Safari 7

In the fall of 2008, Janette Kim and Kate Orff, co-directors of the Urban Landscape Lab at Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), and Glen Cummings, founder of the graphic design firm MTWTF, began collaborating on research into different models of ecological interpretation. The National Parks Service model, for example, has historically defined the national park as a preserved, natural and “unbuilt” system with the park ranger as tour guide. Janette, Kate and Glen felt the need to suggest an alternative that treats the city and its complex ecosystems as a national park, challenging the preconceptions that divorce theories of environment and ecology from the experience of architecture and the built environment.

One of the first steps was to develop a seminar for undergraduates at the Barnard and Columbia Colleges Architecture Program that used podcasts as a medium to read the political ecology of New York, along one of the city’s diverse spines: the 7 train. Read below for their introduction to the project and a self-guided podcast tour from Times Square to Flushing.

Listen to the podcasts below or download them for your next trip along the 7, and be sure to check in on the Safari 7 project often: many more phases are coming soon, starting this summer with new tours and maps, podcasts and interviews, and expansion into cellphone and social networking venues.- C.S.

This past Saturday at 11:00 a.m. sharp, a group of architects, artists, and students boarded the 7 Local at Times Square Station to participate in the launch of Safari 7, a self-guided tour of urban animal life along New York City’s No. 7 subway line.

The 7 Line is a physical, urban transect through New York City’s most diverse collection of human ecosystems.  Affectionately called the International Express, the 7 line runs from Manhattan’s dense core, under the East River, and through a dispersed mixture of residences and parklands, terminating in downtown Flushing, Queens, the nation’s most ethnically diverse county. Here, in territories excavated by Robert Moses’ transportation networks, watersheds constructed by the World’s Fair, and tree canopies stretched across residential street grids, species find systems necessary for survival, develop mating rituals and behaviors amidst inter-species competition and cooperation, and respond to migration, colonization, and disturbances of this dynamic urban landscape. By mapping the complexity, biodiversity, conflicts, and potentials of our urban ecosystems Safari 7 aims to unpack the role of architecture and the related disciplines in the construction of networks, spatial patterns, enclosures, grounds, rituals, and policies that are the city’s life support mechanism.

The project uses a range of media – podcasts, maps, signs, schedules and social networking tools – to create a platform where commuters, school children, subway operators – and yes, architects – can connect to New York City’s ecosystems as they travel through it.  New York’s transit system acts as an eco-urban classroom, and passengers become their own park rangers, or safari guides.


Click on the links below to play the podcasts through your browser or here to download the podcasts and listen during your next 7 train commute. These podcasts were created by students in a seminar on urban ecology at the Barnard and Columbia Colleges Architecture Program.

Throughout the summer we will organize tours, publish new maps, podcasts and interviews, and expand to cellphone and social networking venues. We are working to initiate further dialogue with educators and community activists throughout the city. Please visit to learn more. Listen in, and check back for more in the future.

Do you have information about sites of interest along the 7 line? Have you seen a curious landscape along the tracks that you have always wondered about? Are you interested in collaborating? We welcome your findings on New York’s diverse ecosystems in the comments field below, and we invite you to join the mailing list or say hello at

Listen to 12 current episodes below, download MP3 files, or download the M4A slideshow versions to watch in iTunes.

Germs / 42 St – Times Square

Alex Cook, Ryan Johns

From Flushing Station to 42nd Street, more germs ride the #7 line each day than people do in a year. A closer look at the microecology of NYC’s microscopic commuters.

U Thant Island / Grand Central – 42 St

Alison Von Glinow, Lesley Merz

Off the grid and hidden in plain sight, U Thant Island is made from the leftovers from the 7 line’s Steinway tunnel and is home to NYC’s cormorant population. Interviews with John Mattera, Parks & Recreation Librarian, NYC Dept of Parks and Recreation and Dr. Susan Elbin, Director of Conservation, New York City Audubon Society.

Oysters / Vernon Blvd – Jackson Av

Aaron Hsieh, Evelyn Ting

Back in the day Queens Bay was NYC’s raw bar, home of the largest oyster population on the East Coast. Interview with Katie Mosher-Smith, NY-NJ Baykeeper.

Dope Fish / Hunters Point Av

Alex Vial

The East River’s high level of estrogen has the local fish swimming sideways.

Squirrels / Queensboro Plaza

Meg Kelly, Grace Robinson-Leo

The expansion of Manhattan’s East River parks mean a real estate boom for the indigenous East side squirrels.

Dogs / 40 St – Lowery St

Sayli Korgaonkar

From 5th Avenue to Times Square, the price of real estate is directly related to what size dog you keep. Canine demographics across two boroughs.

Ecology of Death / 52 St

Alex Cook, Ryan Johns

Calvary Cemetery, one the largest urban necropolises in the nation, has an ecology and chemistry all its own. A look at what goes in, what comes out, and what we should know about the dead in New York City.

Courtyards / 82 St – Jackson Hts

Aaron Hsieh, Evelyn Ting

Away from the street and behind brick walls are well-tended garden oases. Are these historic landscapes, public playgrounds, or private gated communities? Residents, preservationists, and neighbors weigh in. Interviews with Donald Karatzas, Author of Jackson Heights: A Garden in the City, Ed Westley and anonymous residents.

Reef Condos / 90 St – Elmhurst Av

Lesley Merz, Alison Von Glinow

Homo sapiens aren’t the only New Yorkers riding NYC’s subway cars. Aquatic New Yorkers strap-hang in decommissioned cars which have been used to build reefs around Manhattan Island.

Pigeons / Junction Blvd

Alex Vial

New Yorkers have tried dozens of techniques, all unsuccessful, to control the population of the urban freeloaders otherwise known as Rock Doves.

Chickens / 103 St – Corona Plaza

Meg Kelly, Grace Robinson-Leo

The urban chicken occupies two spots in Queen’s Corona Park, the egg-maker for suburban farmers and the heavy in backroom cock-fights. Audio footage of Owen Taylor is from Leonard Lopate, December 21, 2006, and of Martin Edmund and Charlie Johnson from Cockfighters: The Interviews by Stephanie J. Castillo.

Flushing Meadows / Willets Point – Shea Stadium

Emily Glass, Stephanie Odenheimer

This former ash dumping ground became the site of the 1964 World’s Fair, and is also the site of some fishy and fowl activities. Audio footage from NPR’s All Things Considered.

Our team is a collaboration among architects, designers, educators, and graphic designers from the Urban Landscape Lab and MTWTF. The Urban Landscape Lab is an interdisciplinary applied research group at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation focused on the analysis and transformation of ecological processes and urban systems. MTWTF is a graphic design studio specializing in publications, environmental graphic, and identity systems. Safari 7 podcasts aired at the first launch were created by students from the Barnard and Columbia Colleges Architecture Program.

Urban Landscape Lab:
Janette Kim and Kate Orff, Directors
Lisa Ekle
Robin Fitzgerald-Green
Evan Sharp

Glen Cummings, Principal

Barnard + Columbia Architecture students
Alex Cook
Emily Glass
Aaron Hsieh
Ryan Johns
Meg Kelly
Sayli Korgaonkar
Lesley Merz
Stephanie Odenheimer
Grace Robinson-Leo
Evelyn Ting
Alexandre Vial
Alison Von Glinow

Thank you to Karen Fairbanks, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Professional Practice and Chair, Architecture at the Barnard and Columbia Colleges Architecture Program; and Gavin Browning, Programming Coordinator at Studio X.

The views expressed here are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.

Janette Kim is an architectural designer, critic, and educator based in New York City. She is principal of All of the Above and teaches at Barnard College and Columbia University GSAPP, where she is director of the Urban Landscape Lab.
Kate Orff is a registered landscape architect and an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urban Design at Columbia GSAPP. She is also director of the Urban Landscape Lab.
Glen Cummings is a graphic designer and writer based in New York City. He is a partner at MTWTF (Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday) and a lecturer in design at Yale University School of Art, New Haven, Connecticut.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.


R.E.O. May 21, 2009

I enjoyed the safari and hope to see it expanded.

Approaching the 46th St. (Bliss St.) station on the south side,
the Wendy’s, between 44th & 45th Sts., was formerly the site of Sunnyside Gardens, (a boxing and wrestling venue), and until 1945, the site of indoor tennis courts built by the millionaire Jay Gould. The building was torn down in 1977.

PS. re: 52nd St. It’s Calvary (not Cavelry) Cemetery

Carol Cummings October 15, 2009

I have lived in Flushing N.Y. all my life and worked in N.Y.C. taking the 7 line to Grand Central Station and have learned many things that I had never thought about by just passing through. Thanks to this group of talented people for all this information.