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GROWING | City Nature Challenge 2019: Calling New York City’s Citizen Scientists

GROWING | City Nature Challenge 2019: Calling New York City’s Citizen Scientists

By Brian Boom

Vice President for Conservation Strategy, The New York Botanical Garden

A friendly competition this month to see which New York City borough can document the most species of plants, animals, and fungi over a four-day period could result in a big win for the whole city in the City Nature Challenge. Here’s how you can participate and learn more.

Interborough rivalries in New York City are nothing new, as New Yorkers seem to have limitless imaginations when it comes to finding novel ways to claim bragging rights for their home borough. Pick any kind of activity or product — sports, music, beer, you name it — and it has probably been, or will eventually be, the subject of a Battle of the Boroughs. Now, it’s nature’s turn.

The City Nature Challenge concept originated in 2016 as a rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco with the goal of engaging people in documenting nature, using the iNaturalist app, so they would better understand and appreciate the biodiversity of their urban landscapes. That year, L.A. won over S.F. in all three categories of competition: observations made, species observed, and people participating. So many people connected with urban nature, perhaps for the first time in a meaningful way, that the organizers expanded the idea to 16 U.S. cities in 2017 and 54 cities in 17 countries in 2018. New York City came in ninth in 2017 and seventh in 2018.

Photo: The New York Botanical Garden

The organizers of City Nature Challenge 2019 New York City are working to vault New York City into first place this year, and central to the effort is harnessing the competitive power of interborough rivalry for the four-day event, April 26–29. As part of this strategy, The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) is dedicating its April 2019 EcoQuest Challenge, part of the New York City EcoFlora project, to a Battle of the Boroughs. In the end, the whole city will be victorious internationally if we can tap New Yorkers’ taste for interborough competition.

It is easy to participate:

    1. Download the iNaturalist app or register at iNaturalist;    

    1. Visit nybg.org/EcoQuest for more information about the City Nature Challenge 2019 & Battle of the Boroughs;

    1. Take photos of plants and animals anywhere in your favorite New York City borough (no pictures of houseplants, people or pets); and

  1. Post your observations to iNaturalist so they can be used for research and conservation and be added to Team NYC’s total.

Cities’ rankings will be reported at the City Nature Challenge site after the results are tallied. Of course, more important than the competition is that people get outdoors and focus on observing nature. Many people will be surprised to learn that 40 percent of New York City is open space, comprising parks, gardens, campuses, and cemeteries. Nature is all around, even in the cracks of sidewalks!

Citizen scientists at Newtown Creek, Brooklyn, in summer 2018. Photo: The New York Botanical Garden

New York-area residents and visitors alike can learn more about becoming citizen scientists and contributing to our shared understanding of biodiversity at Nature at Your Doorstep: Celebrating the Public Participant in Research. The event is free to the public, but it is necessary to RSVP. The next day, April 13, NYBG celebrates National Citizen Science Day with activities and information for nature-loving adults and children alike, including Battle of the Boroughs iNaturalist training, for which an RSVP is requested.  

The City Nature Challenge in 2019 will be the most competitive ever. Let’s grow the number of residents and visitors in New York City who connect with nature, and together we can make it the world’s number one nature city through a biodiversity Battle of the Boroughs!

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