P.S. 123 - Project Oasis
(click to enlarge)
Uptown Outdoor Museum of Natural History
Dinosaur climber
Planets formed from galctic dust
Dinosaurs roam the Earth
Susan helps kids plant Time Garden
Dinosaur tracks on the path to the present

A long story

Not until we took a 6th grade class to visit the Geology Dept. at the Museum of Natural History did we have any inkling as to why three wooded 80 foot cliffs run like a spine through northern Manhattan. We were interested because P.S. 123 sits at the base of one of these granite cliffs, St. Nicholas Park, and we were about to design and build a playground based on the school's science curriculum. Also, the difference in elevation between West and East Harlem, which the cliffs separate, had led to profound developments in the physical and cultural history of the area.

In a nutshell, here's what we found out:

Millions of years ago, two different types of rock had formed side by side. One, Indiana marble, was sedimentary and soft and the other, Manhattan schist was a hard granitic rock. The seam between them was located right where the cliff dropped away. Ice age glaciers eroded away the soft rock, leaving the hard stuff to tower over the flat lowland below. So now, because of events occurring over a span of millions of years, we can enjoy the open woodlands of St. Nicholas Park because the steep cliffs could never be developed for farms, or later, apartment houses.

There were a few historical consequences of this geology. 230 years ago George Washington chose "Harlem Heights" for his Headquarters during the Battle of the same name because of clear views of both Manhattan rivers. 80 years ago the same area, now known as Sugar Hill, became the home for artists of the Harlem Renaissance because of the views afforded by the cliffs.

How many adults, let alone children, living in Harlem know this story? If children live unaware of the story of their surroundings, they cannot understand how they fit into their world and prepare to go forward. That is why we decided to build the P.S. 123 Uptown Outdoor Museum of Natural History.

A time-line starts at the gate with a BIG BANG and meanders under evolutionary billboards, painted by the kids with Bryan Collier, passes a dinosaur climber, shoe box dioramas and ends up at a spaceship landing on Mars.

Kids planted a linear "Time Garden" starting at one end with primitive ferns and ending at the other with cultivated agricultural crops.