LOCAL PROFILES: Ian Olsen (Alliance for Downtown New York) (9.18.17
One of the things that makes living downtown so incredible is how gorgeous it is. No matter the time of year, the neighborhood looks great. Obviously, even with the epic lighting sunsets on the Hudson provide, there’s a team behind the scenes hard at work ensuring everything is always Insta-perfect. That would be the Alliance for Downtown New York.
Since 1995, the Alliance for Downtown New York has been working to enhance the quality of life in Lower Manhattan, providing workers, residents and visitors with a clean, safe and dynamic neighborhood.
We spoke with Ian Olsen, District Landscape Manager at Alliance for Downtown New York, to learn more about what his team does, and how they ensure downtown New York stays safe, happy and thriving.
Tell us about the horticulture team at Alliance for Downtown New York:
It is currently a small team, consisting of myself and a part time gardener who works with me in the field, as well as seasonals who water everything, and contractors who intermittently do maintenance work.
What are the big changes in 2017?
Building an in-house horticultural staff was the first major change - the creation of my position and the hiring of a seasonal gardener are new to the Alliance.
Our current focus is planting more native species and modeling the plantings after the local habitats surrounding the city. We’ve already done this in a few places along Water Street and it’s been quite successful, all of the plants are healthy and they've encouraged the return of monarch butterflies, that are at risk of extinction, to Lower Manhattan.
We’re also looking to expand traditional planted areas as well. This year we placed about 50 elevated baskets along Broadway as major construction has ceased, and we're looking to do more expansion in streetscape enhancement, as well as planting more shade trees and improving streetside tree pits.
We’re also going to begin documenting all of our plants and gardens in a formal collection that will be visible to the public.
What can we expect in 2018?
We're still in the planning phases right now but we're hoping to expand our efforts in planting more native species and increasing the amount of areas planted, as well as increase our working relations with other parks and gardens in the area.
How has the neighborhood's evolution impacted your team's work?
Since 9/11, Lower Manhattan has been reborn - today we have over 230,000 workers and more residents and tourists in the neighborhood than ever before, and I believe greenery allows for a greater civic pride in a neighborhood. We want to make sure that the space is welcoming for all of these people and increasing the amount of trees and other plants provides more shade and less wind, giving people a real physical as well as psychological sense of comfort.
What do you enjoy most about working below Canal Street?
I like being around the eclectic mix of old classic buildings and new cutting-edge architecture. For me it reflects how I'm immersed in one of the world’s main financial centers and yet interacting with nature at the same time. Also, it's an honor to be able to expose and educate such a large audience of people about our local nature through the plantings we bring to the neighborhood.
What do you want locals to know about your team’s work?
We want people to take greater notice of their environment and enjoy the plants we've added. We want people to understand the importance of bringing native plants to the neighborhood, and from that awareness see the importance of habitat restoration in general.
Planting native plants and creating mini-ecosystems helps attract the right kinds of insects, chipmunks, squirrels, etc. and they are easier to maintain because this area of the world is their natural habitat, which reduces the amount of water, fertilizer, herbicide and general labor needed to maintain them, providing a truly sustainable system.