Tools for Urban Greening


New York Times nature writer and blogger Richard Conniff recently took note of an interesting milestone – the finding by the U.N. that as of May 23 of this year, the world’s population is no longer predominantly rural but urban – and went on to list some pretty compelling evidence about the benefits of contact with nature, even in cities. (Sorry it’s behind the Times Select firewall and can’t link you to it.) Some of the findings:Boston_2

  • Housing projects with trees have about 7 percent less crime than their treeless counterparts, and domestic violence also drops.
  • In a study of kids with Attention Deficit Disorder, spending time in parks proved to be as good as or better than pharmaceuticals in helping them concentrate on their work, at least in the short term (so far).
  • It’s been shown that open-heart patients in rooms with nature scenes on the wall have lower blood pressure and smoother recoveries than patients with blank walls or abstract art.  And patients in rooms with lots of natural daylight experience less pain.

PhillySo there’s plenty of evidence that humans are still creatures of nature, though you’d never know it from the sorry state of American cities (and suburbs, I might add).  But the writer sees change afoot, citing a new Bank of America office building in Manhattan that leans toward and is very open to a park across the street; they even have plans to test the "popular, but unproven, hypothesis that green design can make workers healthier, happier, more productive, and less inclined to absenteeism."  Can’t wait for those research results.

Conniff’s main point is that with most people in the world now living in cities, it’s high time we did something about our nature-starved urban ecosystems.

His column goes on to list some folks who are greening up cities across the U.S., like Tree People in Los Angeles and D.C.’s own Casey Trees.  You may have read about their extraordinary $50 million endowment, the gift of a rich treehugger.  Really good people were hired to run the operation and they’re all over town doing good things well.

The Urban Ecology Institute in Boston caught my eye and according to their site, they’re replenishing the tree canopy, converting brownfields into wetlands and parks, and doing all sorts of green community- and school-based projects.  Their Natural Cities Manual is worth a look, and so’s their blog, called Urban Ecology.  In its sidebar I found even more urban eco-groups, like Boston Natural, Parks and People in Baltimore,and Philadelphia Green.

I got so excited reading about these eco-activists that I wrote about them on our DC Urban Gardener blog, suggesting we blatantly steal some cool ideas from other cities.  And speaking of that band of renegade gardeners, we now have our own Yahoo group (of course) and almost 100 members – up from just six a few weeks ago and thanks in large part to opening up membership to nonMaster Gardeners.  And we’re all over town introducing ourselves as an all-volunteer group of ecogardeners and asking how we can help.

Now it’s no surprise to our readers that blogging itself is proving to be a pretty nifty tool for community activism.  After I posted about landscaping a low-income housing site for people with AIDS, I sent the link to every single group who donated money or people, who all seemed thrilled to get it and promptly posted it to their own email groups and on their websites.  The nonprofit that runs the housing project even had it printed up on nice glossy paper as a promotional piece for potential donors.  Even when we write about projects we’re not directly involved with but just show up, interview, take pictures and post, participants spread the link far and wide, giving credit to everyone involved and ginning up even more city improvement projects.

And while I’m singing the praises of blogging, I recommend this article in today’s Post about blogging, kids and travel.  In the story, a 12-year-old girl wasn’t at all happy about spending four months in Turkey while her dad was teaching there on a Fulbright scholarship – until, with his encouragement, she started a blog about it and turned into a dedicated chronicler of life in Turkey.

So blogs aren’t just little First Amendment Machines, as the politicos correctly call them.  They’re free publishing platforms for do-gooders and tools for family harmony.

[Top photo from Boston Natural’s website; bottom, from Philadelphia Green’s website.]   


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