Building Community By Being There

By Paloma McGregor

Our trio of collaboration is growing simply by showing up to do the work. A couple weeks ago, Becky and I met Josue at a BRA event at Concrete Plant Park, and now he has joined our team. We hope to also bring in Charles, a photographer, grandfather and Bronx native, who is an avid supporter of the Bronx River restoration. And there’s Alex, who is a program assistant at Rocking the Boat.

This week, we met twice and each day added a new potential participant in this work. There’s Joe, pastor at the church that faces the newly begun Greenstreets project. He was standing in the open gate to his courtyard watching construction workers dig up the sidewalk across the street, so we went to talk with him. He had heard they were building a new sidewalk, so he was delighted when we told him that it was actually going to be trees. Joe walks a half-dozen blocks from his home to the church each day, and used to walk every day to Lutheran Hospital, where he worked in pediatrics. Now, he said he mostly walks to the bank or store, walks we hope to take with him soon.

Then there’s Frank, who lives just a few doors down from Joe’s church. He’s the original owner of his home, which was built in 1985. That year, they changed the name of that block from La Fontaine Ave. to Wade Square. A retired Parks Department employee, Frank’s eyes lit up when we explained that our mapping was not only of the physical landmarks in the neighborhood but of the histories and stories. He went into his house and 10 minutes later emerged with a book called Memories of Fordham, which included an old map of the area (on which he had written in where he was born and where he lives – look closely for ‘I LIVE HERE.’ written in the photo above).

A big question for me is what approaches to use to deepen our understanding of these physical spaces and their histories through some embodied practices. At our next meeting, I’d like to map a distance, then gather to talk and generate some moving reflections. I’d also like to do some directed traveling – providing prompts about speed, level, direction – so that we are experiencing the journey differently in our bodies. Scavenger hunts feel like an emerging possibility in terms of structure, asking participants to use a heightened awareness in order to gather information.

After our last two meetings, I remembered an early envisioning I had about the walks: small groups leaving from different places, following the storm water routes and, eventually, connecting with one another along the way to the river. I envision each group collecting along the way – information, objects and movement – and sharing at the riverside. As we continue our research, I will keep this idea in mind as a possible public engagement structure.

I would love to know how Google maps might also be helpful for mapping the stories and histories we collect, so that people could access audio or video associated with a site using smart phones.

Excited for what we will learn next week, what new ideas will emerge and how we will continue to build our community and our vision.

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Mapping: One Step at a Time

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Mapping: One Step at a Time

Rebecca Boger is teaching our Follow the Water Walks team (here Josue Garcia and Damian Griffin from the Bronx River Alliance) how to use GPS technology to create maps. We are starting at the top of the watershed in East Tremont, where the DEP is constructing a Greenstreet, and mapping other green spaces we find already existing from the top of the watershed to the river, in order to understand what infrastructures the community already has for slowing the flow of storm water (both effective and in need of improvement). Along the way, we are also collecting stories from residents and tracking our movement qualities.

Finding information

Today was great in terms of learning about what GPS and GIS can do as well as following up on some information.

First, the ballfields at the top of the sewershed are named after the quarries owned by the Lorrilard family and from which the snuff mill on the river’s banks was built!! ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorillard_Snuff_Mill) .

I was absolutely wrong about where the third avenue el depot was located. It was where the electric transformers are a block to the south

Listening to what others hear you saying

By Damian Griffin

As the process is the focus of much of this project, I thought I would share a little of the process that I went through late yesterday afternoon.

We spent a good amount of time on and along the Bronx River yesterday,  May 12th.  It is always for me my favorite of times when I have the opportunity to share what I have learned, expose people to new experiences and have something of real value to offer a variety of people. When I consider the variety of people that we were able to share ideas and hopes within that small space, I realize just how lucky I am to have the river as a regular part of my life.  From a man and his two children from up the block  and had never been on the water and just spotted us while walking by to a couple from the Lower East Side by way of Russia and Germany  who had heard we would be there from a third party,  the conversations were vast. We described our sewer system and its effects on the river, introduced folks to great egrets and green herons, spoke of the community that opened access to the river, and even spoke of dinosaurs and Albert Einstein.  But there were two parts of the day which were more directly personal that came from the interactions as a part of Fish Trap that really stayed with me.

The first was Paloma’s focus on the project and the process that is able to guide her in directions that I had missed.  Josue, whom I have known for four years now and worked directly with for the past two to three years, was engaged by Paloma  as a holder of information beyond the scope where he and I usually interact.  I have my needs from Josue in terms of our overall program and, while I never forget he is a very complete person,  it took some conversation with Paloma and Becky to bring to light the fact that , as a community resident, his beyond-work knowledge has a possibility of moving the project forward.  Blinded by the proximity, I needed a help to see what I had available.

Now here is where the personal becomes more personal as it reaches more towards who I am and how I perceive myself and the world with which I interact.

Since meeting Paloma I have thought more about dance, movement of the body and the sensitivity that some of us feel in the realm of body movement.  To put things in context, I remember walking down the street in probably 4th grade and making the conscious decision about how to walk, choosing between two distinct styles: like Jack Nicholson in The Last Detail, feet thrown widely to their respective sides in an exaggerated swagger, or as we had learned about the Native Americans, one foot in front of the other to limit the footsteps left on a path.   I chose the former as it fit more with my cut-up style.  From that point on I would choreograph my movements but never looking towards myself as the ultimate recipient( and wondering if it didn’t have a lasting effect on my less-than-fluid running).  In the discussion with Paloma I asked why in the culture I had grown up in dancing just for the joy of dancing seemed to be  the act of the very young or of older couples. She mentioned a theory of the commodification of the human body, a very big topic, but the important thing  here  is it made me feel like something had been stolen from me.

My daughter, 5 in August, loves to move and dance and I encourage her, following her rules, trying to make movements connect one to another. I should mention that I play guitar and sing ( in my fashion, survival style I call it) and so do understand rhythm, keeping a pretty good beat. But my lack of imbedded lifestyle dancing keeps that sort of movement very contrived.  The opportunity to work with Paloma and Becky on this project has many possibilities, but the idea that I could develop a better feel for my body in space is a very big  possible reward. Still,  my “Buddusky” blood,  which has always been my protector, may be a bit of a handicap. I’ll try to explain.

There is nothing that cannot be said or experienced around me that I will not turn into some form of humor, even the actions of my Alzhiemer’s laden father or my torn meniscus, and I know few limits in most surroundings.  In terms of this project,  the first time I bragged (and it was bragging)  to someone that I may be collaborating with a dancer in some fashion, I  added that part of the project would give me the opportunity to “ Wear a tutu.”  It is my way to say such things and keep some part of my  persona in the absurd.  This does not reflect whether or not I see something as serious and, in fact, I may joke more about those things that are more serious and important to me, my father’s state being no exception. I have continued in this vein even as this possible collaboration has come to be a reality.  But on Saturday I used that idea and may have had an undesired effect.

As the day came to a close and the ideas of having Josue as an integral part of the project came out, I extended my humor of possible vestments to include Josue as well. Paloma responded reassuringly to Josue that there were no tutus in this project with the exception of what I may wear but that it was entirely my choice.  It was said very politely but it made me think (later, in solitude):   Could my loose humor be an insult?  Could it have effects beyond my intention due to my lack of sensitivity to the people around me? Paloma’s  is a dancer in that same society that has commodified the human body and was I, now, unwittingly, playing into that society’s game by adding my tutu remark?  I haven’t yet spoken to Paloma to get her perspective, but it did and does make me think that it may be true and that I should be more considerate with my language.

But there may have already be an effect, beyond possibly offending somebody I respect, that I may need to combat. Josue is  a 23 year old young many who has lived his whole life in the Tremont area, an intensely urban area of the Bronx where  much of the outward  culture is defined by dress and actions on the street. He has made his own path in much of his life but, as for most of us, our environment often holds sway over some part of our psyche, no matter how far afield we feel we have gone. After having packed up the gear from our day’s work, I asked Josue if he felt that he might be able to invite a couple of people from his neighborhood to somehow participate in the project. He knows about the idea of the  walks along the sewer lines leading people down to the river, but only scant knowledge of what the present collaboration really will consist of ( not that we know!!).  However, his first response was telling: “No way, nobody from my block would even consider doing something like that.”  What is “That”?   There was not time to flesh it out but I am left to wonder if, here too, my immediate step into humor may have had an undesired effect.  Isn’t that funny.

Damian

Mapping it Out

By Paloma McGregor

There is something great emerging about connecting the way maps and the way dances are made. Maps are created from many layers of data (from physical qualities like streams, roads and buildings to demographics, health statistics and even perceptions). These data layers are gathered, manipulated and edited to create a map that represents the community – not in its totality but in the visioning of the map maker. Dances, similarly, are created by gathering movement material, manipulating that material and editing it to satisfy the choreographer’s vision. This is an important correlation for the work we are doing and for the beginnings of creating common understandings and languages for talking about one another’s work.

Mapping is going to be a foundation of our work. We have two maps of areas we have been working in. One is a physical map that focuses on the sewer systems in East Tremont. The other is the BRA’s map of the Bronx River. Between those two area is a transitional space for which we have no map. We have decided a major focus in our Water Walks research will be to create our own map – along with community participants – of the space between East Tremont and Bronx River.

We do not know yet what it means for a choreographer, scientist and environmental educator to make a map together. How exciting. We do know we will use GPS technology – in stages. One possible approach is: First, we could tell stories and do a movement-mapping game in a field at the top of the watershed in East Tremont. Then we could track our own walks in the area, as well as walks taken by participants, creating pathways as well as landmarks of stories, movement and other information. We could then use this data to create maps that connect East Tremont to the River, with interactive components that allow people on the walks – or a world away – to access various layers of information about the area.

Another discovery for me today is that Josue Garcia, Recreation Specialist at BRA, is from East Tremont. So we will engage him in this project as a collaborator. He said that he doesn’t know much about East Tremont, even though he grew up there. But his relationship with the Bronx River is very rich, after training with Rocking the Boat and now BRA. It would be rich to pair him with an older resident, one who possibly has a very different relationship to the River, and see what kinds of stories, movement and potentials emerge from them mapping the space between their experiences.

Another exchange we collaborators are interested in having is with a civil engineer who could help us understand the history of the sewer system, as well as someone from DEP who could talk to us about the history of the scrapped Green Infrastructure project. The history of the space below the surface of the streets will be an important layer of our work.

thoughts on canoe trip

By Rebecca Boger

Here are a few thoughts about the canoe trip we took today, May 5, 2012. There is no particular order of importance, rather a kind of stream of consciousness.

I saw a hawk, or at least I think it was one. Going down the river, there was a neat contrast between the upper reaches where we started and the downstream portion. Paddling upstream, I almost didn’t realize I was in urban Bronx. It was more ‘natural’ with trees and I could hear the birds, although near the starting point the roar of the traffic was strong. When we were around the zoo, it was beautiful and serene. At one point we saw the bison in the zoo. I wondered what this place would have been like when the Lenapes lived here before Europeans. God. It is beautiful now. What was it like then? I guess, though, beauty is a matter of perception. When we were downstream, there was a different type of beauty in seeing the industrialization – the elevated trains, buildings, bridges, stacks. Sometimes, I felt as if I were in a sci fi film when you could see nature taking over abandoned buildings and bridges, and when there was a tall base of an old bridge looming in the middle of the river for no apparent reason other than telling a story of the past. I thought nature does want to exist. It goes on in some fashion despite human efforts to manage, conquer and even destroy. Along the boulders and exposed bedrock, intricate roots would crawl and grasp the rocks. Beautiful! I could tell that it had rained fairly recently. The water was muddy. When starting I was pleasantly surprised at how clean the river was – there wasn’t much garbage. This changed, however, downstream where more garbage was seen. This needs to change. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could share the river with the other creatures in a healthy way? We could swim with the fish and beaver. Instead, when I got home, I immediately bathed. I felt dirty when water should be cleansing.  I’m sure that it is a lot better than what the river has been, but we have a long way to go. At the end of the journey, we met an activist who has worked many years to make the urban place a better place. We need to continue doing this. As a scientist, I looked at the river and saw geomorphological features and processes– erosional undercutting along the stream banks, the high water mark, longitudinal and lateral sand bars, hard rock shoreline structures exposed bedrock (not sure if gneiss or schist), waterfalls. Oh, it was great to see the eel habitat areas! This must be the time of year when they migrate. The river must have been an incredible shad and alewive spawning area. Are there any now? Probably not.

I think this is all for now. I have not edited anything. I think I want to keep it this way for now.

Becky