Entries in National AIDS Memorial (11)


Science Saves Lives

Tomorrow, I will be taking part in the March for Science San Francisco. I support this movement as a demonstration of my commitment to protect and promote one of my highest civic values: science.

It's no coincidence that this movement is taking place on Earth Day, and most years I appreciate and applaud the awareness that the day brings to our collective conscience, as nothing unites humanity more than our planetary dependence and existence. We all depend on nature's bounty and live within her boundaries.

However, this year is different. I am serving in a new role at the National AIDS Memorial Grove and on a daily basis, I'm exposed to the importance of our health care system, the innovative scientific solutions developed to our most pressing public health concerns, and the critical need to invest in scientific knowledge for public health, safety, and national security. AIDS and other infectious diseases will only disappear if we can bridge the scientific and societal solutions that emerge from our pursuit of new knowledge. We must advance!

This year is also different for me because of the political disreagrd, devalued role, and diminished investment in science. I will not call it a "war" on science, because I feel as though there are already too many casualties literally for this "war on science" metaphor to be sensitive. It is a life-and-death matter, not a tired metaphor.  But I will say this:

Science saves lives. If we are to find a cure for AIDS; if we are to alleviate the unbearable pain and suffering of the sick; and if we are to overcome the deadly viciousness of the virus: we need science and we must speak up for scientific research. Our destiny is in our hands.

In addition to marching, here's what I pledge to do:

  • I will vote to elect representatives who will advance scientific investments, fund scientific education and research, and promote science-based policies at all levels of government.
  • I will support scientific institutions and organizations financially.
  • I will continue to volunteer as a naturalist and citizen scientist.
  • I will advocate for scientific research in the fight against HIV/AIDS!
  • I will continue to march to give voice to this important civic value.

Together, we can build a healthier, safer, and smarter nation and society.


National AIDS Memorial Grove 

It is with great pleasure that I share news that I have joined the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park as Director of Development. I am absolutely thrilled to return to the park where my career as a frontline fundraiser began at the California Academy of Sciences. In addition, my return feels like a full-circle homecoming, as I served on the Grove’s board of directors from 2011 to 2015, co-chaired World AIDS Day in 2012 and 2013, served as board secretary, communications committee chair, and I contributed significantly to the the strategic planning process during my years of service as a volunteer.

It's great to be back to a place that I adore and to an organization that has already contributed tremendously to my professional development. I'm also excited to spread my wings as a Development Director and to strengthen the Grove's vibrant culture of philanthropy. It's the 25th silver anniversary of this national treasure and I'm eager to apply my professional focus toward its next chapter of growth, inspired by the healing power of nature and the leadership of supporters and volunteers from across the nation. 

The mission of the National AIDS Memorial Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations.

The idea for the National AIDS Memorial was first conceived in 1988 by a small group of San Francisco residents representing a community devastated by the AIDS epidemic, but with no positive way to express their collective grief. The group selected the de Laveaga Dell in world-renowned Golden Gate Park as the site for their memorial, an area that had fallen into a state of disrepair and was unusable by the public due to poor funding in the park budget. A team of prominent landscape architects and designers volunteered countless hours to create a landscape plan that would be fitting as a timeless living memorial. Site renovation began in September 1991 and ongoing maintenance and improvements continue each year. The site is the location of the National Observation of World AIDS Day annually on December 1.

Landmark Designation

In October 1996, through the passage of legislation spearheaded by Representative Nancy Pelosi, President Bill Clinton signed the National AIDS Memorial Grove Act, which recognized and designated the site as a National Memorial of the United States; a status comparable to that of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, among others.

Civic Ecology

Since my early interest and involvement, I’ve been drawn to thinking about the Grove from the perspective of the emerging field of civic ecology, which recognizes that it’s impossible to separate humans from nature. Civic ecologists examine how people in urban environments are caring for—restoring and stewarding—local natural resources. However, civic ecology practices are not just about caring for nature; they are also about caring for neighborhoods and healing communities, particularly in the aftermath of disasters and tragedies. The Grove, in my view, is a perfect case study in demonstrating the transformation of a physical and spiritual landscape. The Grove reflects my view that as places are defined by special people; people are defined by special places.

Join us!

I invite you to join me in spreading the word about this national landmark: 'Like' us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, donate, volunteer, sign-up for updates, or find more information about how you can get involved on our website:

Best of all, I invite you to visit the Grove and explore it for yourself!


AIDS Walk San Francisco 2014

Friends and family, I am participating in AIDS Walk San Francisco on July 20th and 100% of the funds I raise directly benefit the National AIDS Memorial Grove, where I serve on Board of Directors.

Please consider supporting me and the Grove by donating (any amount!) today—simply visit my personal fundraising page to give online (it’s easy, fast, and completely secure).

Over the past 28 years, AIDS Walk San Francisco has inspired thousands of people to walk, millions more to donate, and has raised nearly $82 million to fight HIV/AIDS. The funds raised at the event enable HIV/AIDS service organizations throughout the Bay Area to provide prevention, care, and advocacy programs for thousands of men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS.

Update 07/20/2014: Thank you donors! I made my fundraising goal and our team raised $21,000+ (smashing our overall goal of $20K!).


Special Invitation to Light in the Grove 2013



Civic Ecology Week 4: Hypothesis 3

Hypothesis 3: By engaging people in working with nature, civic ecology practices foster psychological and physical well-being.

Week Four Readings

The main reading for this week, by Heather A. Okvat and Alex A. Zutra (2011), “Community Gardening: A Parsimonious Path to Individual, Community, and Environmental Resilience” in American Journal of Community Psychology, Society for Community Research and Action, 47: 374-387, introduced community gardens as “a promising method of furthering well-being and resilience on multiple levels: individual, social group, and natural environment” (p. 374). </p>

<p>Throughout the paper, they cite research studies to explore the benefits of community gardening based on a conceptual framework that incorporates social and ecological models of community resilience: “The definition of community is extended beyond social ties to include connections with other species and the earth itself, what Berry (1998) has called an Earth community” (p. 374, italics in original).

As the authors explain the concept of “Earth community,” they highlight a “bi-directional” view: “First, this approach invites us to attend more to the impact of our choices on the resilience of the environment...” and “Second, it calls us to greater understanding of how the Earth’s well-bring influences our own well-being.”

Point of interest: how is the concept of an “Earth community” similar or different than a social-ecological system (SES) (see Tidball et al., 2010)?

Within this basic conceptual framework, the authors aim to understand the role of community gardens in community psychology by reviewing research studies and discussing policy-related actions and scale (especially in relation to large, systemic challenges, like climate change). The authors identify the following benefits to community gardening:

1.     1. Individual Well-Being

a.     Cognitive benefits (Attention Restoration Theory ART conceptual framework)

                                               i.     Direct attention

                                             ii.     Fascination

b.     Affective benefits

                                               i.     “These findings imply that nature provides an important buffer of life stress and a potential mechanism of resilience” (p. 377).

c.     Mood benefits

                                               i.     “Comments indicated that gardening soothed adjustment to the shelter, relieved stress, absorbed negativity, was motivating, provided a peaceful retreat, and engendered hope upon seeing new growth” (p. 387).

                                             ii.     The data also indicated that nurturing plants’ growth and producing food provided empowerment, a connection to ones’ own cultural heritage in some cases, and a cross-cultural unifier” (p. 397).

2.     2. Community Well-Being

a.     Community pride

                                               i.     “He saw neighbors come together cooperatively to protect their gardens from vandalism and “organized window watches with scheduled shifts so that upper-floor residents could mobilize ground-floor ‘coworkers’ in the event that protective action was needed” (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989, p. 166 cited in Okvat and Zautra 2011, p. 378).

                                             ii.     Reduced stigma

b.     Social Network Benefits

                                               i.     Availability: “In urban areas, availability and proximity of green spaces, especially trees and grass, have been found to correlate positively with social contact among neighbors (Sullivan et al. 2004, cited in Okvat and Zautra 2011, p. 378) and help older adults integrate into social networks in the inner city (Kweon et al. 1998, citen in Okvat and Zautra 2011, p. 378).

                                             ii.     Access: “…[L]iving adjacent to common spaces with higher levels of vegetation predicted lower ratings of general life stress, increased familiarity with nearby neighbors, more socializing with neighbors, higher sense of community, and more frequent use of those common spaces, with the latter variable mediating the positive relation between greenness and neighborhood social ties” (Kuo et al. 1998, cited in Okvat and Zautra 2001, p. 378).

                                            iii.     Safety: “Additionally, this study found a more distal benefit of green common spaces in that neighborhood social ties significantly predicted a greater sense of safety and sense of adjustment to living in the neighborhood” (p. 378).

c.     Multicultural Relations

d.     Community Organizing and Empowerment

e.     Crime Reduction

f.      Nutrition and Physical Activity (shouldn’t this be an individual well being outcome?)

g.     Economic Benefits

3.     3. Environmental Well-Being

a.     Climate Change Mitigation

b.     Other Environmental Benefits

My main challenge to the authors is that I am not convinced that their “Earth community” framework is balanced. That is, the community well-being that results from community gardening seems almost entirely anthropocentric: community pride, social network benefits, multicultural relations, community organizing and empowerment, crime reduction, nutrition and physical activity, and economic benefits. Clearly there is a need for greater research on the environmental benefits (although there’s a nice chart on page 381 that identifies potential climate change benefits of community gardens, and another on p. 382 that lists other potential benefits, but neither cite from the literature of research).

I would have expected the individual well-being and environmental well-being “benefits” to be distinct (perhaps even completely separate), but connected (and perhaps unified) together as “community well-being.” In this way, their definition of “community” still seems to be human-based, or anthropocentric. In fact, the environmental well-being outcomes that they mention are vague (which makes sense when focusing on complex, global adversity such as climate change).

At this point, it’s helpful to clarify a few important considerations:

The authors are not conducting their own research, rather, they provide a literature review of studies on community gardening, most of which:

a.     Do not utilize a consistent conceptual framework;

b.     Do not focus on group differences; and

c.     Are applied across diverse physical locations/settings.

2.     The authors do not find conclusive research that provides causal factors; rather, the studies they examine explore correlating variables;

3.     They do not explore (due to lack of research) the negative consequences of community gardening (if any, except they do mention community gardening as a source of conflict between clashing cultures with defined and/or discrete traditions, see p. 383).

4.     They focus mostly on community gardening, not other civic ecology practices, which may produce different well-being outcomes.

However, I don’t want to be too critical on the authors because surely there is a strong need for further research and their review is quite informative. In particular, I am interested in their ideas of “scaling-up” community gardening. They note: “As society begins to make wide-sweeping efforts to deal with the climate crisis while also confronting a recession, we think the possibility of an extensive network of community gardens is increasingly realistic…” – and I completely agree. For example, the authors note that “Roughly estimating the potential carbon sequestration contribution over the past 10 years of the estimated 10,000 community gardens in the US, community gardens have sequestered 190,000 tons of carbon, offsetting about 1 year’s worth of carbon emissions for 30,400 Americans” (p. 387).

Reflect on the last time you interacted with some form of nature. In your Civic Ecology Practice Journal, name three words that describe how the experience made you feel at the time.

Last weekend, I went tide pooling with friends at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve ( This visit included two “first” observations for me: (1) Alaskan bay shrimp, also known by the delicious common name of “salt-and-pepper shrimp” (Crangon alaskensis), and (2) juvenile abalone (Haliotis cracherodii), which are threatened with extinction due ocean acidification.

Tide pools are spectacularly contemplative places. As John Steinbeck wrote in The Log from the Sea of Cortez, “It is advisable to look from the tide pool to the stars and then back to the tide pool again.” Three words that describe how the experience made me feel at the time are…




© Adam C. Bad Wound. Juvenile abalone

1. Describe how individuals involved in your civic ecology practice work with, steward, or connect with nature through the civic ecology practices. Describe the nature they interact with through their work.

A typical workday begins at 9:00 a.m. and lasts until 1:30 p.m. It begins with the executive director welcoming volunteers, an update from the gardener, and a general orientation from the program manager about the volunteer project options for the day. Volunteers typically self-select to join a project that interests them and involves an appropriate level of physical activity. At noon, we stop work and gather for a circle ceremony where announcements are read, the group observes a moment of silence for those we have lost, acknowledges the sponsors of the day, and may plant a memorial tree as a group. The Grove’s generous in-kind donors provide coffee, cold drinks (soda and water), and bagels/pastries at the start of the day and lunch to all volunteers at 12:30 p.m. (For more information, see:

For the most part, individuals and groups of volunteers participate in gardening activities, such as clearing weeds and debris, mulching and hauling topsoil, planting new trees and shrubs, and other related activities within the Grove. Their interactions with nature are through direct contact with natural resources, informed by trained environmental stewards, and often conducted in teams, or via teamwork, especially for larger projects.

2. Describe any changes in exercising, weight-loss, or other aspects of physical well-being that you have noticed or that other individuals have expressed as resulting from your civic ecology practice. Also describe any improvements in mental well-being (for example, ability to communicate, feelings of calm) that you have noticed or that other individuals have expressed as a result of interacting with nature in your civic ecology practice.

As a disease, the AIDS pandemic has serious physical consequences, including death. However, as technology and treatments have advanced, many people now survive the disease and it isn’t always a certain death sentence. Today, the disease affects each person differently – some not at all.

I would like to take the time to find more evidence in this area (perhaps by interviewing survivor volunteers), but it goes without saying that the physical benefits of the Grove’s stewardship activities promote mental and physical health, strength, and recovery.

In addition, its location in Golden Gate Park provides numerous recreational opportunities, such as biking, hiking, and running (there are also group fitness classes known as “boot camps” that use the meadow). While these may not civic ecology practices per se, recreational opportunities spread awareness, engage visitors in learning more about the cultural and natural history of the space, and foster community support for the memorial.

3. Based on your own experience and insights you garner from talking with others involved in your civic ecology practice, describe what works well and what could be improved when it comes to opportunities for enhancing physical and mental well-being through your practice.

As a member of the Grove’s board of directors, I am aware of many important challenges and considerations that we, as a board, must consider to serve our diverse stakeholders. Three issues stand out to me as opportunities to enhance well-being outcomes include: (1) accessibility, (2) safety, and (3) spirituality.


The Grove and its designers have some ongoing issues with respect to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a law created for indoor spaces and not yet fully interpreted in its application to the outdoors. At one of the east entrances, the Grove has designed and built a winding wheelchair ramp that leads to the Dogwood Crescent. Designers, board members, and staff are sensitive to the need for the Grove to be fully accessible, as many visitors are limited in mobility, sick, or wheelchair-bound.

At the center of the Grove, however, the Pine Crescent, reached by a pathway and a stepped path, is not fully accessible. Similarly, the Fern Grotto at the western edge of the Grove is reached from somewhat steep paths on the meadow side, and stairs on the sidewalk end. Some kind of ramp or lift will be required to make the Grove accessible from this edge, and designers are currently struggling with this issue. In addition, Grove designers have used stepped terraces edged in granite block as erosion control devices at the sloped entry points and at the Pine Crescent. These terraced pathways also serve as stairs but are of questionable accessibility, because they do not meet the ADA stair riser/tread requirements.

It goes without saying that when areas of the memorial are inaccessible, their well-being benefits are unrealized. As the interpretation of ADA with respect to outdoor space continues to be refined, the board is continually working to resolve these issues.

From a research standpoint, accessibility is an interesting area of further study for at least three reasons related to well-being: (1) for an individual, the ability to access a green space influences well-being outcomes, such that inability to access a green space will result in diminished well-being outcomes; (2) for a community, the degree to which green resources and spaces are available influences resilience; and (3) for natural spaces, invasive, dominant, or destructive species can severely alter the ecology of a space, limiting the habitat available for other species to thrive.


While there are certainly a wide variety of activities, behaviors, and practices that contribute to individual, community, and natural well-being, most are organic – that is, they arise in their own way, often without the guidance of others. As such, one primary focus for the memorial’s board of directors is to ensure that nothing gets in the way, limits, or prevents, well-being due to unsafe volunteering conditions.

At the Monthly Community Volunteer Workdays, gloves and tools are provided, although many volunteers bring their own gloves. We advise volunteers to wear sturdy shoes, a hat or cap, and thick clothing (jeans and long-sleeved shirts are suggested). No open toe shoes are permitted

To address liability, all participants under the age of 18 must have a consent form signed by a parent/guardian prior to working at the Grove and the standard Release Form is available on-site on the morning of the workday (to review the form, see:

As stewards of the memorial, the board of directors takes safely very seriously, in order to promote health and well-being, as well as to limit liability.


Although none of our reading explicitly focuses on spiritual outcomes, or spirituality as an element in individual well-being, it’s certainly an important element at the AIDS Memorial (which is the only outdoor, public space in the City and County of San Francisco where it is legal to spread ashes).

For example, at our Monthly Community Volunteer Workdays, after the volunteers work for several hours, they join the “circle of healing,” a mid-day ritual in which organizers acknowledge volunteers for their efforts and accomplishments, poems or songs are shared, and community-related announcements can be made. Often, the executive director or board chair will make meaningful statements. The ritual is concluded with a short ceremony in which people are invited to “throw names into the circle.” These names may be of loved ones lost, or persons suffering from or touched by AIDS. After each name there is a period of silence, the group often plants a tree (or some other plant) together to commemorate their day.

Another example of the Grove’s support for spiritual well-being is seen in our events, many of are a way of “telling the story” of AIDS. For example, I am co-chair of the World AIDS Day observance ceremony at the memorial, which last year (2012) included an inclusive, inter-faith invocation by Rev. David Clarke and a musical performance by the Festival Bells hand bell choir from St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Sonoma, California. In setting the agenda for the ceremony, I worked directly with my co-chair to respectfully offer spiritual resources, such as dance, music, poetry, and prayer to the observance in order to include spiritual well-being as an important outcome.

Researchers may agree that spiritual well-being can be an outcome of civic ecology practices, but they may disagree that spiritual practices are civic ecology practices themselves. I look forward to exploring “spiritual civic ecology practices” as an area of theorizing, even if empirical research may have its limitations. We must remember that certainly the field of civic ecology includes non-empirical forces, since there’s no way to see everything, measure everything, or even understand everything from a “scientific” perspective.

© Adam C. Bad Wound. "Festival Bells" hand bell choir from St. Andrew Presbyterian Church from Sonoma, CA perform at the 2012 World AIDS Day observance at the National AIDS Memorial Grove.

As an entry in my Civic Ecology Practice Journal, this post is part of a 12-week course through the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University.


Civic Ecology Week 3: Hypothesis 2

Hypothesis 2: Civic ecology practices emerge when individuals act on social-ecological memories.

In order to clarify some of the main points of my interests in civic ecology, it’s helpful to quickly summarize that is meant when the readings refer to “social-ecological memories.”  Let me quick provide some definitions from the Krasny & Tidball, Civic Ecology, Chapter 4: 

Rooted in Practice

The chapter tells us there is evidence that social-ecological knowledge is fundamentally linked with human activities, behaviors, and practices, particularly from diverse perspectives in a community context. The readings tell us that:

  • “When shared memories relate to experiences in ecosystems and specific cultivation practices… they are referred to as social-ecological memories.” (p. 3).
  • “When social-ecological memories are lost, we also lose important experience and knowledge about how to manage a system” (p. 8).
  • “Partnerships among civic ecology practitioners and scientists collectively contain diverse knowledge and experience that is needed to address complex natural resource management problems or dilemmas, where no single individual can profess to have all the solutions” (p. 9).

Knowledge and Memories

The chapter tells us there is evidence that social-ecological knowledge and memories accumulate in communities across space and time. We learn that:

  • Social-ecological memory is the ‘knowledge, experience and practice about how to manage a local ecosystem and its services (that) is retained in a community, and modified, revived and transmitted through time” (4) (p. 3).
  • “In order for communities to leverage their social-ecological relationships into stewardship action, the system must retain biological memories” ... “that have survived a period of over-exploitation or other disturbance, and that provide the living material for reestablishing a new population” (p. 4).
  • Traditional ecological knowledge” accumulates over time as “individuals… interact with the surrounding ecosystem,” but absent of a long-term accumulation of such interactions and resulting knowledge, or when it is simply lost, “knowledge creation is a process that is not controlled or managed from the outside, but rather emerges through self-organized interactions of the participants in civic ecology and other practices” (pp. 8-9).

Application and Transmission

The chapter tells us there is evidence that social-ecological memories are shared and transmitted in communities through collective or social memories. We learn that:

  • Social-ecological memories “accumulate over multiple generations of resources users” and “story telling is one way of transmitting social-ecological memories across generations” (p. 3).
  • “Social-ecological memories can be transported to new locations and used to inform cultivation practices under radically different conditions” … and “[i]n some cases, rather than use native species, people may draw on biological memories of a different set of species than what originally occupied the site” (p. 7).
  • “[W]hen people move to a new location, the social-ecological memories they bring with them may not be sufficient to allow them to adapt their past practices to the new setting” (p. 8).

Adaptation and Innovation

The chapter tells us there is evidence that social-ecological memories can play a role in helping communities adapt and innovate in light of a disturbance or disaster. We learn that:

  • In some cases, social-ecological memories play “a role in adapting to natural disaster and to smaller disturbances in cities” (p. 4).
  • Social-ecological memories “are not simply a “stagnant pool of knowledge,” …but “a source of innovation that allows for “the recasting of core ideas from a deeper past so they can be used to respond to the new circumstances of the moment” (p. 3).
  • “[U]rban social-ecological systems where civic ecology practices transpire often differ widely from the places where the knowledge that is bring applied originated” thus, they “adapt their practices based on the positive and negative outcomes of their ‘field experiments’ in managing local natural resources” (p. 8).

Relative to my civic ecology practice at the National AIDS Memorial Grove, two key concepts stand out from the readings: (1) biophilic memory, and (2) urgent biophilia. Similar to the Living Memorials created after 9/11, the National AIDS Memorial Grove does not “necessarily represent a social-ecological memory among people who once farmed or otherwise had been engaged in environmental stewardship” nor were the founders of the National AIDS Memorial “directly tied to a memory of an iconic species…” (p. 6). Instead, the memorial was founded as an expression of biophilic memory and an outcome of urgent biophilia.

Biophilic memory refers to a “deep seated love of nature” that is “described in terms of human evolution” – or how collective memories in nature provide a “means to restore a sense of self and community” (p. 8).

Urgent biophilia refer to the application of biophilic memories in a context of crisis, desperation, destruction, and tragedy. Urgent biophilia can be seen as “expressing a deep seated memory of the healing role of nature” in conflict contexts.

However, I am also reminded that the tragedy of the AIDS pandemic is characteristically different from terrorism of 9/11, in relation to both space and time.

The AIDS pandemic continues today, it reaches all communities in the human population, and people continue to die from it each and every day. In essence, the civic ecology practices at the National AIDS Memorial are still unfolding because the virus continues to advance without a cure. In this sense, the tragedy is ongoing and unlimited (time), even if recent advancements in medical science have reduced its impact in many populations. Furthermore, it reaches every realm (space) of human existence.

In contrast, the tragedy of 9/11 was a fixed moment (time) in time that, eventually, has come to a conclusion for the areas (space) it impacted (Lower Manhattan, Washington, D.C., etc.). A decade after the event, we still memorialize the tragedy, but the sense of renewal and recovery comes from a context of conclusion and resilience.

It is my hope that one day we will find a cure to AIDS so that the living memorial no longer represents a living tragedy. At the moment, both the memorial and the tragedy are unfolding in profound ways ripe with opportunities for further study, especially since there are so few examples of ongoing tragedies of this magnitude.

Describe how you and your fellow civic ecology practitioners talk about memories in relation to your civic ecology practices. What social-ecological memories do you and they recall?

Relative to my civic ecology practice at the National AIDS Memorial Grove, I am interested in focusing on five typological aspects of socio-ecological memories, symbols, and knowledge: (1) type of disaster, (2) type of civic ecology practices, (3) types of knowledge, (4) types of outcomes, and (4) methods of transmission.

Type of Disaster

1. At the National AIDS Memorial Grove, social-ecological memories are the result of a specific type of natural disaster: disease.

Simply put: AIDS had/has an impact on human populations, not on a physical space. Although comparable in magnitude to the world’s deadliest disasters, AIDS has not affected the broader ecosystem in the way an earthquake, tornado, tsunami, or other natural disaster would (in many ways it’s also different than most human-caused disasters, such as terrorism, violence, and war).

At the same time, we can recognize its human impacts and also recognize its natural basis. The disease is a virus, which is a naturally occurring phenomenon that affects all cellular life, in one way or another.

In this view, disease is a unique type of disaster: its consequences are limited to a particular species in an ecosystem (in this case, humans) and its cause is a naturally occurring phenomenon (in this case, a virus).

Relative to social-ecological memories and knowledge, it is important to note that the National AIDS Memorial Grove is different from other living memorials because of the type of disaster. There is no known cure for HIV/AIDS, so the human tragedy continues to unfold. Accordingly, there are undoubtedly profound implications for studying this type of disaster, relative to socio-ecological memories across time and space.

Type of Civic Ecology Practice

2. At the National AIDS Memorial Grove, social-ecological memories are rooted in transformative, rather than restorative, civic ecology practices.

The Grove is a memorial that has transformed the natural space, rather than restored the natural space.

In the 1860s, Golden Gate Park was carved out of sand and shore dunes that were known as the “outside lands” beyond San Francisco’s expanding borders. The park drew its name from the nearby Golden Gate strait. In order to develop on the dunes, the first stage of the park’s cultivation centered on planting trees. By 1879, over 155,000 trees were planted over 1,000 acres, securing the soil for development.

The Grove is located on the de Laveaga Dell, originally a recreational space that included a lake, meandering stream, irises, over-hanging oaks and spectacular ferns. In the early days, the Dell was known as the Deer Glen and used by the zoo to house animals. The Dell was well maintained during the first half of the 19th century, but later suffered from a lack of funds for maintenance and deteriorated in to a derelict site.

In the 1990s, volunteers cleaned and transformed the de Laveaga Dell, while raising funds for an endowment to maintain the memorial in perpetuity. That is, they did not restore the Dell to its natural state, which would have been impossible due to the changes in Golden Gate Park since the 1860s. Instead, they “cleaned it up” as an act of stewardship, not as an act of restoring it to its natural habitat and ecology. In this urban park, complete true restoration is almost impossible.

Type of Knowledge

3. At the National AIDS Memorial Grove, social-ecological memories are based on both traditional ecological knowledge, as well as new knowledge particular to the memorial and Golden Gate Park.

In my own civic ecology practices, I have written and published a new resource, The Grove Field Guide, (see: which provides an overview of the Grove's cultural and natural history, along with plant pictures, identification information, and a species list.

In writing the Guide, I tried to use as many examples of “traditional ecological knowledge” as well as cultural and mythological symbols. A few examples include:

California buckthorn (Frangula californica)

This native plant is also known as coffeeberry because its berries contain seeds that look like coffee beans. American Indians found it to be an herbal laxative, but only in small quantities since the effects of the plant are quite powerful.

Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

American Indians considered it to be a "life medicine,” so they chewed it for toothaches, earaches, headaches, and drank it as tea to reduce fever and aid in restful sleep.

Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii)

American Indians have been known to eat the berries, but since they have high tannin content and are thus astringent, theywere more often chewed or made  into a cider. An iconic example is found near the base of the creek in The Grove, near the Crossroads Circle.

In this example, I draw upon cultural symbolism:

Blanket flowers (Genus Gaillardia)

The common name refers to the flower's resemblance to brightly patterned blankets made by American Indians.

In this example, I draw upon mythological symbolism:

African iris (Dietes iridioides)

These beautiful flowers are named for the Greek goddess Iris, a messenger of the gods who traveled by rainbow.

When possible, I am trying to incorporate “traditional ecological knowledge” into my civic ecology practices at the Grove.

Yet, the readings remind us: “social-ecological memories can be transported to new locations and used to inform cultivation practices under radically different conditions” and that the “biological memories used in a restoration project may come from outside of the system being restored” (Krasny & Tidball, Civic Ecology, p. 7).

To this point, I am reminded that the Grove also has another important resources that we use on our monthly volunteer workdays: a weed guide.  This resource helps stewards of the Grove identify and remove invasive or unwanted species from the Grove. This guide was crafted by the Grove’s gardener and reflects his working knowledge of the relationships among the living species in the Grove, as well as its manicured beauty as a botanical garden.

As a civic ecology practitioner, I’ve been thinking about what it means (mostly for plants) to be indigenous/native, introduced/non-native, naturalized, invasive, and/or ornamental - to name a few of the terms used to describe the ecological characteristics of the species living in a given habitat. Defining these concepts reminds me of parallels to the various human definitions of place of origin, adaptation, inhabitation, colonization, and immigration.

Taken together, these resources help stewards of the Grove understand their civic ecology practice, relative to the types of knowledge that come from our socio-ecological memories.

Type of Outcomes

4. At the National AIDS Memorial Grove, social-ecological memories and knowledge tend to produce emotional and psychological outcomes.

Particularly in relation to “biophilic memory” and “urgent biophilia,” the Grove is similar to many living memorials in that its civic ecology practices (i.e. stewardship activities) are a “means for humans to express such biophilic memories when they are in desperate need of a means to restore sense of self and community” (Krasny & Tidball, Civic Ecology, p. 6). Furthermore, the readings cite numerous examples of emotional and psychological outcomes related to civic ecology practices. 

To this point, the readings point to the connection between emotional/psychological outcomes and complex individual/social human processes, such as grieving, healing, and learning.

One passage states, “Such greening activities are one form of memorialization, which has been described as: the process of creating physical representations or commemorative activities that concern events in the past and are located in public spaces… designed to evoke a specific reaction or set of reactions, including public acknowledgement of the event or people represented; personal reflection or mourning; pride, anger, or sadness about something that has happened; or learning or curiosity about periods in the past” (Brett et al. 2007, p. 1, cited in Tidball et al. 2010, p. 593).

To sum: the Grove exemplifies the phenomenon that they call “spontaneous memorialization” as well as “urgent biophilia” in ways that demonstrate emotional and psychological outcomes that contribute to broader individual and social processes.

Methods of Transmission

5. At the National AIDS Memorial Grove, social-ecological memories are transmitted through stories, cultural symbols, and community ceremonies.

We know that “storytelling is one way of transmitting social-ecological memories across generations” (Krasny & Tidball, Civic Ecology, p. 3) and I am pleased to report that as a member of the Grove’s Board of Directors, “telling the story” has been an important part of our strategic planning process, currently underway.

As part of this process, we started by revising our mission statement, which had historically been quite long, confusing, and difficult to understand. In revising the mission statement, we identified two areas of primary importance: (1) not forgetting the lives lost to AIDS, and (2) making the story known to future generations.

Our revised mission statement reads:

“The mission of the National AIDS Memorial Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance, so that the lives of people who have died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations.”

The first part of this mission serves the traditional “memorial” role – providing a space to remember the lives lost to AIDS. Of the second part of the mission, one key word stands out: the “story.”

Storytelling is an important way to transmit social-ecological memories and as we move forward with our strategic plan, I am thrilled to be a part of the Grove’s attempt to focus on storytelling in the future.

As co-chair of the Grove’s World AIDS Day Observance, I also know that our ceremonies are one way that we tell “the story” and evoke the memories of lives lost.

Taken together, interpretive materials (such as a mission statement and strategic plan), events (such as World AIDS Day and Light in the Grove), are fundamentally methods of transmitting social-ecological knowledge, as well as serving the functional role of memorialization in the midst of this ongoing human tragedy.

Reflect on how you’ve heard fellow civic ecology practitioners talk about their memories and any memories you have brought to your practice.

Generally, my fellow civic ecology practitioners at the National AIDS Memorial Grove speak from a place of loss, sorrow, and hope. One tag line that I put forth in my creation of The Grove Field Guide is that “the Grove is a place for us all to gather, grieve, and grow.”

To me, these three words exemplify how I talk about my own relationship to the space, the disease, and the memorial.

Gather: the Grove is a place in perpetuity (for the public) for people to come together. AIDS has touched each American life in one way or another – directly or indirectly – so it is important to recognize the Grove as a place for everyone.

Grieve: the Grove is a memorial, for people to remember those who died and to mourn their loss. It’s a place to remember and respect.

Grow: the Grove is a living space dedicated to an uncured disease. Growth reflects resilience and renewal, as well as hope and learning.

As a person that is not HIV+ and does not have AIDS, my relationship to the Grove does not necessarily reflect my own memories, social-ecological or otherwise. Rather, it reflects the collective memory of my community – particularly as a gay man living in San Francisco. To this point, I often say, “I live with AIDS – not in my body, in my community.” At this point, that’s how I describe my memories in relation to my civic ecology practices.

Take a moment to reflect on recent experiences in your own civic ecology practice that are likely to become strong memories in the years ahead.

In the years ahead, my hope is that by becoming a better civic ecologist, I will be able to inform and influence the Grove in advancing its mission. In the future, hope to look back at these moments of civic ecology education as an important formative stage of my civic ecology development and research.

In this way, my education in civic ecology practices is a form of memory, as I will draw from it for many years from now – I can already tell. 


As an entry in my Civic Ecology Practice Journal, this post is part of a 12-week course through the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University.


Civic Ecology Week 2: Hypothesis 1

Hypothesis 1: Civic ecology practices often emerge when threats cause a system to approach or reach a tipping point or threshold.


Read the following articles and book chapters, and highlight the passages that resonate with your own civic ecology practice.

The following set of questions deals with the history of your civic ecology practice. You may find perspectives provided by talking to other people in your practice will help you develop richer or more detailed responses.

  1. Describe any changes in your community that led community members to respond by initiating a civic ecology practice.

  2. Describe the individuals and the groups or organizations that started the civic ecology practice and the role each played at the beginning.

Forecast the next big challenge your community will likely face in the years ahead. In your Civic Ecology Practice Journal, describe, draw, or diagram two tasks your civic ecology practice may take to confront this new challenge.

Read the following articles and book chapters, and highlight the passages that resonate with your own civic ecology practice.

Week One Readings

First, I’d like to briefly reflect on last week’s readings, which were quite helpful in understanding the definition of the civic ecology, as a term and as a field. The readings discussed each term separately, civic and ecology, with frequent reference to the activities, practices, and partnerships that are described in what we call the “civic ecology” field.

Given that I’m new to understanding the field in an academic way, I am relieved that my knowledge as a civic ecology practitioner is confirmed by the readings. For example, in discussing and exploring the term “civic,” the readings resonated with much of my work—and in so many ways, my life.

Philanthropy and volunteerism capture the majority of my professional and personal ambitions as a nonprofit professional and board member. In general, the readings acknowledged and confirmed my understanding that the term “civic,” in this field, refers to the meaning relative to what we commonly call “civil society.” In this field, “civic” is related to “civil” or perhaps (although not quite explicitly stated in the readings) “civilized.”

Typically, the field of “civilized society” as we understand it as “civil society” infers a multi-sector perspective. That is, there are market solutions that we may call the “private sector,” political solutions through public governance that we may call the “public sector,” and a final sector that we commonly call “philanthropy and civil society” – that is, the creative partnerships that take place when innovation is fueled by generosity through philanthropy and is implemented through the work of non-political, non-profitable collaborations and organizations. The readings confirm that many of these partnerships often involve multi-sector arrangements, such as the public-private partnership exemplified by my work at the National AIDS Memorial Grove. Located in Golden Gate Park – a public park managed by the San Francisco Department of Recreation and Parks –the Grove is run by a nonprofit organization that is governed by a private board and funded by philanthropic individuals, families, corporations, and foundations. The Grove is a perfect example of a public-private-philanthropic partnership!

Related to that point, I enjoyed that the readings focused on civic ecology from a local, urban perspective, reminding us that so much of the world’s population now lives in urban areas. The reading, “Civic ecology: a pathway for Earth Stewardship in cities” confirmed this perspective and provided ten principles that have emerged from the study of such practices.

The Week One readings also foreshadowed the concept of “resilience” in a way that sparked my interest in defining further along as I go.

Week Two Readings

If Week One readings hit close to home, Week Two magnified my interests in learning more about how to analyze and explain civic ecology in relation to activities and practices in the field. In particular, the readings focused on the role of humans in dynamic systems that were analyzed from (at least) two perspectives: (1) the interconnectedness of people and place, and (2) the capacity for positive outcomes from the relationship between people and planet (sometimes referred to as environmental and social outcomes, both based on a connected cultural and natural history).

This confirms my knowledge as a practitioner that social and natural conditions are fundamentally linked. For example, civic ecologists may notice (1) that changes in climate are explained socially and naturally, (2) that our entire economy is built upon a base of natural resources, and (3) that ecosystem services provide countless benefits to the health and prosperity of humans and other species.

However, as a field that is dynamic and responsive, the readings emphasized that much of the field of civic ecology is the result of a critical mass or of a critical consequence. That is, civic ecology activities and practices often stem from the deterioration of social and natural spheres to the point that they can only be solved by connecting the two spheres in a unified perspective.

I’m talking about the worst type of deterioration in social and natural conditions, too. Some social examples: death, disease, poverty, slavery, and all forms of human suffering. Some environmental examples: extinction, pollution, and mutilated land and seascapes.

Enter the term “resilience” (!).

Armed with a perspective that social and natural conditions are fundamentally linked, civic ecology practitioners are able to understand when activities and practices can lead to positive outcomes for a people and place. Taken together, “sense of place” is central to the field of civic ecology, particularly in relation to the concept of “stewardship.”

Written by academics, it is encouraging to note that “resilience” is of interest to researchers, since they are keen to identify the mechanisms of change. That is, the readings reminded us that “resilience” – overcoming the horrible social and natural problems I listed above with sustainable solutions for both people and planet (a tipping point) confronted by a critical mass of people working in a natural setting.

Understanding these “tipping points” informs the field of civic ecology because it allows researchers to understand and effectively promote human and environmental health in the wake of disasters, concepts that are implied in our use of the word “resilience” (I’m going to stop quoting the term from this point forward).

Finally, the readings this week used examples to remind civic ecology practitioners that resilience is, indeed, of great interest to academics because researchers can study the “science” of empirical, observable phenomena that occur in densely human areas (cities), which of course are located in a natural environment. The “Collapse, Learning, and Renewal” chapter was particularly insightful on the academic research of resilience science (resiliology?).

The following set of questions deals with the history of your civic ecology practice. You may find perspectives provided by talking to other people in your practice will help you develop richer or more detailed responses.

[Full disclosure: the material used to answer the following questions comes from a variety of sources, including (1) the National AIDS Memorial Grove website, and (2) personal accounts of board members. Also, I am at liberty to communicate these materials as a member of the Grove’s Board of Directors.]

Describe any changes in your community that led community members to respond by initiating a civic ecology practice.

"One of the vital roles that the Grove serves is as a touchstone for the grieving process. This is important not only for those of us who have lost loved ones to AIDS, but for everybody; we all have been touched by loss."

-Senator Dianne Feinstein

The Grove and the volunteer workdays that built and maintain it have been guided by a central vision that speaks in important ways to the nature and purpose of memorials. To begin with, the Grove was intentionally designed with local conditions and communities in mind. Renewing the abandoned Dell and providing a place for all San Franciscans touched by the AIDS epidemic were the original concerns; national status came later as an unexpected addition. As Representative Nancy Pelosi pointed out to the site visit team, San Francisco is a particularly appropriate location for an AIDS memorial because the city’s tolerance and openness have long made it a home for the nation’s gay and lesbian communities. As such, it has not only become an important symbolic and organizational center for those communities, but it has been one of the cities hardest-hit by the AIDS epidemic. As a result of San Francisco’s important role in gay and lesbian life, the Grove was able to build on an already existing grassroots network of support and participation. This vision of serving a local community has been crucial to the Grove’s success in attaining broader recognition.

A second element of the Grove’s animating vision is the concept of a living memorial, one that renews and rebuilds as well as remembers. At its most basic level this is evidenced by the choice of the neglected Dell: as the Dell needed to be restored, so too did those affected by the AIDS epidemic. The acts of organizing, volunteering, and creating the Grove continues to be part of the healing process, creating a living testimony to renewal.

Although the Grove is for the most part ‘built’ in the conventional sense of the word, it continues to be created as a result of community activity at the site.” Representative Nancy Pelosi added that the clearing of the Grove was a metaphor for dealing with AIDS: it seemed a hopeless task in the beginning, but as they made progress, they brought light to the Grove and also to the subject of AIDS. Not coincidentally, the end result of these life-affirming activities is itself a living thing, composed of plants and animals that will also continue to grow and mature over time; meditation and remembrance can take place at the memorial without a funereal atmosphere.

Relative to the Grove’s status as a living memorial, it serves as a facilitating site for activities and organizations working on AIDS issues. It is a venue for delivering AIDS policy statements, and nonprofit AIDS organizations use it for receptions and fundraising. It annually hosts the pre-eminent World AIDS Day event in the Bay Area. It also serves as an educational forum for teaching about a wide range of AIDS issues, particularly since its adoption by schools and youth volunteer organizations as a site to send young volunteers. Thus the Grove remains dynamic in its creation and composition as well as in its ongoing affirmation of life.

Describe the individuals and the groups or organizations that started the civic ecology practice and the role each played at the beginning.

The AIDS Memorial Grove grew out of the response of a small group of people to the overwhelming devastation wrought by the AIDS epidemic on the San Francisco gay community. Early participants included Alice Russell-Shapiro, Isabel Wade, and Nancy McNally, all of who had worked with urban environmental groups including the Trust for Public Land, Friends of the Urban Forest, and other organizations. They were joined by landscape designer Stephen Marcus (who was then afflicted with AIDS and knew he did not have long to live), David Linger, and Jim Hormel.

This initial group conceived of creating a place that would memorialize those who had died, increase public awareness of the crisis, and be a beautiful public space for remembrance and reflection. They wanted to create “something organic, something life affirming” to counteract the ravages of the epidemic. Meeting informally in 1988 and 1989, the group originally envisioned a “gingko grove,” with a tree planted for each AIDS death. As the proportions of the epidemic grew, and as the group gained knowledge and sophistication, their vision of the grove evolved into a public open space that would allow for quiet contemplation, gatherings, and remembrance not only for those affected by AIDS but for the general public as well.

In 1989, the Committee began searching for a site. Negotiations with the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department started in earnest that same year. After reviewing several options, the group selected Golden Gate Park because of its national stature, accessibility, and familiarity to the diverse communities affected by the AIDS epidemic. In addition, a Golden Gate Park site would increase the chances of the Grove gaining the kind of visibility the group was seeking.

Golden Gate Park planners were skeptical at first. Proponents of the Grove, however, had gained credibility through their planning and fundraising, and promised not only to reclaim a significant area in the park but to fund a gardener to maintain the area in perpetuity. On the strength of that commitment, the Park authorities accepted the proposal and identified six possible sites. De Laveaga Dell, at the east end of the Park, was ultimately selected.

De Laveaga Dell, given to the park by the de Laveaga family in the1890s and landscaped in 1921, was one of the oldest developed parts of Golden Gate Park, but it had been seriously neglected since the early 1980s due to budget cuts. As family members who had been saddened by this neglect recall, the policy seemed to be “If you can’t see it from the car, it doesn’t matter.” The Dell was prominently located on a major park drive, but occupied a low-lying area separated from the road by embankments overgrown with brambles and berries. Drainage problems in the meadow below had resulted in frequent flooding. Due in part to its lack of visibility from the road and pathways above, the Dell had become a haven for the homeless and for drug users, and was considered one of the most dangerous areas in the Park.

September 19, 1991 marked the first workday and is considered the birthday of the Grove. Two hundred people attended that day, inaugurating many months of labor-intensive weed, tree, and bramble removal. Participants like Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Supervisor Mark Leno, and the Board members recalled these early workdays vividly. Everyone agreed that the state of deterioration of the site was in some ways an apt metaphor for the impact of the AIDS epidemic – reclamation seemed a daunting prospect.

In the early 1990s workdays were attended by a core group of volunteers, many of whom were gay men, either HIV-positive or already suffering from AIDS. As the word spread about the Grove, others joined the effort, and the workdays grew and expanded. Over the years, the Grove has become more fully built, treatment for AIDS has improved, the crisis nature of the epidemic has diminished, and workdays have changed. Recent workdays have welcomed students, corporate groups, and youth volunteers from all over the Bay Area.

In October 1996, a historic milestone was reached when Congress and the President of the United States approved the National AIDS Memorial Grove Act. This official designation as the National AIDS Memorial Grove, a status comparable to that of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, proclaims to the world that there is now a dedicated space in the national public landscape where anyone who has been touched by AIDS can grieve openly without being stigmatized, can find comfort among others whose lives have been affected by AIDS and HIV, and can experience the feelings of renewal and hope inherent in nature. As the AIDS pandemic continues to invade humanity in unprecedented numbers, the establishment of the Grove as the national gathering place for healing, hope, and remembrance also serves as an important marker in the history of this dreadful disease.

Forecast the next big challenge your community will likely face in the years ahead. In your Civic Ecology Practice Journal, describe, draw, or diagram two tasks your civic ecology practice may take to confront this new challenge.

Relative to my civic ecology work at the National AIDS Memorial Grove, my biggest worry is that over time, people will forget about those that have died of AIDS. Over time, attitudes about the disease have changed and in many ways, the tragedies have become less of a public concern due to the changes in circumstances for those living with the disease. The survivor story is a huge part of the pandemic’s narrative, especially in a time when there is no cure and new infections persist, particularly in sensitive populations.

That said, in some ways, the resilience that we seek in a memorial setting is both to remember and to heal. But should a cure to AIDS happen in my lifetime, it’s possible (and I hope probable) that nobody will have to die from the disease again. While that is the outcome we all seek, we must not forget about those we lost, known and unknown.

As a member of the Grove’s Board, it occurs to me that although I don’t have HIV/AIDS in my body: I have it in my community. This perspective contributes to my work as a civic ecologist and naturalist, particularly in this special place where we can all gather, grieve, and grow.

As an entry in my Civic Ecology Practice Journal, this post is part of a 12-week course through the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University.


Civic Ecology Week 1: Getting Started


1. In your Civic Ecology Practice Journal, write a short introduction to yourself, with a particular focus on your experience with civic ecology and related practices and how you came to the kind of work you do. Post on the course week 1 Discussion Board under your name. Please also post a photo of yourself.

2. In your Civic Ecology Practice Journal, describe your civic ecology practice. Although you are welcome to be creative and use your own “voice” in the writing, we suggest that you incorporate in your description: (a) the name of the practice, (b) the organization it is connected to, (c) its location, (d) the resource it focuses on (e.g., a river or vacant lot), (e) its goals including those related to the environment and to the local community, (f) the stewardship and other (e.g., educational, monitoring, advocacy) activities, (g) the people involved, and (h) its outcomes related to the environment and the community. Post your description on the week 1 Discussion Board.

About Me

I am Grants Manager at NatureBridge, a nonprofit organization that inspires personal connections to the natural world and responsible actions to sustain it by connecting young people to the wonders of science and nature in the world’s best classrooms—our national parks.

Previously, I worked in Foundation and Government Relations at the California Academy of Sciences, the "Greenest Museum in the World" in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Certified in research administration at Stanford University, my career began in a joint appointment at the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and Haas Center for Public Service.

My professional mission is to connect people and planet through philanthropy. My personal vision statement is simple: People + Planet @ Peace.

Last summer, as a member of the Board of Directors of the National AIDS Memorial Grove, I created a field guide exploring the natural and national significance of The Grove as the final project in my certification as a Naturalist from the University of California. Through the project, I began to think about the unique environmental and social stewardship practices that take place in The Grove, particularly as a restored space and a national memorial. The Grove is a special place: once an abandoned and derelict site in Golden Gate Park, it was transformed as a memorial in the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, particularly serving the LGBT community in San Francisco. Together, these people and this place exemplify civic ecology practices in relation to infectious disease and invasive species in a profound association worthy of further study for civic ecology practitioners and scholars.

My Civic Ecology Practice

I am interested in studying groups of people who self-organize to reconnect with nature as a means of societal change, and in so doing apply eco-centric thinking to improving their communities. In particular, I want to focus my studies on the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, to explore the parallel and intersecting impacts of (1) infectious disease, and (2) invasive species, in order to study the relationship of people and place in this unique socio-ecological space.

“It was an idea born out of desperation. We all felt the need for a place where people could find solace, solidarity, and hope—and the sense of renewal that is inspired by nature.”

Alice Russell-Shapiro, Co-Founder and Board Co-Chair

(A) The name of the practice: volunteer stewardship

 The civic ecology practice of note (there are undoubtedly many) is, on the most basic level, the stewardship activities of The Grove through monthly volunteer workdays. I hope to be able to offer monthly nature walks as part of the volunteer workdays in order to raise awareness of the Grove’s natural and national significance by exploring its cultural and natural history.

In addition, I hope to promote “The National AIDS Memorial Grove” project on, a digital, mobile, and social platform that allows users to record what they see in nature, meet other nature lovers, and learn about the natural world.

(B) Organization it is connected to:

National AIDS Memorial Grove

(C) Its location:

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

(D) The resource it focuses on (e.g., a river or vacant lot):

The Grove space is a diverse landscape that includes a redwood grove, grassy meadow, fern glen, and woodland stream. It also includes a variety of symbolic circular portals and gathering areas, including the Circle of Friends, Circle of Peace, and Crossroads Circle.

(E) Its goals including those related to the environment and local community:

The mission of the National AIDS Memorial Grove is to provide, in perpetuity, a place of remembrance, so that the lives of people who died from AIDS are not forgotten and the story is known by future generations.

The Grove is a dedicated space and place in the national landscape where the millions of Americans touched directly or indirectly by AIDS can gather to heal, hope, and remember.

(F) The stewardship and other (e.g., educational, monitoring, advocacy) activities:

 On the third Saturday of each month from March through October, volunteers help with the work of creating and maintaining the Grove. Individuals and groups of volunteers participate in gardening activities: clearing weeds and debris, mulching and hauling topsoil, planting new trees and shrubs, and other stewardship activities.

Originally conceived as an expedient way to involve people in the Grove and take advantage of much needed volunteer labor, workdays have become an important cornerstone of the memorial. Since 1991 thousands of volunteers have given more than 100,000 hours of their time at monthly (except in winter) workdays.  This volunteer labor, together with the full-time gardener, keeps The Grove planted and maintained.  There is unanimous agreement that workdays remain central to the meaning and strength of the Grove. Another important element of the workdays is their potential to broaden the base of understanding about gay and lesbian as well as AIDS issues.

(G) The people involved:

The National AIDS Memorial is governed by a dedicated board of directors who have signed a 99-year renewable agreement with the City of San Francisco through the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department to maintain the Grove in perpetuity. It is a project of the Tides Center, a non-profit corporation dedicated to social service and stewardship of the natural environment. The organization includes a small professional staff and gardener and the space is maintained by countless volunteers, all supported by philanthropic friends, families, corporations, and foundations from across the United States.

(H) Its outcomes related to the environment and community:

The broader region is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a U.S. National Recreation Area administered by the National Park Service that surrounds the San Francisco Bay area. Over half of North American avian species and nearly one third of California's plant species are found in the park. There are over 80 rare or special status wildlife species currently identified as permanent or seasonal residents of the park, or are dependent upon parklands and waters for migration. Of these, 12 are listed as federally endangered, and 12 are federally threatened.

As a memorial to those who have been affected by AIDS, The Grove carries national significance as a place for us all to gather, grieve, and grow. Stewards of The Grove continue to develop new landscape and memorial features, including the meadow, stream, and various benches, gathering circles, portals, and pathways. Annual fundraisers supported new programs, landscaping, and stewardship projects.

As an entry in my Civic Ecology Practice Journal, this post is part of a 12-week course through the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University.


World AIDS Day 2012

Today, as co-chair of the World AIDS Day observance, I welcomed over 800 guests, national dignitaries, and media, to honor Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi with the National Leadership Award. Through her leadership in Congress, she helped create the National AIDS Memorial and is a long-time supporter and volunteer.

"We come together today to pay tribute to all those we have lost, and all that we have held on to - our hope, our optimism, our steadfastness and our determination to continue to fight against this disease and to support those affected by it," Leader Pelosi said. "It is humbling to be honored by the National AIDS Memorial. In this beautiful city, we turned heartache into hope by establishing the Grove as a healing sanctuary, by immortalizing the fight against AIDS, and by treasuring the memories of those we have lost and of those who continue to fight." (See Nancy Pelosi's full statement here.)

Gina Gatta, a 12-year board member and longtime advocate of HIV/AIDS programs and services, received the Local Unsung Hero Award. We also awarded scholarships to college-bound students as part of our Youth Development Scholarship Program, sponsored by UnitedHealthcare.

In addition, we launched a month-long text-to-donate campaign, “A Time For Hope; A Time for Healing” with AT&T, making it possible for any mobile subscriber regardless of carrier to simply text the word “HEAL” to “501501” to make a $10.00 charitable donation to the National AIDS Memorial.

All donations to the text-to-heal campaign will support the National AIDS Memorial year-round mission to honor and pay tribute to those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS; continue to create and maintain a permanent memorial grove located in San Francisco as a place for healing; and expand youth awareness and scholarship programs to inspire the next generation of leaders to help find a cure for the pandemic, now in its 30th year.

Please, text and donate today!

Also, checkout this video featuring today's events. You may recognize one of the speakers.


The Grove Field Guide

It's official!  I'm a certified naturalist!

This new certification course from the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, with expert instruction from the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN), utilized a set science curriculum, hands-on learning, communication training, and community service to engage a cohort of environmental stewards in interactive learning for stronger scientific literacy and critical thinking skills.

It was a wonderful experience that I highly recommend to anyone who wants to learn how to communicate essential scientific concepts, understand ecological and social relationships, and explore the linked cultural and natural heritage of people and place.

The course requirements included:

  • 20 hours of volunteering
  • 10 weekly lectures (each split with a set science curriculum and a featured guest speaker)
  • 3 postings to (I almost became addicted to the impressive platform and completed 119 postings!)
  • 3 Saturday hikes to collect observations in a field notebook
  • A capstone (final) project

For my project, I held a bio-blitz at the National AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park (full disclosure: I'm on The Grove's Board of Directors). I then uploaded the photos that I took on my iPhone to iNaturalist and created an online "project" to work with a virtual community of volunteers to identify the plants in each photo. With the descriptions given to me from volunteers that I interviewed and via iNaturalist, I then crafted a publication, The Grove Field Guide, and published it here on my website, available for immediate access and downloadable in multiple formats.

Generally, the feedback I've gotten on the project has been overwhelmingly positive. Of course, I'm not trained as a botanist and, at times, the project was much more difficult than I expected. That said, I completed the project with a new perspective and stronger confidence in - at the very least - taking the time to observe my surroundings and to learn more about the unique blend of natural and cultural heritage here in the diverse and bio-diverse State of California.

I presented the project on September 12, 2012 and graduated from the program. I hope to participate in the advanced trainings offered in the future and perhaps in a citizen science project. I also hope to keep volunteering with SPAWN and to share my guide with visitors to The Grove, perhaps at one of our monthly community volunteer workdays. Join me for a nature walk?

Many thanks to the expert instructors at SPAWN, my remarkable classmates, and to the University of California for providing this new program to foster a committed corps of volunteer naturalists and citizen scientists trained and ready to take an active role in natural resource conservation, education, and restoration.

Photo credit: Dr. Christopher Pincetich