Howard Tonkin has been a lot of things. A Model, Actor, Singer, Bartender... He is always Passionate about what he does.
Lucky for all of us, his passions are squarely focused these days on our environment and responsible plantings... And he still looks damn good doing it!
As founder of URBAN HABITAT, Tonkin says "We move like water taking the path of least resistance. Our inspiration is drawn from the natural world and the possibilities of ecological restoration within urban spaces."
Tell me what Urban Habitat is, and how it came into reality. I started urban habitat in 2012.After many years in the hospitality industry and pursuing a career in show business I was ready for change.
Why are native plants so important to our world, and how/why did you become so passionate about them? I started selling native plants ,cacti and succulents at the farmers markets. One day someone approached me and marveled at the fact I was selling Miami Dade pine. He told me that the pines were going extinct.
My mind was blown, I did not know a tree could go extinct. I did not know that almost the entire forest had been cut down. I just knew they were my favorite tree and I could never find the forest. I didn't understand back then that a globally unique forest, the most imperiled eco system on earth was all but gone.
In that moment of shock I had an epiphany. My lifes mission suddenly became clear. Urban Habitat was born.
My company defined itself.
Nobody was planting pine trees in any large scale or meaningful way.
I decided that day that I would replant the pine forest within the Miami. That i would redefine Miami. That I would change the meaning of what a city is and the forest could be. I decided to become an environmental capitalist. To engage the power of capitalism for the greater good of all.
I started my business with my last $500.00. As a new home owner I gambled everything. I immersed myself in all the books I could get my hands on and I found myself in the everglades and fragments of pine rocklands.
Nature became my school and the learning curve was steep with urgency.
I started planting thousands of trees and kept my hands in the dirt. I avoided the native plant world and non-profits as I feared my disdain for convention might rock the boat. I was not wrong.
The blowback would come soon enough and continues, but I ignore the hot air and criticism.
I have never been afraid of being different.
Those who try to bring me down do not understand that I am now the hero of the child I once was.I am centered and grounded on my path. This is who I was always meant to be. I am not going anywhere. They might have a gimmick. This is who I am. Seven days a week. The more I learned ,the more urban habitat defined itself through necessity.
If everyone understood just how dire the situation is on earth, everyone wouldplant trees all the time. The time between action, or lack thereof and consequence is an illusion.
I have planted tens of thousands of trees in Miami. In fact there are those who say I have planted more trees in Miami than anyone ever has. I say to those who criticize my work that their motivation is not really concern for the environment. When those people spend their time "raising awareness " and claiming or criticizing my work rather than actually planting trees I think that speaks for itself.
The fact of the matter is that if we do not plant billions of trees worldwide right now extinction is imminent and civilization will collapse.
Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, none of the experts talk about trees. It is, always about fossil fuels and alternative energy.
Quite simply... Earth =patient Fossil fuels =disease Trees =medicine
No city on earth stands to lose more right now than Miami
To save Miami from drowning would require environmental stewardship worldwide. Billions of trees right now. No city on earth needs to lead by example more than Miami, yet Miami continues to bulldoze the last fragments of precious pine rockland.
A city in 2018 on a path to self destruction, through greed and unsustainable over development. Miami continues to invest in awful environmental karma. From Arquitectonica bulldozing mangroves, to pine rockland being obliterated for a Walmart nobody wants.
No city on earth is more vulnerable yet the choices Miami keeps making are on the path to death and destruction . Wealth is certainly an intoxicating illusion of power over nature as developers ignore reality.
The best chance is to lead the world by example and plant millions of trees. Yet we use Irma as the excuse to massacre what the wind didn't destroy. 60% canopy loss from Irma alone.
Miami has so much bad environmental Karma. The energy of Miami beach feels heavy to me these days.
Miami Dade pine pinus elliottii densa is my favorite tree because they look like the trees in my dinosaur books growing up...being from Australia a pine is, the most exotic thing to me.
The pines speak to my soul in the wind i close my eyes and listen and in silhouette against the sunset I feel timelessness.
I never leave home without… -phone ,keys and wallet....and usually my Doggy Milo...we have a country song we are working on called "Milo"..."Milo, my Mlo, I take him everywhere that I go, coz he's the best dog I've ever known nobody can deny".
Milo is 7 and has messed up front teeth from chewing rocks as a puppy, but really he is my rock, my grace of God. He is my best friend and keeps my feet on the ground.
I moved to New York City in 1988 when subway trains still had paint on them and Sheridan Square had rats as big as cats. I turned down a 20k job this week because I just do not do conventional landscaping, if you want palm trees, and sod I’m going to turn you down.
I will never compromise on… For sure I will accommodate someone’s taste and lifestyle in my work because it has to be sustainable for the client too, however I will never compromise the integrity of what I do.
If all I cared about was money I could have opened a bar...I was about the most successful bartender in Miami. This is about much more than money. My work is about using money to make the world a better place.
A lot of talk surrounding the Everglades restoration, possible reservoir, etc… Your thoughts on all this? The everglades must be engineered to restore the historic flow. One of the only weapons we have in the fight against salt water intrusion is the flow of the everglades that must be restored and reinterpreted through the coastal metropolis. The reservoir is an essential element of this restoration. It will be interesting to see the lakes effect on our thunderstorms in summer. Big sugar is the beast. Just to drive across big sugar is an education in the sheer scale of that environmental travesty. To big sugar I say..."agave". Sugar is poison, an inflammatory and bad for your teeth as much as the environment.
How can someone start their own Urban Habitat at home, with limited space, budget, etc? The Urban Habitat nursery and farm store is now open Friday noon ‘til 9pm and Saturday and Sunday noon ‘til dusk ...A full schedule coming in February after our grand opening.
This nursery is the next evolution of my business and is the result of years of hard work.
Right now we are proud to be selling the most bio-diverse collection of native plants available anywhere in Miami. A botanical garden within a destination nursery experience.
My dream is to create a company that answers that problems Home Depot causes. To become a big powerful company like Walmart but instead of being the death of the human spirit I want urban habitat to heal the earth and human experience.
Home depot sells toxic chemicals banned in other countries that give people cancer...Glyphosate that gets in our drinking water. They sell plants designed for high maintenance or to fail.
They sell plastic birds and butterflies because the plants they sell ensure the extinction of the real thing.
I want urban habitat to be the solution. Building a bridge between the awakened consumer and endangered species. I want to make native plants normal for everyone, everywhere and not just for the self-appointed experts and plant snobs. I want to make all of Miami one giant butterfly garden.
This place we call Miami was once paradise on earth and can be transformed into something environmentally miraculous. Plant it and the butterflies and birds come.
It is that simple. If we plant endangered species everywhere they won’t be endangered anymore.
With 60% of the USA now suburbs we must make the urban experience sustain life, give life and not just consume resources.
If I could convince anyone of anything it would be to plant trees and stop eating meat.
Each year one person breathes 91 trees...if people could see what is coming they would plant in a hurry. We are almost out of time.
The math is both terrifying and problem solving but we must act now.
Miami does not have another five years to squander on inaction.
If people really understood the factory meat industry they would stop eating meat.
People are essentially all good but their eyes are closed to the inconvenient truth.
One thing most people don’t know about you, and might find interesting/funny/surprising? I have a pet piggy called Waldo.
He is a great teacher who taught me to become a vegetarian.
I believe the joke of our human condition is that naughty people come back as pigs. I don’t think reincarnation is species specific.