So you might be reading the title of this post and be thinking, "Greenwich Village? What's an ecologist going to do there?" Turns out, a lot. Georgia Silvera Seamans has been on my radar for a couple of years via her thoughtful and meticulously researched blog the local ecologist, where she writes about her life as a nature lover in New York City. Specifically, she writes about her neighborhood park, the iconic Washington Square Park (WSP), and the goings on of the flora and fauna that live within it. So besotted was she with the park that she co-founded WSP Eco Projects , a non-profit with the purpose of educating visitors about the natural history of this very urban open space.
Georgia comes to this role with some heft: She's an urban forestry consultant with a PhD in landscape architecture and environmental planning from University of California, Berkeley and a Masters in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her 15 year career covers trees, the life those trees support, and the urban settings where those trees cohabit with people.
As an urban gal myself, the stories Georgia tells ring familiar to me: we both seek and revere nature in place, and want to share it with our fellow city-dwellers. In her blog and through WSP Eco Projects, Georgia brings an intimately-focused study to life for visitors to the park. She peels away the layers of city sheen to share everything from insects to fungus to leaves and root patterns, all found in her park around the corner.
And more recently, she's focused on the birds of the park. In WSP's modest 9.75 acres, Georgia and her colleagues have recorded a whopping 57 bird species since starting the census in 2016 (and according to eBird records, 87 species have been seen). Such dedication to a small urban park as an educator and advocate really impresses me. I wanted to learn more about Georgia and her projects so invited her for an interview here.
How did you develop a passion for trees and the life trees support?
Georgia Silvera Seamans: I was born in Jamaica and lived there until I was 13. In growing up, we had fruit trees and played in them and ate from them. The development where we lived was converted from sugarcane, and there were undeveloped lots where we could explore. Jamaica is a good mix of landscape types--coastline, then more dense vegetation inland. I thought everyone had access to this kind of environment. When we moved to the US I realized not everyone can walk outside and pick fruit!
Later my passion for trees solidified in grad school, when I was studying environmental law and policy. My classes had an urban focus, being in New Haven, and after graduating I served as a forestry intern for the city. That set me on this path of urban forestry focus.
Who supported your interest in trees and urban forestry? Who are your role models? Do you encounter many other people of color in your field?
GSS: My mom has always had a green thumb and interest in plants. I'm drawn to people and plants; it's a non-discriminatory area of activity. I had mentors at Yale, as well as within the portfolio of community groups I worked with as part of my graduate studies. All of these groups were led by black women and many people of color volunteers, many of them older people, dedicated to thriving green spaces in an urban setting.
There was not a lot of domestic diversity in my graduate program at Yale, though there was international diversity. Yale recognizes this and is trying to remedy the lack of diversity. But it may be a reflection of the New England location. For instance I know there are many students of color studying forestry in the South (of the US).
Urban forestry is a component of social justice and much of that work is being done by people of color. Issues like storm water and air pollution impact those living in the city. I think about the professional pipeline and getting kids of color to think about urban forestry as a viable profession. It's easier to engage a young person if that person looks like them. But I do not feel like a trailblazer. There are many people doing this work already, and people like Wangari Maathai in Kenya; they are my role models.