustainability Environment & Happiness
photo Camila Dotta
As my colleague, Doug Van Horn, Director of Nature Education at Battery Park City Parks remarked at an Earth Day Celebration this year to children attending our Bird Watching Program:
“Our mission is to find ways to bring children to Nature. We try to find interesting, and hopefully, fun things to do at the Park. I might be introducing to you a new “Hobby” * which is very interesting, my favorite one”
My Role at the Park and my observations:
I’ve learned so many lessons working in the past three years at BPCP. Among so many brilliant stories I would wish to share with you, I would like to highlight simply the importance of being more often immersed in the outdoors and also the enormous impact deep connections with our green environment can have on our lives.
Our habits begin in our homes, but it helps if we are guided and supported with healthy and fun ideas at schools, community centers, and parks. Collectively, these experiences all could radically change our lives for the better.
As role models, at home or at the park, we can influence our children and ourselves in multiple ways. We have an energetic team at the park ready to help and our clean up sessions are shared by all: role models and children alike. We mutually educate ourselves in the ways of cooperation and understanding the “Government of the Green.”
What I have learned so far is that it is not just a matter of attracting people to visit the green areas; it is important to find pleasant ways to keep them coming back. In other words, fostering the habit of being routinely in Nature is necessary to sustain passion and conscience about the world we live in. Therefore, introducing different sorts of activities, that may become new hobbies, is a way of bonding families and friends together and outdoors.
I have also noticed that the programs that we have organized and presented that involved cultural backgrounds—showing various transnational and green-invested roots through music, art, gardening, stories, sports, and many others activities—attract, connect and please families the most. International families in the NYC region find out at our programs a way to accommodate their families’ needs to immerse themselves in their neighborhoods, their communities, and start a new, richer family life. I myself hosted on daily basis different families on our programs and witnessed the impact that our work cause positively in their lives.
Stories that I remember
I still remember the day that a Japanese lady stopped by on a very cold winter day at our Pre School Play Indoor Section, with a little girl in a stroller and an baby boy in a Baby-Bjorn. She could not speak a word in English and seamed very disoriented. After two years, the family is now one of our regulars and they cannot seem happier or more comfortable around. The other day during a chess section at the Park, a father told me about his oldest of three: “Kevin is a Frequent Flyer here” : his mother brings him to all activities.” This young fellow, a 6 year old Korean boy, is a brother of Dina and a baby boy, whose name I cannot remember now.
Another very friendly mother from South Africa, married to an Iranian, told me that she really appreciated coming to our events and classes. She had moved from London to New York, with lovely 3 year old Noah and with a husband working long hours, she looked forward to our meetings because a place for her to connect with other adults and feel part of a new, welcoming community.
I will never forget all the families who have become part of our Community, whether in the short or long term. All families are unique and our role in the Park must always be dedicated to sensitively curating an agenda that serves this amazing melting pot of cultures.
Less is more, much more!
It is my personal approach in life: We all need less things to enjoy life better. And the children, for instance, also appreciate, learn and enjoy more with less material at a time. I have noticed that during our Arts Programs that they are more creative and happier with less variety.
There was a specific morning that because the weather was uncertain— rain was threatening at any moment—we left out fewer options of toys. It was one of the days that I witnessed the children interacting better with each other, more “zen” in creating their own moments and, indeed, happier. Two mothers approached me and said: “Today is better because there are fewer options and my son seems playing better” Another one said: “Yes, my daughter gets too excited and a little bit nervous with so many things. They were less stingy, today.” Hooray!
Parents and children thrive for a way to recycle the garbage and they are thrilled when we give them an opportunity to use their own recyclables and create something useful. (Obs.:there was no single event that I worked at that while using card boards and recyclables materials, the kids and even the grown ups did not have a blast, from searching for the unique pieces to the creation process and finally playing with their final pieces. We have built cities, back packs, trains, theaters with puppets, among other themes as well. One more time: Less is More!
Love. Isssues & Rules
Love can transform issues in solutions.
What I really found out is that, regardless the flag that we are standing up for or the issue that we are trying to solve in a community, it is love that matters. I mean a passion, a true interest and engagement with the cause.
Kindness, inclusion, and rules are the way to go. However, common sense and a strong sense of community, responsibility, and belonging sometimes get lost amid the new buildings, businesses, residents and visitors. For example, the signs at the Children’s Garden used to broadcast the joy of the children’s cultivation and exploration of nature. But those messages changed as now face the problem of people trespassing through the garden and upsetting the garden beds often with overly curious dogs. The children were obliged to write signs in the garden asking people not to allow their animals to mess the garden or litter or leave their cigarette butts. ( I think that responding to those issues with more aggressiveness is not the way to go and it is not helping it at all - only enforcement through fees or an inclusive and friendly campaign, engaging the residents and making them become protectors of the Park’s order, may be effective).
I admit, I literally cried once when I nicely asked a dog owner not to stay on the grass, especially not in the Children’s Garden. But the individual was extremely aggressive to me. I have often heard such responses as: “I pay the rent” or “My dog is used to big areas” or “You are being very unfair…” Such people do not understand that in order to maintain this beautiful green area in a limited waterside space without any sort of chemicals, with the entire work done manually all year, we have to give a tremendous collective effort.
It is a collective green work.
They are necessary, but it does not have to break the enchantmnent of the Park
I personally, try to work on curating situations and places for children to feel confident and develop their talents.
Happier people make better communities and such people keep influencing other groups on larger scales.
Stories from the Park
“You know why I have never won a competition of climbing trees with my cousins? Because I do not have a place to practice” - This is a quote from an eleven year old gardening student telling me that story during our class, when I had to ask him NOT to climb a tree at the park. I am not exaggerating, it hurt my soul to hear this! It really broke my heart. After that day at the park, I had to stop him from climbing and also had to explain to the other children that although climbing trees was a marvelous undertaking to do in nature (one of my own favorites, by the way), we were not allowed to do that at our park because the trees cannot handle all of the climbing from the public. It was hard to give that explanation, but I immediately came up with a dream and shared it with them. “I wish we had park with different types of trees so we could climb on them freely” - I then went on to tell them that I had a project, so far an imaginary project, and I was going to incorporate our “Tree Demand” as a part of it. Here we go, I had just set up a community dream!
The other day, we celebrated fifty years of Battery Park City, a Golden Jubilee, marking half a century since the political and social inauguration of this neighborhood. Despite the beauty of the festivities with music, neighborly picnicking, toys for the kids, and general good cheer, I was, as a Battery Park City Parks Programming Leader, once again caught in one of those crucial moments where I had to take a deep breath and interrupt happy children exploring nature through the art of climbing trees. Some children simply looked at me sadly, disappointed and left the trees. One boy broke my heart, again. He could not contain his tears and started telling me tree climbing was the only activity he loved to do at the park. It is difficult even in spite of official local park rules and regulations to deny a child this kind of play; so too it is hard to deny what one feels is so important to be: deeply connected with nature, especially in an urban environment. Understanding the desires of the young ones and the structures of the park, I have tried to make each child understand the need for more green spaces and how we can benefit from following along what might seem like very austere, even unfair prohibitions-like climbing trees.
New Generation: ops…our hope
I was happily struck by a energetic attitude from our kids at Bird Watching Class. While searching for birds at the Children Garden suddenly, one of the students, a 10 year old, called me and asked me: "Would you please explain to me why people litter? How could they do that? They should pay a fee and work for weeks cleaning the streets if they litter. And, if the person, accidentally let a piece of paper flys away, he or she should just pay a fee.” By the end of the sentence, I had already had the other students around me, reaffirming the action. Sweet Emily, a 8 year old girl in vivid yellow and with lovely braids, firmly and seriously told me: "Yes, if I become the President, I will punish people who litter, mistreat animals and cause damage to wildlife...yes, I would do that"
The Children must enjoy and LOVE Nature to take care of it!
With Love & Joy,
Vanessa, a woman thinking green
"The most important goal is for our children, in their everyday lives, to experience joy and wonder, sometimes in solitude. – For them to create their own nature experiences and, as they grow up, to expand the boundaries of their exploration.” - Richard Louv