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 www.safari7.org 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen to 12 current episodes below, download MP3 files, or download the M4A slideshow versions to watch in iTunes.
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.
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.
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.
The East River’s high level of estrogen has the local fish swimming sideways.
Meg Kelly, Grace Robinson-Leo
The expansion of Manhattan’s East River parks mean a real estate boom for the indigenous East side squirrels.
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.
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.
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.
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.
New Yorkers have tried dozens of techniques, all unsuccessful, to control the population of the urban freeloaders otherwise known as Rock Doves.
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.
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
Glen Cummings, Principal
Barnard + Columbia Architecture students
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.