Many Brown students love to explore Providence, but in her research environmental science concentrator Kailani Acosta has probably seen more of the city than some lifelong residents have. She’s part of a group of students studying the social and environmental history of the city’s greenspaces — parks, playgrounds, cemeteries, and vacant lots. A big part of the team’s work is getting out there and finding them all.

“While canvassing Providence we saw lots of crazy and cool things, and by the end of the research, our team will be able to say we collectively walked down every street in Providence,” said Acosta, a rising senior from East Islip, N.Y.

The project with Scott Frickel, associate professor of sociology and environment and society, started in January, has continued through this summer and may go on through the fall, Acosta said. It’s no simple topic. Rather, it touches on a wide range of issues. For example, urban greenspaces not only provide unnaturally fragmented animal and plant habitats but can also fragment people, enforcing de facto segregation of socio-economic classes.

Figuring out how greenspaces have come and gone and what impact that’s had on the city is a matter of some detective work.

“There are not really comprehensive and yearly accounts of greenspace, so we have had to find a lot of different sources when one wasn’t enough,” Acosta said.

That’s meant full-time work on the project this summer and 10-hour weeks during the academic year. Acosta has not only pounded the Providence pavement but also logged a lot of time in the city archives and libraries. She’s not just reconstructing the city’s ecological and sociological history, she’s also pursuing a passion she discovered here.

“I chose Brown because I had no idea what I wanted to do when I got to college,” Acosta said. “I loved the fact that there is so much flexibility and so many options at Brown. Once I took my first environmental course, I knew that I wanted to work in the field of ecology, conservation, or something similar.”

And while there have been mundane moments here and there, her teammates have always kept it interesting.

“It has been great to work with people who are always engaging and willing to help, and are all so passionate about the research,” she said. “My research team has made even the most boring days of mapping on the computer fun.”

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