The Art and Urban Sustainability Spring 2018 class is focusing on initiatives to realize Swale, a giant floating edible forrest, in Camden NJ. This invites residents to grow and harvest edible plants and produce in an urban context. In realizing Swale in Camden, we aim to create a replicable set of best practices for food resiliency in one of the most vulnerable communities in the Northeast.

Originally sited for Camden NJ, the project was conceived by the visiting Rutgers-Camden artist Mary Mattingly as a response to cities forbidding people to grow food on public land, this initiative has given communities, artists, researchers, and schools a place to innovate, work, and implement creative solutions in sustainability.

The project is garnering much publicity, such as coverage in the New York Times, Bronx Swale has received the Arts Collaboration, Art and Innovation Award from Technically Brooklyn, which recognized the large team involved in the project, including Ms. Mattingly; Rutgers Associate Professor Elizabeth Demaray, and Demaray and Mattingly’s Art and Urban Sustainability students, who designed and fabricated the planting beds in use in the forest.

In partnership with multiple local organizations, the Spring 2018 Art and Urban Sustainability class at RU-C will be researching ways to build the first full-scale version of the floating food forest on the Camden waterfront. In addition to offering the community fresh, sustainable sources of produce, the project will also provide an art space, a STEM/STEAM research center, and an artist residency, all aimed at realizing projects in sustainability in the city of Camden.

For more information on the project, please contact Prof. Demaray at


Art and Urban Sustainability’s 2017 Final Proposals/Projects

It is my pleasure to present Art and Urban Sustainability’s 2017 Final Proposals/Projects. As a class that focuses on both theory and studio based work the class addresses, in four units, public art, community art, environmental art and issues of sustainability as they relate to Camden, New Jersey. In these four subject areas, our objective is to to consider the strategies utilized by arts organizations and individuals who are successfully creating sustainable practices in an innercity context. Students in this class author proposals for the city of Camden NJ in the areas of public art, community art, environmental art and sustainability practice and took part in one civically engaged sustainability project in the city of Camden, which this year involved making a community art project with the Middle School students at Camden’s LEAP Academy.

Each student in Sustainability selected one proposal/project form one of the four that they authored in search subject area over the course of the class. In text format below, these works were orally presented on May 10th during the class’ final presentation day. Noreen Garrity, from Rutgers Camden Center for the Arts, served as an outside evaluator. The students were also required to send a letter of introduction on behalf of their final proposal to a local funding source.

Butterfly Observation Station: LEAP Academy Playground

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The purpose of this project is to provide students, ideally the ones at LEAP academy, with space to interactively learn about the importance of native species and the smalls ways we can impact our native ecosystems.

The butterfly observation station is an enclosed garden that is filled with plants to sustain butterfly life. The butterfly enclosures would be 4ftx4ftx4ft and can eventually be built in larger sizes like 10ftx10ftx8ft (large) or 6ftx6ftx8ft (medium) giving multiple people the ability to be in the garden at one time. The small size is best to begin the project with. The gardens will be constructed out of 2×4 wooden beams, enclosed with butterfly netting to protect from predators, and anchored to the ground using grass anchors. For the large and medium models doors constructed on one side of the enclosure so that people can walk in. The original sized model will have a hatch that opens from the top. The large and medium enclosures can house multiple plants and sustain multiple species. For the smaller enclosures, it is best to tailor these to one butterfly species per enclosure. Raised flowerbeds would house the necessary plant species this way large quantities of toxins won’t get into the plants.

The butterfly species cultivated in the observation stations are the black swallowtail and the monarch butterfly. Eggs and larvae (caterpillars) for each of these species can be purchased online. Black Swallowtail caterpillars require parsley to feed on. Monarch caterpillars only require milkweed to feed on. A variety of other plant species native to New Jersey can be included to sustain the butterflies such as butterfly weed, blue mistflower, alfalfa, and pearly everlasting. Students can also make their own butterfly feed stations to add to the enclosures by decorating and recycling plastic or paper plates, adding fruit to them and setting them out in the garden.

Students can also make their own mini observation stations to bring in the classroom by using a ventilated transparent container. The can add the caterpillar’s host plant, and a moistened paper towel for added humidity if desired. This enclosure will need to be periodically cleaned and when the caterpillars begin to pupate they can be carefully transferred to a netted enclosure if necessary for easy release back into the garden.


This project would give students the opportunity to observe the life cycle of a butterfly while simultaneously contributing to the native ecosystem. This project has the ability to get students excited about science, ecology, and conservation. The cultivation of native plants will help to sustain native wildlife species. Butterflies, as a pollinator species, will help sustain plant life in the areas surrounding the butterfly observation station. The choice in butterfly species is also significant. The Black Swallowtail happens to be New Jersey’s state butterfly as it can be found in every New Jersey County. It is also a species that is easy to raise and directly benefits the agriculture of New Jersey and across the country. The Monarch butterfly is a species that is rapidly dwindling in numbers and students can help take part in the restoration of this species. A monarch butterfly population will have the same positive effects as a black swallowtail population. Students will also have the ability to be hands on with the project by aiding with the maintenance of the observation stations (indoors and outdoors), setting out butterfly food, and recording what they observe as the butterflies grow.  Over time, more butterfly species such as the pipevine swallowtail can be added to this project.


LEAP Academy Rock Climbing Wall

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LEAP Academy Rock Wall

I am proposing a large rock climbing wall. It would be located along the fence at the corner of 7th street and Interstate 676. The wall would be curved to form around the corner of the fence and stand around 30 feet high, the top would be curved with tethers and harnesses hanging down to keep the students secure. The backside of the wall would be a blank slate, open for artistic opportunities such as a graffiti art mural.

I believe this would be beneficial to the LEAP academy playground because it would provide it’s students with more options for physical activity, building necessary full body strength, motor skills, and coordination. The back side of the wall would give students an opportunity to express their artistic abilities and make the school’s location more aware to the surrounding public. The location of the wall would even act as a wind breaker, blocking the trash that frequently litters the playground. I hope my proposal would be a viable option to the students at LEAP, because their playground desperately needs improvement.


LEAP Academy Proposal: Vertical Farming

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The LEAP Academy playground is a place where students can enjoy some time well spent outside ti get some fresh air. This school hosts elementary students. These students are creative and innovative because of the kind of change they have advocated for and supported that advocation. The play ground has multiple plant beds to accommodate fruits and vegetables. This is an innovative way to not allow cross contamination to occur. Since Camden was once a place of commerce and business, the LEAP Academy school play ground was once a gas station and has contaminants of heavy metals in their soil. These heavy metals can range from cadmium to lead. Therefore, the students harvest on fresh soil with raised plant beds to avoid getting the heavy metals in their food. They have come up with a routine to water and nourish the food, however this can become a routine that is hard to keep up with because of the temperate weather.

One solution proposed for contaminated soil is to implement vertical farming. The projected outcome of this projected was inspired by scientist Natalie Jeremijenko, who found that using Fed-X bags could be helpful and useful for plant growth to those communities that possess little to no clean soil. This project also aides in avoiding contaminants. The LEAP Academy school could find good use in utilizing this project for the students to firstly educate themselves on the importance of vertical farming in urban areas such as Camden. Secondly, this is a good way to not only avoid poisoning in food from heavy metals but also to keep wastes a and trash out. One problem that the students were having was a waste problem drawing into the plant beds from outside of school parameters. This is an unfortunate event, since some trash can degrade into the soil and spoil the food that is growing. This project could be implemented and installed where the plant beds are currently as well as on a facade of the school building. The benefit of having the vegetables grow on the side of the building is not having wast roll onto it, some animals are not capable of reaching the food to consume it and it would be an aesthetically pleasing image from an outsider’s perspective.

Office of Civic Engagement Proposal: Let’s Make Compost!

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My idea for a community project for Art and Urban Sustainability was to make compost out of waste! I wanted to begin this project in Camden. As a barista at our local Starbucks I am aware of how much food and coffee grounds goes to waste everyday. I would like to spread awareness of this so that the food can be recycled rather than thrown out. I believe this should be a separate container (clearly labeled Compost bin) from trash and recycle that will be thrown into a compost bin later on. These would eventually be placed around the community so that everyone will be able to recycle their waste. Some people shy away from composting because of the smell, but there are ways to compost without the fear of the odor reacking havoc on you nostils. In modern times things have changed and many new inventions are being made! There are now many different types of compost bins that are specifically made to give you an odorless compost. You don’t have to keep it in a big metal bin or in your yard to face the open air and let its odor loose into the world. Composting has become hassle free and something everyone can do. This would also help to create new soil so that it can be healthier to grow your own food. The compost would be fresh, easy to make, and be an amazing substance for fresh healthy gardens.

There are a lot of things that can be made into compost such as: egg shells, apple cores, banana peels, coffee grounds, freezer burned fruits and vegetables, potatoes peels, stale potatoe chips, jello, popcorn, bad yogurt, fish scraps, kitchen waste, soy, crust (pie, pizza, etc), bad cereal, paper napkins/towels, etc. These are all things people use and throw out everyday in large amounts. So instead of letting all these things go to waste we can recycle them into compost to be used to plant and grow more food or even just to maintain the plants around the campus.

I beleive this project will help the community because by starting it at the Office of Civic Engagement it will spread awareness to the community. This can  reduce waste and be given back to the community through the use of growing plants around the community (such as trees or flowers to make the community look nicer) or even to start community gardens to help people grow their own food. I want people to realize just how much waste could be used for more than to be forgotten in a bin. It could also be the step that Camden residents need to start growing their own food at home. I will be a resident of Camden at the end of this semester and, as a future resident, this is something I would like to see come to life. As a resident of Camden I would like to make my mark and help make this community better! Looking around, in the general area of the campus, the community is filled with small houses, apartment buildings, and cramped space. With the amount of people living in these small spaces there makes enough waste to make compost and begin to make new, fresh, soil so that we can be a step closer to making Camden into a beautiful garden!


Camden Waterfront Proposal: Pleasing Purifying Plants Patch

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I would like to propose a floating wetland garden on the Delaware river in Camden to purify the water, that I call the Pretty Pleasing Purifying Plants Patch or more simply the Purifying Plant Project. This wetland would be made up of 4 plants, water lilies (Nymphaea spp.), bulrushes (Scirpus spp.), rushes (Juncus spp.), and american wild celery (Vallisneria americana). It would be made along the shoreline of the Delaware river and start from underneath the bridge and stretch all the way to the cement island.

With a project like this helping to clean the water of the river that is very popular and well known, could help bring attention to how easy it can be to purify water. Using natural plants and grass you can get a beautiful scene, while also helping the environment and its people. The Water Lillie’s can help absorb sewage toxin’s and soap from water, which is a common household pollutant. This combined with the fact that water Lillie’s are very easy to obtain and take care of makes them a shoe in for this purifying garden. Bulrushes and rushes help to remove bacteria like E. coli. Rushes can get rid of very heavy metals like copper, nickel, manganese, cobalt, and zinc that infest the water. Bulrushes help get rid of toxins like oil, bacteria, nutrients and organics.  This could help other states that have problems with metals in their water. Also, American wild celery is native to most of the United States including New Jersey, so you would not have to worry about introducing another foreign plant to New Jersey. American wild celery have these long strap like leaves that grow from the base of the plant, which allow it to catch and trap other pollutants in the water. Also, American wild celery can be grown in water from six inches to four feet deep, which allow it to grow in deep or shallow water.

This patch of purifying plants along the shoreline would do wonders for Camden not only on the surface but underneath as well. Having purified water would allow Camden’s people to feel better about their city. With this clean water Camden would be seen as a better city and wont be seen as a bad city, but as a green city. Also, with this beautiful garden on the shoreline it would be an amazing place for people to take in the view and be around such a beautiful garden. With the garden also absorbing more carbon dioxide and pumping out oxygen it will make people more happy and calm. As a Camden local I know this pleasing pretty patch of purifying plants would help lift the spirits of the people of Camden.


LEAP Academy Proposal: Playgrounds ReImagined

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Playgrounds ReImagined is a way to introduce more fantasy and playfulness into the aesthetics of a playground. It doesn’t necessarily upend the mechanics of a playground, but rather is structured to mimic the equipment already there. This is extremely beneficial for schools who have site-specific needs that make sure their students are safe regardless of whether or not the equipment is in use.
I have a handful of flexible designs for what could ideally go into public parks and different schools. The first is a large outdoor play space that can be collapsed and stored away. It is a Drawatorium, and ideally it could be built in panels connected together by hinges. These large wooden panels would be painted with various chalkboard paints so the kids can draw on them.

My next couple of designs, draws inspiration close to that of Arthur and the Invisibles where the relationship between the size objects of our everyday life are distorted. Now in these playlands we take on a miniature stature and simple things like flowers are the giants. For example, the aforementioned flowers, are used to “build” a swingset. Imagine, if you will, two large metal stems coming from the ground, twisting and turning into two large beautiful blooming flowers. Intersecting at the top is a sturdy pole that supports the weight of the swing-seats down below.

Such an endeavor would be a joy for any children to experience. To be able to walk into a storybook, or have the means to draw out their own. Ideally, I conceived the idea for the equipment to be on LEAP Academy’s playground on Cooper Street in Camden, NJ. I still feel that it would be a wonderful project for them, and being at Rutgers University keeps me in close proximity with the school.

Superficially reinventing a playground is such an achievable goal it’d be a shame to let it go to the wayside. The best part of this project is not even in its beautifying factor, but enabling young imaginations. A Drawatorium doesn’t have to be forever which is cool, but helping a child articulate herself as large as she can dream can do wonders for her going forward. That’s the end game, creating a place of fun and imagination.


Graffiti Chalk Wall: LEAP Academy Proposal

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My proposal for a piece of community art in the Leap Academy’s playground is to install a Graffiti chalk wall. The wall will be in a U shape and have two sides. The inside part of the U will be a chalk wall with huge colored outlines of native Camden plants on it. The outer part of the U will have Native plant facts that include: Name, photo, how to plant it, how to grow & maintain it, what animals or insects use it, and where in Camden it is found. Surrounding the wall will be gray stepping stones with the same plants engraved on them. Graffiti chalk spray or chalk sticks can be used.


1. The playground can be a place for children to escape; escape from the stress of classwork, personal issues regarding other children or their families, or escape to release as much energy out as they can. This Graffiti Chalk wall will act as an open creative space for expression. It will give the children a sense of freedom of expression to know they can create temporary physical emotions through the art they create on the wall.

2. The best part of this installation is the educational aspect. The children will be able to have fun and learn while they do it. They will learn the historical background of the native plants to Camden city. Everything you need to know about each of the plants will be on this side including: size, location, instructions to plant & grow, maintain, uses, inhabitants, etc.

Why Camden 

Green space is very limited in Camden. If we educate the children of our future about the city’s plant life, this fact will soon change. The information that will be provided to the Leap Academy children will generate years of cleaner air, healthier environment, safe animal & insect habitats, and possible vegetation from the likelihood that they plant these species themselves in the near future. This will create a greener and cleaner Camden.


Camden Waterfront Proposal: Turtle Beach

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Camden welcomes people from all over New Jersey and Pennsylvania to take a tour of its historical site. We have the Walt Whitman House, the aquarium/children’s garden, the battleship, Wiggins Park, BB&T concert pavilion and much more. However, when people walk down to the waterfront and look at the Delaware River, they are not greeted with a happy site. The river is filled with trash and debris. What belongs in the river? Fish, reptiles, and plants that can survive in the water. There is one specific animal I would like to see come out of the river that would bring life back to the city of Camden. That is the turtle. The most common turtles you would find in Southern New Jersey are the Common Musk, Common Map, Redbelly, Eastern Painted and Eastern spiny softshell turtles. You don’t see much or many turtles except in the aquarium but turtles belong out in the world and not held in captivity. How can turtles survive out in the Delaware river? I am proposing to start a project for turtles called Turtle Beach.

I’m proposing that Turtle Beach be sited at the abandoned cement dock at the far end of the Rutgers waterfront parking lot. This is a small section of shoreline that is filled with garbage. I’m proposing that the garbage be removed and replaced with indigenous plants that would support turtle habitat. To support this effort, I’m proposing a kick starter campaign that would be aimed at initially feeding the turtles and planting a new plant on the shoreline. The money that will be collected will go towards the care of the turtle. The turtle beach will be open for viewing in the spring time and officially close in the fall when the turtles bury themselves in the dirt to hibernate until spring.

The purpose for this turtle beach is to save the turtles from extinction. Turtles are slowly dying off due to the pollution that is currently found on our beaches and in our rivers. This beach would provide a place for the turtles to feed and live safely. Another purpose for the Turtle Beach project is to provide a site where people and turtles can interact. Additionally, giving visitors an opportunity to contribute to our waterfront ecosystem may also give them a sense of belonging to and what we, as a whole, are doing to the community. By seeing what harm, and the damages we are creating, the animals are slowly dying off. We are the only people who can save them.

Turtle Beach will benefit the city of Camden because it’s another attraction that can be added. With the waterfront having so many hot spots for things to do during the warm months, adding the beach project will be another place people would want to visit. If you plan to go forward with the idea, you are inviting more people to come to the city, bringing the city back to life.


Proposal for LEAP Academy Playground: Bubble Garden

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For my community art project, I am proposing a bubble garden. The garden will have multiple seats in the playground of the Leap Academy students. The bubble seats will be made out of rubber. The rubber material is perfect because it is safe for children. Also, the seats will be inflatable, so the students can use them whenever.

This bubble garden would be perfect for the Leap Academy students because it is perfect for the limited space. The dome like seats would provide an in depth and spacious feeling for the children. Not to mention, the seats will be cushioned with soft grass mats. Because the students like to enjoy nature, this particular idea could help nurture their passions.  This project would be cheap and useful for the entire student body.  The bubble garden is not structured like a traditional playground, which has been proven to stimulate a child’s development. As a leading educational institution, Leap Academy could benefit from implementing non traditional play spaces.


Proposal Links for the Office of Civic Engagement


Fauna Patio:

Zen For All:

Geodesic Green House:

Climbing Tree Garden:

Bird Jungle Gym:

Let’s Make Compost!

Ag Bag Proposal:







geodesic dome treehouse for the office of civic engagement here on the Rutgers Camden campus:

Sustainability Proposal