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Write every day: A day in Sleepy Hollow

Phineas & I spent the day up in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. Just a short #1 subway line / metro-north combo train ride away from our neighborhood, we got to take in some of the history, lore, and outdoor art, and also enjoyed some beautiful views along the Hudson River.

After getting out of the train at Philipse Manor, we started at The Old Dutch Burying Ground of Sleepy Hollow where Washington Irving is buried. From there we walked along Broadway over the recreation of the Headless Horseman Bridge, past Philipsburg Manor, and through the town. Not much was open at the moment (due to COVID) but it was a good long walk which is what we needed! I’d love to go back in the Fall when it’s dressed up for Halloween and people are back from vacation. I also hope the historic sites will be open by then for tours (though I’d have to leave Phineas at home for those!)

Then we made our way to the Riverwalk in Tarrytown. This had gorgeous views of the Hudson, the newly dedicated Mario Cuomo Bridge, little places to eat on the water, and lots of gardens. Eventually, this will be part of a continuous 51-mile walking path along the river from Tarrytown north. In hindsight, I wish we had gotten out of the train there and done the Riverwalk first before working our way to the cemetery, mostly because that would have made the journey downhill instead of up! We’ll know for next time.

Washington Irving’s family plot
Phin looking out the train window
Sleepy Hollow cemetery
Sleepy Hollow cemetery
Philipsburg Manor
Tarrytown River Walk
View from the train
Old Dutch Reform Church
Mario Cuomo Bridge
Riverwalk garden

Write every day: Teaching 300 students about biomimicry this week

This week, I have the great pleasure and honor to teach biomimicry to 300 high school and college students through a program run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. (WCS is famously known in the U.S. for all of New York’s zoos including the Bronx Zoo, central Park Zoo, and New York Aquarium!) The feedback was terrific with some of them saying this was the best presentation they’ve had in their entire summer program and a few of them reaching out to me personally asking if I’d mentor them.

They’ve filled me with joy and I’m grateful to all of them and to WCS for the opportunity to share my passion for nature as our greatest design teacher. I’m one tiny step closer to my goal of finding a way to get biomimicry into every high school and college in the country. If you’d like me to present to your group or class (young children, teens, or adults), please let me know!

Biomimicry Offers Us Help, Hope, and Healing As We Build Back Better Together

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Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

Write every day: My Central Park

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Me with my quote. Photo by Ameet Kamath.

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Write every day: Redesign New York City schools with teachers at the table

In the product development process using design thinking and human-centered design methodologies, the very first stage is empathize. To create empathy for the people we’re creating for, a product developer like me talks with and listens to all stakeholders, and particularly to experts in the field for which we’re designing.

Teachers need to be part of the school reopening design process
I was shocked to learn from friends of mine who are teachers that this is not what’s happening in New York City schools, the country’s largest school system. None of them have been asked to participate in the design process to reimagine our schools in the era of COVID-19. The decision to reopen schools and the potential design of that reopening is being done by administrators, government officials, and, in some instances, parents. Teachers are not in the conversation (and neither are students), and yet they will be tasked with putting these plans into action. This not only lacks empathy; it’s also dangerous, inconsiderate, and setting the stage for damaging conflict.

Teachers are education experts
Subjects Matter Experts (known in product development by the acronym SME) are worth their weight in gold. They have insights that no one else in the process has. They are the center of making our strategy and plan a reality. Without their buy-in and advocacy, a product dies. Teachers (and students) need to be an integral part of the education redesign process, not just in New York City, but in every school district in the country.

How New York teachers are personally preparing for schools reopening
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of this process to witness is that my teacher friends are preparing wills, power of attorney, and life insurance policies, and getting their documents like the location of passwords in order. They know that the chance of them getting sick is high if physical schools reopen. They have family members and friends to consider in this process, just like all other people. They are preparing for battle with an invisible enemy, all while trying as best they can to love, care for, and teach their students. This sad and desperate situation is their reality while they wait for the government’s decision.

Unity is still possible
Imagine where we would be now if New York City schools had spent all this time since March 2020 getting broadband to kids who don’t have it and figuring out how best to serve differently-abled kids. Instead, we have convoluted plans that are nearly impossible to decipher with little to no buy-in that are unlikely to work and even less likely to protect teachers, staff, students, and families from getting sick. After all we’ve been through in New York, don’t we deserve a chance to be unified in our efforts to protect one another as the school year begins? It’s not too late. Unity and collaboration with all stakeholders, teachers and students very much included, is still possible.

An open plea for collaboration with teachers
Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Carranza, and members of the New York City Council, I hope you will take ownership of this process and that in that ownership you will embrace the expertise of teachers to create a school system that is safe and productive for all. Here is my commitment as a concerned community member: I would happily facilitate the product development process to redesign schools in the wake of COVID-19 and I would do it for free. How to open our schools (in whatever capacity we do that) for the 2020 school year is one of the most important decisions this city will make. Let’s pull together as New Yorkers always do in times of difficulty. Let’s listen to one another. Let’s support one another. Let’s be unified in our efforts to keep everyone safe, healthy, and inspired. It’s possible, and necessary, for the sake of all our residents. I’m here if you need me.

Write every day: What is the moss of New York?

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Moss in Riverdale Park, Bronx, New York City, August 1, 2020

Though moss is a simple plant, we shouldn’t underestimate its wisdom. It’s one of the oldest, wisest, and most experienced forms of life. Moss is an opportunist making the most of what’s available. It lies in wait, sometimes for years, for the right conditions to grow and reproduce.

Moss exhibits the skill of anabiosis When water is scarce, moss will completely dry out and play dead for as long as needed. But they aren’t dead at all. In their drying, they lay the groundwork for their renewal. Sprinkle them with a little water and the moss will spring back to life as if nothing had happened. They can also regenerate themselves from just a miniscule fragment.

Moss is the first life form to reinhabit an area that’s experienced devastation and loss. It’s the plant of second chances. Moss is hopeful. Despite destruction and stress, moss finds a way in and sets the stage for more life to return. Through their actions of collecting and holding water and contributing to the nutrient cycle of land, the will of moss changes the world, turning barren rock to gardens with enough time.

As I walk through my city of New York now, devoid of so much life and so much of what I love about it, I wonder what our proverbial moss will be. What will come back first to literally create the conditions that will seed the path for restoration and revitalization? What will create a haven for life and growth on the cultural bedrock of our city? What and who will set down roots here to build an enduring legacy for others, and how?

If only humans and our dreams could be as resilient as moss. If only we could find a way to see this time of COVID-19 only as a holding pattern. Not something that destroys us but something that makes us stronger, more resilient, more determined to thrive in the days ahead. Unfortunately we don’t have that seemingly-magical power of anabiosis. We can’t curl up in a ball, dry out, and wait for better times. We have to keep living, breathing, moving, working, eating, and growing. We’ll have to make a way out of no way, and the only way we can do that is together.

Write every day: A living example of what NYC looked like before colonization

I love to think about what New York looked like before it was New York and before the U.S. was colonized. Yesterday, my dog, Phineas, and I got to walk through a living breathing example of it. Riverdale Park in the Bronx is what’s known as a protected 50-acre Forever Wild area. The southern part of the park where we went is covered by the same type of forest that existed in pre-colonial times with tulip, 5 species of oak, black birch, and hickory trees as tall as 110-feet. The woods are on their way to becoming a mature or “climax” forest – a forest whose shade-tolerant seedlings will survive beneath their parents. Twenty-seven species of birds are also found here, including the screech owl.

The Raoul Wallenberg Forest is located across the street from Riverdale Park, and is named in honor of a Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis during World War II. His death and disappearance after being imprisoned are a mystery, and for his courage and acts of heroism he was named an honorary U.S. citizen. This forest contains many trees with trunks more than 30 inches in diameter. Dozens of species of birds, including downy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, and white-throated sparrows, can be found there.

The bedrock of Riverdale is 1-billion-year-old Fordham gneiss, the oldest rock formation in New York City. On top of the gneiss, lies Inwood marble, which was once quarried in Riverdale for the production of lime. The Palisades cliffs that you can see across the river were carved by glaciers during the last ice age that started 2.6 million years ago.

Phin and I are looking forward to exploring the northern part of the park and the historic section of Riverdale very soon!

 

 

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