2017 Conservation Forum



10th Anniversary Forum

Overcoming  Our Nature Deficit

 January 11, 2017  


Brief Summary 

On January 11, 2017, 130 CGC members and guests attended the 10th Anniversary Forum, “Overcoming Our Nature Deficit,”  presented by the Conservation Committee of The City Gardens Club of New York and held at The New York School of Interior Design from 9:30 am to noon.  The meeting featured seven speakers, listed in order of presentation:

Mary Leou, Director, Wallerstein Collaborative for Urban Environmental Education, NYU, is dedicated to connecting children and teachers to nature. She began by referring to Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child In the Woods,” in which he coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe the negative effects of alienation from nature, especially in developing children. She said that we have lost our way in how we connect to nature. She explained that unlike technology, nature fosters a sense of place. There are three levels of nature awareness: 1. Viewing/Passive — books/TV; 2. Being in the presence of Nature–walking, cycling; 3. Active participation- gardening, farming and forestry. The latter is the most important for experiential, lasting effect. The process of recovery must begin early. Community gardens and parks are our urban assets. Schools could and should create more eco-centric curricula, and create school programs, internships, and opportunities for community service. Schools need to reconsider 45 minute periods with time for breaks or field trips; start early on “Go Green” summer programs.

Emily Fano, Senior Manager, National Wildlife Federation/NYC Eco-Schools. When the school program started in 1994, NWF was the sole sponsor. Today the program is in 60 countries and at 500 schools in NYC. Fano shared, to the audience’s amazement, that kids, ages 8 to 18, spend 7½ hours a day connected to electronic media. There is an early window of opportunity to introduce children to nature. Since 1970, half of the world’s population was born and half of the world’s wildlife has disappeared. She voiced concern about the “No Child Left Behind” program focused on the three Rs. As a result of this program’s focus, outdoor programs, such as recess and physical education, were cut. Alternatives to consider are outdoor classrooms, schoolyard habitats, “green hours,” micro breaks and NWF’s transformative program for middle school called “Growing Wild NYC.”  “Green Space” efforts have demonstrated increased brain activity and better test results in children.

Fatima Shama, Executive Director, Fresh Air Fund, explained that the Fund started in 1877 to address public health concerns about tuberculosis and the need for children to have clean lungs. The Friendly Towns Program sends inner-city children to host families in the suburbs. One excited city child asked, “Can we go out to your playground?” The suburban mother initially didn’t understand; she only had a backyard with two swings and a slide. The Fund also runs five independent camps in Fishkill, NY for children ages 8-15. Camps have a vegetable garden, model farm, nutrition center and a planetarium.  All campers participate in hiking, and composting  In addition, there are Saturday outdoor day trips focused on hiking, bird watching and team leadership (especially, for girls) –  offered in 15 languages.  Unfortunately, the Saturday day trips reach only a small number.  There are more than 600,000 children in NYC living in poverty; only 7,000 are served by FAF.

Sara Hobel, Executive Director of the Horticultural Society of New York, said their goal was to connect people to plants. One of the many ways that the Hort is doing that is by offering a certificate program in horticultural therapy. They have a mental health programs at Phoenix House and in supportive housing.  Their program at Riker’s Island involves over 500 locked-in, “good behavior” inmates.  Documents show reduced recidivism and increased future employment in the program’s participants.  The Department of Correction has noted this success and approved a $2.8 million budget expansion for gardens.  Like they do at Riker’s, the Hort partners with 10 city organizations to offer vocational training and transitional employment.  In addition to its focus on public parks and libraries, the Hort has built 25 school gardens in the last 8 years.  It now has a contract with the Department of Transportation for $3.3 million to work on public plazas.

Lindsay Campbell, Research Social Scientist, USDA Forest Service, is assigned to the Northern Research Station located in Central Park. She works with civic groups, public agencies and private environmental groups. Her research studies human geographies – people and place – called STEW maps. The results show that many groups are organized by site type or issue, meaning gardeners know gardeners, parks folks know park folks, water groups know water groups. Such “silos” of high environmental stewardship exist in East Harlem and the South Bronx.  The aim of her organization is to visualize the whole system in order to understand and strengthen it.  Studies have concluded that resilience comes from decentralization.  The data is being studied to find ways to increase stewardship among park users.

Ann Pedtke, Marketing and Events Manager, Student Conservation Association, explained that the SCA mission is to build the next generation of conservation leaders. After Super Storm Sandy, SCA launched ConSERVE NYC in response to people’s interest in helping. The program takes place on weekends or holidays; sites are public transit-accessible or by free shuttle.  Food and equipment and safety training are provided. Project work is accessible to all ages and experience levels.  Since 2013, SCA held 26 events, with close to 4,000 volunteers, including 70% minorities, with a 25% return rate. A young teenage Nepal refugee who had volunteered with SCA was so inspired by his experience that he organized a Student Environmental Club at his school in Queens.  Over the course of 3 years, he has provided several hundred environmental volunteers.  His work was mentioned in his acceptance letter from Middlebury College.  On January 14, 2017 Martin Luther King Day, the SCA sent 450 young people to Morningside Park for a “day of service”.  They spread out to 8 different areas to work, including the area designated for the City Gardens Club Anniversary Project.

Douglas Blonsky, President and CEO of Central Park Conservacy. Central Park was initiated in 1858 by Frederick Law Olmsted to create a natural environment amidst the expanding urban sprawl and disappearing greenery. In 1978, in response to the Park’s deteriorated condition, the Central Park Conservancy was established. When Blonsky took over, every street lamp was broken. Now in stellar condition, Central Park usage has grown from 12 million in 1981 to 40 million in 2014 and crime statistics have declined.  Blonsky also talked about the park wildlife.  When trash cans were removed from the northern end of the park, rats disappeared and chipmunks returned for the first time in 20 years. He recounted a call from one alarmed lady who demanded, “There’s a raccoon – do something about it.”  He calmly explained that raccoons sleep in trees during the day – their “homes.” He advised, raccoons are only a threat if you feed them. Finally, he noted that spring comes three weeks later to the south end of the park due to a lasting frost from high-rise shadows.

Conference conclusion: Dr. Mary Leou wrapped up the conference by asserting that each and every one of us can make a difference in stopping “nature deficit disorder” by advocating that all of us, especially children, spend time connecting with the wonders of nature.