Below is the story of how Ken wrote Urban Ecology: a Natural Way to Transform Kids, Parks, Cities, and the World. Click here for a short synopsis of the book.
The way I wrote a book was not traditional, but I doubt that is much of a surprise to most.
Wait, did you catch that? I just wrote a book!
This adventure started two years ago when Peter and Jean Storer offered us support for the purpose of writing a book. Without any request from us, they felt that the Urban Ecology Center story needed to be told. What followed was a little bit of luck and some awesome opportunities.
A chance conversation with an old college friend introduced me to Difference Press out of Washington DC.
As we usher in 2017, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of change. It seems like it’s something all of us want, in some way or another. We may have different ideas about what kind of change, but I get the sense that most folks would agree with the statement that “The way the world is right now is not ok. We need a change.”
This desire for change has created a lot of conversations about what within the status quo we need to fight against. For me, it’s a long list: climate change, injustice, disparity, oppression, just to name a few. I am exhausted by just talking about what it takes to fight all these huge societal ills. And while these conversations are critically important, I’ve realized that we tend to spend much less time talking about what it is we are working for.
What would it look like to have the world we want to live in?
Take some time to think about that question.
I was amazed by how unfamiliar that way of thinking felt. It’s a hard one to answer, but I truly believe that we need to spend much more time discussing what we want our world to look like. That’s one of the main reasons I appreciate the Urban Ecology Center. Our work, of course, does “fight against” some of the things I listed earlier. But at its core, the UEC is not about “filling a gap” or “addressing a problem”— it’s about building the world we want to live in, right here in our own neighborhoods.
I have been reading “The Next American Revolution” by Grace Lee Boggs recently, and she speaks with incredible eloquence on this idea. She posits that our next revolution (which she says has already begun) will not happen through rebellion and protest but through a cultural revolution in which we, together, create a “world based on partnership among ourselves and with our environment.” Boggs says, “We need to go beyond opposition, beyond rebellion, beyond resistance, beyond civic insurrection…we want and need to create the alternative world that is now both possible and necessary. We want and need to exercise power, not take it.” That is to say, our new world will not come from our “fighting against” alone—it will come from what we work for.
So, what does that world look like? Honestly, I think it looks a lot like what I see at the Urban Ecology Center every day. It looks like people nurturing the land, and being nourished by the land. It looks like adults sharing knowledge and skills with children who share their joy and wisdom with adults. It looks like kindness, rooted in the belief that the people around us matter, and that by caring for one another and for our earth, we care for ourselves.
I say this in part because I think it is important to recognize what a magnificent community we have built together, and to thank you for making it so. Perhaps even more importantly, though, I say this to remind everyone during this time of change that we still have all the things and all the people we need to build the world we want. That’s not to say that it will be easy, but it is possible—we can see it happening here at the Center. As Grace Lee Boggs says, “we are the leaders we have been looking for.” It’s up to us, and we have everything we need. We just need to get to work.
Malachi Crenshaw, a 10th grader at Rufus King High School, finished teaching his first solo Water Safety Course when I met him at the Washington Park branch. I asked him if he had been nervous about being the only instructor and he said “I was more curious. I’m pretty comfortable with public speaking and I know the content, so I mostly was interested to see how those would come together.” This is exactly the kind of experience we hope to provide to our High School Outdoor Leaders – hands-on work.
The High School Outdoor Leader program is one step in our “green career pipeline.”
Lately I’ve been thinking about how the Urban Ecology Center is like Star Wars. Wait, I know this sounds like a stretch, but stay with me. One of the underlying themes of Star Wars is that when diverse people come together for the greater good they can create world altering change. Tapping into the diversity of natural and community life here in Milwaukee, the Urban Ecology Center is creating “world altering” change, neighborhood by neighborhood. And we get the excitement of working locally now, not “a long time ago” and “far, far away.”
Every summer we hire a new batch of interns and every summer we impressed with their ability to teach us new things about the Center. This year we had two Visitor Services Interns whose stories really reminded us of how the simple act of welcoming someone can make a big difference in their life.
How can you express all that the Urban Ecology Center is to so many people and animals alike? These photos are just a small sample of what you can find at our branches. But there's a thread that goes through all of what we do - life! There's so much life!
Look for the phrase “So Much Life” in our communications and use it with your friends. When they ask why you’re a part of the Urban Ecology Center, just say “Because there’s So Much Life!”
Can a few words ever capture all that the Urban Ecology Center is? Take this real-life experience on the Milwaukee River, for example:
Full moon. Summer night. A beaver’s tail slapped. The river glistened in the light. Baby ducklings twittered, their silhouettes lined up behind their mother. Bats skimmed the water and two bull frogs competed with a gaa-rumph mating call.
How do you sum up all that? Or how about this memory:
Every choice we make about the form and function of our buildings is made with the environment in mind. From energy sources to recycled materials, Urban Ecology Center facilities provide real life examples of green building practices and management.
Visit us and see all the smart ways you can make your home and business greener.
Studying nature is a great way to feel young…comparatively speaking, that is. There are trees that are hundreds of years old as well as turtle and bird species that can easily outlive the humans who care for them. The entire human race is like a newborn when compared to billion-year-old rocks. It’s mind blowing!
Thanks to a generous gift from the Franke family, we’ve created a way to explore this concept of time through nature. We’re proud to introduce a new treasure, a 3 Billion Year Walk through the Milwaukee Rotary Centennial Arboretum.
Varias veces a la semana, escucho nuevas ideas de miembros del Centro, visitantes, y de jóvenes científicos. Cada persona que participa en el Urban Ecology Center tiene experiencias, conocimiento e ideas que compartir, y una de las partes favoritas de mi trabajo es tener la oportunidad de escuchar las ideas de nuestra comunidad.
Como pueden imaginarse unos de mis eventos preferidos son los Foros Comunitarios. Los cuales son reuniones que están abiertas al público, donde la intención es brindar la oportunidad a toda la comunidad de compartir sus opiniones e ideas, y para que también nuestros empleados puedan conectar más con la comunidad y conocer sus intereses.