Josh Lankford knows numbers. A mechanical engineering student at the University of Rochester, this Oakland native estimates he travels by bike about 90% of the time when he visits the Bay Area. But digits can’t describe what he senses each ride.
“On a bike, I don’t block out the world listening to music. So, I really feel like part of the ecosystem, going through neighborhoods — seeing how people interact, taking in smells, breathing in air, I experience all of that, everything around me.”
Josh grew up in East Oakland, and as a kid, he “never really had the opportunity to see the ‘grandeur’ of California.” He didn’t go “snowboarding in Tahoe” or “hiking in the Santa Cruz Mountains.” Yet, he never felt deprived of nature. “I was around green spaces every day living in Oakland. So, though I didn’t see the grandest places, I was still exposed to the idea of what it’s like to be in a foreign land. Being in [Redwood Regional Park] is like living in another world.”
Indeed, Josh developed his fondness for the outdoors at a young age, flying kites along the MLK Shoreline. It’s why he now bristles at the assumption that cities inherently spell problems for the environment. “[Many think] of the city as the heart of the battle for conservation. But people who grew up in suburbs, sometimes all they know is development and they never question it. Whereas in cities, it’s about efficiency, it’s about using spaces wisely.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that public transit is near and dear to Josh’s heart. “Having AC Transit, BART, allowed me to access parts of the city with more opportunities.” Buses and trains enabled him to intern at Kaiser; they brought him right to UC Berkeley for the university’s Upward Bound program.
One of his most formative experiences growing up? Volunteering with Save The Bay during high school. “I did my senior project on mental health, about green spaces in the city and volunteering. I thought Save The Bay would be a good [aspect to include] – connecting environmental preservation and mental health.”
Having pulled weeds and installed plants with us a few more times since then, Josh now feels strongly about the power of our programs. “I think Save The Bay can play an important role in people’s lives – not just by making a difference physically [in the wetlands]. It causes us to question the impact of our lives on land.”
Still an undergrad, Josh has already decided: “Save The Bay is one of my favorite organizations. Once I get a job, I’m going to donate every year.” For now, he’s hoping to secure a summer internship with BART to help people get where they need to go.
There’s also something simmering on the back burner for Josh: “My hope is that we transform our perception of wilderness. We need to stop designating things as ‘wilderness.’ We need to incorporate greenery into our neighborhoods.”
This weighty goal keeps him recalling his childhood and high school years exploring the outdoors right from Oakland. “I think the most powerful thing of all for me was hiking in my own backyard in the Redwood Regional Park – it made me see nature on a regular basis. Now, it’s something I want to see everywhere because I saw it in my own backyard.”