Presenting the Landscapes of Resilience: Queens, NY at Disturbanist Discourse 2015

Left: Alex Castillo-Kesper (Design and Urban Ecologies Alumni, Organizer at American Federation of Teacher), Middle: Renae Reynolds (Theories of Urban Practice Alumni, Project Coordinator at US Forest Service), Right: Charlie Wirene (Design and Urban Ecologies Alumni, Program Manger at Active Citizen Project). Photo by HUP_UP

Left: Alex Castillo-Kesper (Design and Urban Ecologies Alumni, Organizer at American Federation of Teacher), Middle: Renae Reynolds (Theories of Urban Practice Alumni, Project Coordinator at US Forest Service), Right: Charlie Wirene (Design and Urban Ecologies Alumni, Program Manger at Active Citizen Project). Photo by HUP_UP


By, Renae Reynolds

Landscapes of Resilience, Project Coordinator

On November 6h, 2015 I participated in the third installation of the Disturbanist Discourse. This event was organized by HUB_Up, a group of current students and alumni of urban programs at Parsons New School for Design. Disturbanist Discourse is a forum designed to foster knowledge exchange among broad perspectives in urban practices to challenge normalized urban processes. In the past, the forum took shape as interactive workshops (walking tours) and lectures. This year’s iteration invited alumni from interdisciplinary urban programs to share their current work. My interest in participating in this forum was two-fold: to bring more awareness to the sacred and holistic benefits of nature as we are studying these processes through the Landscapes of Resilience: Queens, NY Project and to connect with current students who are thinking about new and exciting career paths.

The discussion was structured in three panels with of three panelists on each. Speakers would have 10 minutes to present followed by an open discussion with the audience. The range of work spanned from historians and budding novelists, to app developers, visual communicators, education activists, and affordable housing advocates providing a rich spectrum of urban practices, burgeoning and brimming with potential. This presented a sort of road map for current students and validated the lessons taught by faculty members.

My presentation included a brief background on the Landscapes of Resilience project in Queens, NY, our interdisciplinary team, and an introduction to the TFK Foundation and its mission. In my talk, I highlighted some of the most impactful moments that have occurred since June 2015 when I began working on the project. I focused on key events including the summer workshop series, which engaged resident gardeners to design signs for their individual garden plots and the collaborative cleanup day with local youth for the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. I talked about how our engagement has lead to increased agency among the Beach 41st.resident gardeners. Citing one example I spoke about a first time gardener who did extraordinarily well in her first season of growing. Her work was recognized when she was awarded a first place in the citywide NYCHA Garden and Greening Annual Competition. Her participation in community greening has sparked interest in attending a farm school and the exploration of a new career path. In addition to her award, another gardener at B41 received a second place prize in the vegetable category for Queens, NY and a groundskeeper received a community-building award for her work assisting the gardeners.

Finally, I discussed the developing network of gardeners and growers in the c community surrounding the project site, including members of such local organizations as the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger (BSCAH), Edgemere Farm, the Rockaway Youth Task Force and the Seagirt Community Gardens. When I spoke with each of these groups they expressed interest in collaborating with one another. Some of the barriers to collaboration included past negative experiences in partnerships as well as lack of organizational capacity to establish and foster such relationships. However my position as an embedded participant researcher allowed me to act as a supportive facilitator to the process of community building. My facilitation lead to recent meetings among these groups to discuss the development of a collective among greeners and growers on the peninsula. This collective is now working together to exchange resources, knowledge

Along with sharing the main highlights of the Landscapes of Resilience, I shared my perspective as a participant researcher. Those insights included: recognition of my position as a fellow resident of the Rockaways and how this shared identity allows me to connect with community members at B41st, and how my imbedded presence has increased residents’ access to information about the project developments. In fact, the flow of information is reciprocal as I am able to maintain awareness about the shifts in social dynamics through frequent non-prescriptive engagement.

During the follow-up discussion the audience was able to ask direct questions. One question posed to me was about my experience working with NYCHA. My response credited NYCHA in its partnership on this innovative project. I talked about the effort the agency has made to support the residents through this and other green spaces on NYCHA properties and I also touched on some of the difficulties, which may be inherent in operating within large organizations and systems. In spite of any challenges, delays or setbacks we have been able to move forward as a team with NYCHA and the results to date stand contrary to other less favorable perceptions. Ultimately, I conveyed a message that showed that NYCHA is committed to this project, committed to the residents and to the legacy and impact of its Greening and Growing program. When asked about our personal hopes or expectations for our work, I expressed my desire to support the increased agency of the residents at Beach 41st.

Participation in this year’s panel, not only gave me an amazing opportunity to share the unique nature of our project and personal reflections on my own experience within a dynamic and interdisciplinary team, but it also reflected the growth of each individual practitioner since emergence from the urban programs as well as the bridging of a gap between the wealth of intellect incubated within the theoretical realm and the realm of practice. I believe linking these two realms is crucial to fostering new practitioner’s ability to positively impact existing systems and, when necessary to disruptive normative modes of operation.

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We are a private nonprofit that supports, informs, and inspires the creation of publicly accessible urban green spaces. We believe that every city resident needs nearby green space to provide opportunities for mindfulness, respite, and renewal. The Foundation has issued its final grants to build five Open Spaces Sacred Places and research the impacts on a variety of users with the hope that the powerful connection between nature, spirit and human wellbeing will be scientifically proven.

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