Postnatural Design: Arts of Noticing at Brooklyn Bridge Park
At the beginning of the semester we were assigned to choose a local ecosystem for regular observation. I haven't posted regular updates despite regular visits and documentation (below), and upon reflection recognize that this is because these moments were truly a respite from a difficult semester during which I've been questioning my participation in the tech art economy. The project called for the "art of noticing" without grid distraction, and so my excursions became a transcendentalist practice, a time and space to re-organize my priorities and remember the reciprocal impact between my self and the world through which I walk.
Intro to Brooklyn Bridge Park
When ITP was on Broadway I made regular excursions to nearby parks and gardens for the sake of sanity, so I had made a goal of finding that "escape zone" equivalent close to the Brooklyn campus. On day one of classes I walked about 20 minutes west of campus to Brooklyn Bridge Park and immediately knew I found "my" spot. So it was only natural for me to choose the waterfront when we received this assignment the next day. The park actually stretches along 1.3 miles of waterfront connected by a greenway, from John St Park in DUMBO to Pier 6 at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights. The Park is sort of a string of ecosystems, a sort of Urban estuary of utility, conservation, and commerce, activating biospheric interaction through leisure, education, transportation, and play on the human side. The non-human organism side consists of a wide variety of biological communities, and I ended up choosing two observation spaces for the semester.
Pier 6 Flower Field
I started my weekly excursions at the Pier 6 Flower Field mostly because I was struck by how incredibly distinct the atmosphere there was from the area surrounding 370 Jay Street. It's sort of amazing how quickly one can escape from the bureaucratic hellscape of Downtown Brooklyn, and more amazing that it seems that so few people venture just 20 minutes west to do so. It always felt like a secret garden of sorts, and my observations here were rarely interrupted by other human visitors. The Flower Field was especially attractive to me because downtown Manhattan rises from behind the flora, creating a surreal experience of a brick and glass calamity emerging from the native species cultivated on the waterfront... from my observation spot, non-human bodies in the foreground and human bodies in the background were about the same size, and as densely populated/active.
Pier 4 Beach
I was actually visiting Pier 4 beach every time I made an excursion, with the intention of keeping it as my "secret" place undisturbed by assignment and deadline. But I fell so deeply in love with it that sometimes I would end up visiting only the beach and neglecting the flower fields, so inevitably it became wrapped into the art of noticing. I have to admit I'm a little reticent to share it here; Pier 4 beach was somehow even quieter than the flower fields, despite being visible from the greenway. I want to be selfish about it, and keep one zone of respite out of the grips of my schoolmates... but I realized that it *literally takes an assignment* to get many of us on the Brooklyn campus to even just acknowledge the biosphere around us, so I think it's safe to say it will probably remain "too out of the way" for NYU folks.
Seasonal Changes, maintenance
The first week of September to the first week of December provides a visible seasonal "cycle" for both locations, though they express very differently. The Flower Field cycled from abundant and colorful to browns and greys that blended into the urban landscape:
September (milkweed, winged sumac, seaside goldenrod, prairie dropseed, smooth aster, heath aster, blueberry magnolia)
November. The BBPD group chose blue wood aster and seaside goldenrod because they bloom in mid to late autumn and they wanted to keep a semblance of natural color in the fields for as late into the year as possible. Woolgrass becomes visible.
The beach didn't change much in appearance, but after a generally empty couple months, it started to get some new visitors in November...
I checked BirdCast's migration radar maps and found the following (for the Mallards and the Canadian Geese respectively)
My favorite habit cultivated during this semester-long practice was zooming in to try to observe to the under-noticed. With a couple of exceptions, these are the items that don't make it onto iNaturalist... some because they are inorganic, yet they still play a major role in the local ecosystem. Others are actually organic, but for some reason are not valued for identification purposes as I could not find them among the nearly 400 observations on iNaturalist. I uploaded them upon putting my documentation together, which will hopefully validate their existence as part of the biological community!
First, the unnamed of the flower field... from top left clockwise is Cercospora, bladder galls, and two cases of Septoria leaf spot:
The identified micros of the flower field followed a parallel seasonal cycle as the plants. Here are the aphids, in September, October, and November. It turns out that cold weather triggers wing development in aphids so they can fly to other plants and lay "overwinter" eggs:
The unnamed on the beach I have still yet to identify. I think they are either mayfly or dragonfly larvae, they may also be a small crustacean of sort. They're nearly impossible to take a picture of, but I suppose that you can net and release them for still images. I found them in the man-made tide pools that apparently served as home to some baby horseshoe crabs in August... I really could have spent the entire semester observing these tide pools alone.
Also under-noticed but very present on the beach was plastic trash. While varying widely in manifestation, two seemed to be the most popular: drug baggies and straws:
I developed a pretty deep relationship with the waterfront over the last three months and don't see us breaking up anytime soon. There are lots of opportunities to join conservation and stewardship efforts, though they all wrapped in October. They start volunteer orientations again in early 2020, and I'd like to invite interested classmates to message me if you'd like to join. I'll maintain contact with the BBP volunteer department and send out a message once I get notice, and hopefully you'll find your own transcendental practice on the waterfront while serving toward the health of our city.