Clean Up in Aisle NYC

After spending a year studying at Bard and living in the beautiful Hudson Valley, it has taken me quite some time to transition back into the concrete jungle that is New York City.

I started my internship on June 5th with an informative orientation at “The Arsenal” in Central Park, a beautiful historic building on 5th Avenue that houses the office I work in, in addition to the City of New York’s Parks & Recreation Department, the City Parks Foundation, the Historic House Trust, the New York Wildlife Conservation Society, the Parks Library, and the Arsenal Gallery.

Along with three other graduate students from Yale, Oberlin, and Pratt, I am a

The Arsenal and the Menagerie, c 1870

Sustainability Initiatives Intern for the city of New York in the Department of Parks and Recreation (NYCDPR). Over the past month, my time has been spent on various projects within PlaNYC, Mayor Bloomberg’s design for incorporating sustainability into the growth of New York City. My days are divided between consulting on energy savings and implementing sustainable practices into city-wide agencies, parks and recreational facilities through our Goals2Green initiative. The other interns and myself are piloting the Goals2Green project in the Arsenal, (the building I work in), and the primary objective is to incorporate sustainable practices into the work place by focusing on day to day behavior at the office. So far we have almost 100 employees that have received a reusable spork and water bottle after making a Green Pledge, we created a designated space for an office supply swap to avoid excessive consumption of office supplies, and we are monitoring energy usage on computer power strips, printers/scanners, and LED lights for research.

In addition to my work on the Parks’ Sustainability Initiative, I am constantly developing new projects, managing correspondence, and expanding databases for a city-wide youth program called the Green Teens (GT). The Green Teens Program was started by the Deputy Chief of Recreation in Queens (one of my supervisors) to engage teenagers ages 14-17 to become environmental stewards of their local parks and recreation centers. The latest GT project I am working on involves a sustainable design workshop that will be taught by professional designers and architects throughout Manhattan. The projects aims to teach interested youth how to construct a sustainable playground for children.

Teaching how to cultivate the soil at a MillionTreesNYC workshop in Queens, NY

 

Leading a MillionTreesNYC workshop at Green Teen Orientation in Queens, NY

Furthermore, my team and I are spearheading a waste management and public recycling initiative in northern Manhattan. We are developing an Anti-Litter campaign, and  I was given lead on conducting waste audits in Fort Tryon Park, Dyckman Fields, and Anne Loftus Playground. Once a week, I supervise the paid summer employees that maintain these parks; I encourage them to stay motivated throughout the day and understand the impact of their work. Occasionally I make them play icebreakers with me and we do play the “FSHHHH” game. If you’ve never played, I will gladly teach you.

Lastly, when I am not working on sustainability initiatives, my time is spent working for MillionTreesNYC—this is convenient as the MillionTreesNYC (MTNYC) folks share an office with the Sustainability Initiatives folks. MTNYC  is also a part of  Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC; it is a public-private program which calls for planting and caring for one million trees throughout the five boroughs of NYC in ten years (2007-2017). MTNYC has a Trees for Public Health (TPH) program that strategically plants trees in areas of New York City that have been identified with high levels of respiratory illnesses (asthma) in children. I have been trained to teach entry level workshops on environmental stewardship, tree care, and urban ecosystems for students, volunteers, NGOs, and interested parties.

Almost every week I am invited to attend various press events that range from Summer Watering Campaigns to Decorative Tree Bed Workshops. A few weeks ago our entire office was invited to participate in the reforestation of Wolfe’s Pond Park in Staten Island. We managed to plant over 2,000 herbaceous plants and shrubs, and only two of us got poison ivy (see photo). Our field day was followed by a private tour of an urban community garden in the other Red Hook – BROOKLYN!  We turned the compost pile, sampled fresh vegetables, and took home tomato plants (see photo).

Planting shrubs on Reforestation Day at Wolfe's Pond Park in Staten Island

So far this internship has given me freedom to develop my own ideas, collaborate with smart and passionate individuals, and represent my boss by giving presentations at meetings. NYCDPR has kept me on my feet (literally), and I don’t think I could have found a better fit for myself. Each week I attend and/or participate in city-wide consultations, meetings, conference calls, and brainstorming sessions with Borough managers, members of the Sustainability Steering Committee, and actors from various agencies and collaborating organizations such as Central Forestry, the Natural Resources Group, the New York Restoration Project, and many more.

Greenhouse at an urban community garden in Red Hook, Brooklyn

I manage my time accordingly, and since I have so much on my plate, I always have something to work on. Often, my internship extends to attending events on the weekends and I find myself working more hours during the week than originally planned. When I am not interning (or reading for my thesis), I nanny for three different families, play on 2 competitive sports teams, and am thoroughly enjoying living in the Big Apple once more!

About Diana Benlevy