On Wednesday, I offered up a little slice of heaven in New York City, a NY-state protected piece of Staten Island. Sadly, though, a lot of Staten Island has been turned into hell, another slab of the undifferentiated suburban sprawl that has trashed so much of the rest of the US, through mis-guided development, greed, ignorance and stupidity, and, last but not least, political collusion and corruption. (Not to mention federal and private banking policies that red-lined our own form of suburban apartheid.) My Virgil through the rings of the developers’ underworld of SI was David Burg of WildMetro, an advocacy organization for metropolitan nature. (All opinions here are my own, although David is no slacker when it comes to opinions.) We looked at the Bloomfield lowlands south of the Goethals Bridge, part of a big 676-acre track that had been slated for the obscenity of a NASCAR racing complex, but is now supposed to be filled and re-developed for industrial uses. This area boarders salt marsh, Old Creek, and the Arthur Kill, and is a prime candidate for flooding — Hurricane Sandy debris had to be removed from the site — necessitating massive infill to raise the level 10-20 feet. It’s supposed to be a “marine port and logistics center.” Near where I live in Brooklyn, the existing port facilities go largely unused.
Among other things unused: the centers of many Staten Island towns and villages, hollowed out by the local malls. When the developers and their paid agents the politicos scream “jobs, jobs, jobs!” as the basis for their profit-taking from the commonweal of nature, they mean temporary construction jobs and low-wage service jobs in the big box stores, a smokescreen to prevent you from seeing where other jobs could and should be encouraged. So another mall is going up across the street from the mall on Veterans Road West. The city is spending millions to plant a million trees, while, meanwhile, millions of trees are being chopped into wood chips, as in this pile on an 11-acre site scraped of life. This is a fenced-in thicket between the box store’s parking lot (most of this kind of development is blacktop, parking spaces, flat expanses of nothing in a brute landscape) and road. It’s a parody of a “nature preserve,” in which the last of the very rare Torrey’s Mountain Mint, elegized here by my friend Marielle Anzelone, grows. It’s like a Guantanamo for flowers, noted David. The caged plants are symbolic of an entire meadow and surrounding forest habitat lost, the remnants slowly being choked with vines. It isn’t just in Africa where preserves barely hold onto species. Another habitat island: some unusual Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica). The only place this species is found in New York State is here on Staten Island. There are some protected stands in the nearby Clay Pits Pond State Park, along with the tree’s near-twin Post Oak, (they are barrens-siblings), but this thicket was just there, in no-person’s zone, hence vulnerable to so many whims.
Someone told me recently my posts were getting heavy lately with reports of invertebrate numbers crashing, Passenger Pigeons passing, bees, bats, monarchs etc. But that’s the reality of our times, and our responsibility. Still, let let me end here on a bit of optimism:Salt marsh. Green Herons. Fiddler crabs. Blue crabs. Right next to the Arthur Kill.