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Archive for November, 2010

Earlier this month, I was able to catch this great show at Wave Hill Garden and Cultural Center in the Bronx. Unfortunately, the show has just closed but you can still find plenty of information on this site. It was an inspiring display of innovation showcasing art, urban remediation, landscaping and reuse of waste products.

The first piece that caught my eye was a proposal by Mierle Laderman Ukeles for the upcoming development of Fresh Kills Park into the second largest park in New York City.

Proposed Fresh Kills Park, Staten Island, Photo: Courtesy Wave Hill

Ukeles proposes that “over 1 million members of the public, or “Donor Citizens,” create or select something of great personal value to be made into a “Public Offering.” The item must be small enough to fit inside the donor citizen’s hand. These offerings will be collected at designated “Cultural Transfer Stations” (sanitation garages, museums, libraries, schools, botanical gardens, and other cultural institutions throughout New York), where each object will be photographically documented, registered, and then embedded in a transparent recycled glass block. Eventually, the glass blocks will be placed at the new Fresh Kills Park, permanently embedded into the landscape along miles of pathways and retaining walls throughout the site.”

New York artist George Trakas was commissioned to complete a public access project around the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant in Greenpoint. I’m not sure how connected we want to be to the pollution in the creek what with years of pollution and the massive Exxon oil spill that lies underneath much of Greenpoint, but Trakas has designed the perfect environment to encourage the return of nature to the creekside.

Jackie Brookner’s floating phyto remediation islands for a polluted lagoon in Finland reminded me of a talk I attended at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto about five years ago. That was the first time I had heard about phytoremediation. It’s something that makes so much sense until you have to find a place to dispose of the plants that have absorbed all the toxins from a site. Some plants can break down certain toxins but you wouldn’t want to eat the spinach from a phytoremediation site!

Finally, Matthew Mazzotta’s Park Spark Project proposes to digest dog waste into methane that can be used as an energy source. It’ll be interesting to see if this one goes into production.

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Scanning electron micrographs showing morphological variation of bdelloid rotifers and their jaws

Image: Diego Fontaneto, Public Library of Science Journal

I wanted to know more about the processes going on inside my compost barrel especially now that I had started adding the daily waste from our five rapidly growing hens. I had composted waste plant matter before but I had a feeling that the chicken manure was going to create a whole different ecosystem.

So I Google compost and start reading through the Wikipedia entry. Under micro-organisms I look through the list of links to bacteria, fungi, protozoa and then notice rotifers which sounded interesting and vaguely familiar. Their name makes me think that rotifers would happily till the compost allowing all the other organisms access to break it down. It turns out that the name is actually derived from the Latin word for wheel-bearer because of the corona around the mouth that resemble a wheel although they do not actually rotate.

I was struck by the arresting beauty of this electron micrograph image that shows the delicate feathery anatomy of a creature whose job it is to covert our waste into useful compost. The compost pile is not the first place you would go searching for beauty and yet under the microscope, that’s exactly what you find.

The complexity of life at this small scale is intriguing and surprising when you read how they have a brain, nervous system, digestive system all packed into something that is at most 0.5mm in length. Scanning through the paragraph on reproduction I notice an unfamiliar word, parthenogenetically. My curiosity forces me to click on the link. It’s been a few years since my last biology class and I’m not sure they told us anything about this. I remember asexual reproduction but had no idea that anything beyond single celled organisms and fungi could reproduce asexually. I read on and am astonished to find that this parthogenesis (or development of an embryo without fertilization by a male) can occur in vertebrates like Komodo dragons and hammerhead sharks. So it turns out that virgin birth is possible after all, as long as you are a Komodo dragon!

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