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The unexpected joy of the Squirrel Census

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article discusses the Inman Park Squirrel Census, a community science project that started in Atlanta in 2012 and expanded over the next 10 years. The author, who initially thought the project was just a quirky event, ended up becoming deeply invested in the project and the community it created. The article explores how the Squirrel Census project transformed the author's perception of their hometown Atlanta and fostered a new mythology and appreciation for the natural world around them.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The Inman Park Squirrel Census

1. What sparked the idea for the Inman Park Squirrel Census?

  • The project was started by Jamie Allen, an advertising copywriter, after his dog became obsessed with squirrels and he wondered how many squirrels were in his neighborhood of Inman Park.
  • Allen discussed the idea with his friend Stewart Haddock, and they decided to try to count all the squirrels in Inman Park.

2. How did the Squirrel Census project get started?

  • Allen talked about the idea to count the squirrels to friends, strangers, and even at bars, and the idea started to attract a team of volunteers with diverse backgrounds, including professional mapmakers, squirrel epidemiologists, and forestry experts.
  • The team used a scientific methodology developed by a wildlife biologist to conduct a census of the squirrels in Inman Park, overlaying a grid on the neighborhood and having volunteers count the squirrels in each grid section.

3. How did the Squirrel Census evolve over the years?

  • The project expanded beyond Inman Park, going to New York City's Central Park and even the moon (metaphorically).
  • The project ended abruptly in 2021, with the team citing fatigue and needing a change, though the author was hopeful it would return in the future.

[02] The Significance of the Squirrel Census

1. How did the Squirrel Census change the author's perception of their hometown Atlanta?

  • As a teenager, the author had disliked Atlanta and couldn't wait to leave, but when they returned years later, the city had changed and the author was starting to like it.
  • The Squirrel Census project helped the author see Atlanta in a new light, as a place with a vibrant, quirky community that celebrated the natural world around them.

2. How did the Squirrel Census project foster a new mythology and appreciation for nature?

  • The project spun a contemporary mythology around the squirrels in the author's neighborhood, casting them as heroes, outlaws, and lovers in a complex world.
  • This new perspective made the author and other participants more connected to and accountable for the natural environment, seeing it through the eyes of the squirrels.

3. What was the significance of the Squirrel Census for the author personally?

  • Participating in the Squirrel Census, especially the count in New York City's Central Park, was a profound experience for the author, making them feel more alive and connected to the natural world.
  • The abrupt end of the project in 2021 was deeply saddening for the author, as it felt like a loss of community and connection during a difficult time.
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