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Tour Guide of Philadelphian Greenspaces

Wei Jiang

Penn GSE, Urban Teaching Apprenticeship Program (UTAP)

Woodrow Wilson/Citizens & Scholars Fellowship

As a First Generation, Low Income university and graduate student, I was excited to be placed with Scott Quitel’s LandHealth Institute, as part of Penn GSE’s UTAP summer community experience. While I was familiar with NYC’s native flora, Philadelphia was a new environment that was quite foreign to me.

Thanks to LandHealth Institue’s Program for Future Environmental Scientists and Stewards (ProFESS), me, my classmate Ryan, and the wonderful Philadelphian high school students were able to experience the awesome parks, piers, riverfronts, and other natural spaces across the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Scott and the LandHealth crew served as incredibly knowledgeable tour guides, sharing meaningful chunks of contextual history, ecology, activism, and experiential learning every step of the way.

In a way, LandHealth felt like a natural progression from Lower East Side Ecology Center, an urban conservation, composting, and park management organization I was affiliated with back in NYC. Scott showed us the innovative nursery, where LandHealth had setup multiple greenhouses, native plant gardens, and outdoor furniture built from recycled shipping pallets.

There were countless memorable moments, such as when we walked from a urban concrete jungle, to an urban greenspace that was literally across the street. The temperature dropped from approximately 95 degrees Fahrenheit to a cool breezy 75 degrees within the span of 2 blocks. It was one of the most jarring and effective demonstrations of ecological services provided by trees and plants that I have ever seen. Coincidentally, most residential air conditioners are set to 72-78 degrees in the summer. Imagine if every city block had ample tree cover and diverse flora.

On another nature walk, Scott and Kiara showed us the deer fences, trails less travelled, and we wound up discovering many cool and unexpected things.

Such as this molted cicada shell/exoskeleton, which helped me realize this was likely the inspiration for the incomplete larval form of Cell from Dragonball Z.

Or the random fallen tree that made us question if we took a wrong turn somewhere on our return trip. It turns out, some young trees can fall over even when there are no storms or high winds. This random occurrence helped me understand why people place vertical supports around saplings.

Whenever I reflect upon this past summer, my best memories are always centered around the nature walks with LandHealth Institute. They helped me connect and learn from the brilliant Philadelphian high school students, who directly improved my approaches to culturally responsive pedagogy for my school placement at Mastbaum Vocational High School in the middle of Kensington. As I step into the role of an apprentice biology teacher, I hope to model myself after Scott, as well as my mentor from City College of New York: Dr. Amy Berkov. She took this directionless troublemaker under her wing, showed me that biology wasn’t all about rote memorization, but that it could be fun through field trips in her botany and insect ecology courses. Thanks to UTAP associate director Jasmine Marshall-Butler’s deep intuition for matching people and placements, this past summer felt like I have come full circle. As I continue the journey to become an urban biology teacher, I hope to pass on the kindness and nature walks to future generations of students.

For more information on the immense benefits and importance of urban greenspaces that LandHealth Institute is trying to support, here is a related article published in New York Times by University of Pennsylvania’s Urban Health Lab:

1 Comment

Amy Berkov
Amy Berkov
Dec 06, 2021

Wei, I'm thrilled to see you sharing the bounty of urban nature walks! I know that your students will learn a lot, and enjoy themselves, too.

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