Category Archives: Recipes for Change

Recipes for Change: The Trees of Tot Playground

The First Installment of this Week’s #RecipesForChange Blog Series:
The Trees of Five Playgrounds, from Union Square to TriBeCa

Come back each day this week for more from this week’s guest blogger, Georgia Silvera Seamans at Local Ecologist!

About this blog series: E.F. Schumacher, the British economist famous for coining the phrase “Small is Beautiful” told us to plant a tree. But which one should we plant? ioby’s guest blog series this week from Local Ecologist gives you a quick introduction to the arboreal lives of Manhattan’s playgrounds and, in it, a guide to trees tough enough for city life.

About Recipes for Change: ioby equips leaders across the country with the tools that they need to make changes in their neighborhoods. Recipes for Change is a new series from ioby, aimed at providing the resources and expertise that you need for your environmental project to succeed.

Got ideas for more #RecipesforChange? Give @ioby a shout!

Today’s Featured Playground: Tot Playground in Washington Square Park

Sitting on the southern benches in the Tot Playground in Washington Square Park, we are struck by the treehouse quality of the jungle gym in the sandbox. There are three jungle gyms in this playground, and the most popular is set in the sandbox surrounded by three towering London planetrees (Platanus × acerifolia). Sandpits were installed in the park in the 1930s and were converted to playgrounds between 1965 and 1970 (PDF).  Given the closeness of the trees to the play structure, we assume the trees preceded the jungle gym.  An existing conditions map from 1962 shows three trees in the area of what is now the sandpit in the Tot Playground

According to the Horticulture Department at UCONN, the optimal soil condition for Platanus × acerifolia has been described as “deep, moist, fertile” but the species is “very adaptable.” All signs support this. Although the playground was recently revamped, the planetrees do not appear affected by the construction; in fact, most, if not all, are thriving.  The historic and current eco-hydrology of the park might offer an explanation.

Minetta Brook (Creek) once flowed aboveground through the western section of Washington Square Park to the Hudson River.  If you dig in the sandpit – as many tots do – of the Tot Playground, you will find a brick layer about four feet down!  This infrastructure might be an old privy pit or water cistern of the old Potter’s Field Keeper’s house or part of “the 19th-century brick storm and sanitary sewer that traverses the park” (PDF).

Looking east in the Tot Playground, the foreground is dominated by red oaks (Quercus rubra) all of which are growing outside the playground.  Red oak is native to northeastern U.S. and, to further stoke the NY-NJ rivalry, red oak is the state tree of New Jersey but the state tree of New York is the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), which in a woodland setting would replace (or “succeed”) the red oak.  Like the London planetree, the red oak is urban hardy: tolerant of dry and acidic soil and polluted air (PDF).  The fuzzy growth on the tree in early spring is the male and female flowers.  The red oak is monoecious[EB1] ; that is, both male and female flowers are found on the same tree.  Red oaks reach fruit-bearing age at 20-25 years.  Last year, the area under the picnic tables in the eastern half of the playground was covered with acorns.

Last, but not least, especially at this time of year, are the crabapples (Malus) and cherries (Prunus) that abut the southern fence line of the playground.  Have you seen a “New York City Heritage Crabapple”? Here is an excerpt from “Painting with Crabapples,” (PDF) which describes the formal characteristics of a heritage crabapple:

One singular characteristic to almost all these “vintage” crabs is their shape–branched very low to the ground with multiple trunks or stems spreading gradually upward and outwards. This distinctive growth form is a result of the way trees are shaped and pruned when they are very young. By the time these trees are transplanted from the nurseries to park landscapes, their shape at maturity has already been determined. For some reason, however, local nurseries no longer practice this type of cultivation. Perhaps there was a drop in demand for this form after transplant. Today’s crabapple trees, like other tree species, are trained with a single stem with the first branches occurring at four or five feet from the ground, or higher. This bland “lollipop” form is a marked contrast to the dynamic and beautiful shape of a wide-limbed, low branching specimen.

The Tot Playground crabapples have not been designated as “New York City’s Heritage Crabapples”, but their exuberant flowering is worth seeing.  They are not “bland lollipops”!


Feeling inspired? Check out to get your own neighborhood project started today!

How to Raise Urban Chickens

This is the first in our online video series portion of Recipes for Change, our online and hard copy toolkit designed for urban environmental leaders to share their knowledge and expertise with others. ioby’s platform is designed to be a place for community-driven, community-funded environmental projects as well as for knowledge sharing. We hope you enjoy this first video, featuring Bee Ayer, from BK Farmyards, who has generously shared her knowledge of urban chickening with all of us, in this video and through her work with BK Farmyards.

This video was produced by Good Eye Video. The good folks at Good Eye Video are also teaching a workshop series on shooting and producing your own how-to videos just like this. The next one is on Monday, April 16, at 6:30pm at the ioby office and will focus on editing your video content. Register for the workshop here.



For more information on our Recipes for Change toolkit, visit the Recipe archive.

Recipes for Change Workshop


We had a great workshop session on Saturday to get feedback on our Recipes for Change toolkit.  Thanks to those who came, we had a range of participants: young and old, local residents and visitors from abroad, project leaders and people with just great ideas for projects in their neighborhoods.  That diversity of participation led to insightful feedback on aspects to make us better from an array of perspectives. 

It was helpful for us to know for instance, how our toolkit was viewed by an experienced project leader in comparison to someone who just has an idea but doesn’t know where to start. It was also interesting to compare the views of those who want a compact list of tips and those who want a longer set of templates and visuals. Over the coming months, ioby and Places for All will be asking ourselves the questions raised at the workshop to refine the toolkit based on your comments. We think in the end Recipes for Change is going to be a really useful tool and resource.  Thanks for confirming this to us on Saturday and letting us know we should keep going to make this project happen. 

If you have any additional ideas or comments, please email

Below are some images from Saturday, credits to Katie Doane for the great photos.

Share & Build Recipes for Change, Sat., Nov. 12, 2pm

On page 40 of ioby's Business Plan, you'll find our Founding Principles. I'm gonna save you the trouble of looking for them and just tell you now that the third one is:


Local people often know best what changes are needed in their community, and are the best source of creativity, ingenuity, and motivation needed to realize change.



Basically, what this says is that you are the expert on your community's needs and the best ways to address those needs. You and everybody else out there like you. Tami in Brooklyn is the expert. Jared in the Bronx is the expert. Martha in Queens is the expert. You get the idea.


And so, rather than create a bunch of "expertise" from our organization's staff, one of ioby's three main objectives is to share the expertise, knowledge and experience of project leaders that post their projects on ioby with all of you. And back in August, we started a new project to do just that. 

We started working with Clarisa Diaz from Places for All.

Together we've built a toolkit that we're calling Recipes for Change. Admittedly, it is hokey. But it makes sense. Every project has key ingredients and steps to being successful. At at the end, the chefs, er…uh…project leaders, give you extra tips and lessons they learned along the way.

The Recipes for Change recipe box, just like any other recipe box, can grow. You can contribute your recipe, and we'll throw it in the mix and let others use it. 

And so, not surprisingly, the Recipes for Change recipe box is under development, with just eight recipes so far. But those eight are pretty damn good and we have a working draft that we want to share with you to see what you think. 

We're getting together on Saturday, November 12 at 2pm in Brooklyn for a two-hour workshop.

During this time you can talk directly with ioby project leaders that have taken their ideas to fruition and who want to share their "recipes" with you. You can RSVP here:

All of this is part of a larger project called Amplifying Creative Communities that we're working on with Parsons the New School, DESIS, IDEO, Shareable, and our old friends the Lower East Side Ecology Center and Green Map, all funded by the Rockefeller Foundation's NYC Cultural Innovation Grant. The exhibition is open until November 20 and you can check out our toolkit on your own anytime, but we'll be there in person only on Saturday, November 12. The workshop is from 2-4pm, but we'll be hanging around from 11am – 4pm if you want to just walk in and browse without participating in the workshop. 

Please RSVP. Location information here.

Here's a sneak peak: