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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Stegastein_forasla

Stegastein / Johanna Hoffman

Regardless of how beautiful or strange a landscape is, we’ve all done it. After the initial shock of a cliff’s craggy façade or the undulating, raw rubble of lava rock flows wears off, we’ve been lulled into sensory complacency. Amazement only lasts for so long: being stunned becomes the norm.

This is why the 120 designed projects along Norway’s National Tourist Route are so significant. They are the result of a multi-decade investment of nearly $400 million by the Norwegian government to enhance overlooks, picnic areas, and rest stops along its scenic highways. Together, theses projects exemplify design’s power to highlight nature.

A result of our hunter-gatherer heritage, we humans are good at maintaining a narrow focus. Through different creative media – film, dance – we have developed ways to compensate. Filmmakers regularly use music to highlight the feeling of a character or the insight of a narrative moment. Musicians employ lighting during live performances to cue audiences to shifts in mood. Designers of Norway’s tourist routes show how landscape architecture can do the same for our appreciation of landscapes, expanding our narrow focus.

In Stegastein (see image at top), which was created in 2006 by Todd Saunders and Tommie Wihelmsen, laminated wood contrasts with the surrounding forested hillside in color and form, reinterpreting the steep movements of the region’s hillsides.

In Storseisundet Bridge, which was completed in 1989, the rising section of the scenic highway crafts a line against the jagged outcrops of the surrounding fjord. The contrast highlights the intense sinuosity of the Norwegian shore.

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Atlantic Road Bridge / Johanna Hoffman

Other projects use design to accentuate landscape dynamics otherwise difficult to identify.

For example, in Vedahaugane, completed in 2010 by L. J. Berge and Z. Jelnikar, the designers reveal complexity in the simple — both in the path’s design and the surrounding landscape — by using curved benches.

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Vedahaugane / Johanna Hoffman

And in Sohlbergplassen, created in 2005 by Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk, the exuberance of the curves coupled with the linear nature of the concrete formwork highlight the tightness of the forest groves and dappled light falling through the trees.

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Sohlbergplassen / Johanna Hoffman

And then there are designs that use framing devices to enable new ways of relating to the space.

Gudbrandsjuvet, which was created in 2007 by Jensen & Skodvin, is a CorTen steel walkway that crisscrosses a canyon carved by a gushing waterfall, cultivating a sense of both spaciousness and fragility where there otherwise would be none. Designed to sway with use, the walkway one traverses has a sense delicacy, creating a new sense of vulnerability for visitors to the waterfall.

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Gudbrandsjuvet / Johanna Hoffman

And lastly, at Trollstigen, which was designed by Reiulf Ramstad Architects in 2010, a cliff overlooks a cascading waterfall and deep valley. The handrails and benches on the steep rock outcrops make seemingly dangerous areas approachable.

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Trollsteigen / Johanna Hoffman

The main viewing platform provides spaces for both refuge and spectacle and prospect. The combination of these moments tells us extreme outdoor spaces are places to be appreciated rather than feared.

This guest post is by Johanna Hoffman, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Graduate, University of California – Berkeley, College of Environmental Design. 

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Earth’s Atmosphere / The Energy Collective

A United Nations scientific panel reports that the Earth’s protective ozone layer has begun to recover, in large part because the world has successfully phased out man-made halogenated hydrocarbons, including chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs), which used to be found in all aerosol sprays and refrigerators. These chemicals release chlorine and bromide, which destroy molecules far up in the atmosphere. The ozone layer protects the planet from solar radiation, which, in excess, leads to skin cancer and damage to plant life.

The Washington Post calls this a “rare piece of good news about the health of the planet.” This development proves that “when the world comes together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis.” Mario Molina, who won the Nobel Prize with F. Sherwood Rowland for anticipating the ozone problem, said: “It’s a victory for diplomacy and for science and for the fact that we were able to work together.” And former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan called the treaty behind this global action “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.”

In 1987, the leading producers of CFCs signed on to the UN-organized Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which established a novel, phased approach for reducing the production and use of CFCs. This treaty led to the creation of a multilateral fund, which has directed funds to developing countries. The goal was to transition away from CFCs to hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), less active chemicals now also targeted for global phase-out, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are not covered in the treaty, as well as other replacement chemicals.

Now, 35 years later, scientists can confirm there has been “sustained increase in stratospheric ozone.” In fact, over the past 13 years, ozone levels climbed 4 percent. Had the world not taken action, the UN reports, there would have been an extra 2 million cases of skin cancer per year by 2030.

Still, we have a ways to go. The ozone hole above the Southern Hemisphere has still not yet fully closed, and the overall layer is still 6 percent thinner than it was in 1980. The United Nation’s Environmental Program estimates that the ozone layer will be fully repaired by mid century.

According to Scientific American, the efforts to reduce the use of CFCs have an added bonus: “The phase-out also helped slow global warming because CFCs are also powerful greenhouse gases. In fact, the agreement to address the ozone hole has actually cut five times the greenhouse gas emissions as has the Kyoto Protocol to address global warming.” However, others argue the HCFCs and HFCs that have replaced CFCs are equally as harmful to the climate. These compounds are up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming our atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol will phase out HCFCs by 2030, but puts no limit on HFCs.

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Bat Tower. Ants of the Prairie. East Otto, NY, 2010 / Ants of the Prairie

Woven branches. Green bamboo, curved while young to harden in place. Hives, nests, and domes. These are just some of the natural materials — and forms — featured in the book Natural Architecture Now by Italian landscape architect and writer Francesca Tatarella. A follow up to 2006’s Natural Architecture, Tatarella’s new book delves further into the architecture of nature, as constructed by humans.

The works highlighted in this highly-perusable book are a collection of mostly temporary artistic installations. They are “pavilions, observatories, and shelters . . . site-specific installations that bring visitors into deeper contact with nature so that they can experience its sights, sounds, and smells. As works of art, they rely on a new concept of beauty, prizing the disordered and the wild over more traditional formality.” Most works are in natural areas, but a few are in urban environments. Some respond to ecological needs, while others focus on providing for social needs. Many are a critique of the existing human relationship with nature, a call for an evolution in an unsustainable relationship.

Just a few examples:

Bat Tower, by Ants of the Prairie (see image above), and Sanctuary, by Yolanda Gutierrez, provide shelter for bats and birds, respectively. To consider the needs of the intended occupants, these designers deconstructed the natural habitats one might typically find in a place less impacted by human activities and then constructed installations to provide for these species’ needs, even when they are in close proximity to the built environment.

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Sanctuary. Yolanda Gutierrez. Cochimilco, Mexico, 1994 / Yolanda Gutierrez

Thicket and Creek Revetment Wall by Daniel McCormick blends the structural engineering of creekside stabilization practices with the aesthetic beauty and function of woven willow branches meant ultimately to be absorbed and reclaimed by nature.

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Creek Revetment Wall. Daniel McCormick. San Anselmo, CA, 2005 / Mary O’Brien

These types of projects raise the question: who is design for? Is it only for humans, or should it be for the other crawling, creeping, flying, and lumbering inhabitants of our world as well? The answer is obvious: we should be designing with all creatures’ needs in mind.

Human shelters such as Scuola Nueva Esperanza in Ecuador and Bamboo Structure Project in Iran use inexpensive materials like thatch, bamboo, and reclaimed wood combined to create low-cost structures meant for easy re-creation by non-professional builders.

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Scuola Nueva Esperanza. Al Borde Arquitectos. Manabí, Ecuador / Al Borde

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Bamboo Structure Project. Architecture for Humanity Tehran (RAI Studio). Iran / Rai Studio via Wikimedia Commons

Other installations featured a highly efficient use of woven plant material to create a range of structures, like nests, pavilions, and social gathering spaces. According to nest builder/weaver Porky Hefer, “nature builds to shape, because shape is cheap and material is expensive. By studying the shapes of nature’s strategies and how they are built, biomimicry can help you minimize the amount you spend on materials while maximizing the effectiveness of patterns and forms to achieve desired functions.”

"Nettleton Road Nest." Porky Hefer. Cape Town, South Africa. Made with kubu cane / Porky Hefer Design

“Nettleton Road Nest.” Porky Hefer. Cape Town, South Africa. Made with kubu cane / Porky Hefer Design

Less explored is the question of how these designs can be scaled up to address the needs of seven billion humans. Two of the few projects meant to accommodate any sort of residential-scale structure – I am so sorry. Goodbye (Escape Vehicle number 4) and How to Survive the Coming Bad Years from Heather and Ivan Morison have a haunted feel: “…a fantasy of post-apocalyptic survivalism, with all the misanthropy and horror that implies,” writes William Shaw.

Ivan Morison describes their vision of the conjoined domes of I am so sorry. Goodbye as being “inhabited by a guardian whose task is to keep the stove lit, water boiled, and visitors supplied with hibiscus tea . . . I felt witness to something I didn’t fully understand, but felt that we had been given the task to pass on this cryptic message.”

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“I am so sorry. Goodbye” / Matthew Benjamin Coleman

Perhaps the message of these installations is if we humans do not learn to better use the forms, materials, and processes of nature in our built environment, we will face systemic failure.

But all of natural architecture eventually returns to the earth, too. Tatarella writes: “Sooner or later, the branches and leaves that form their outer shells will rot and be absorbed back into the landscape, just as stones will fall from foundations and, over the ages, be worn away until they are just pebbles.”

Our built environment is destined to one day wear away into dust, but, hopefully, our most renewable designs will remain.

"Winnipeg Skating Shelters." Patkau Architects. Manitoba, Canida, 2010-11 / Patkau Architects

“Winnipeg Skating Shelters.” Patkau Architects. Manitoba, Canida, 2010-11 / Patkau Architects

Yoshi Silverstein is the ASLA 2014 communications intern. He is a Masters in Landscape Architecture candidate at the University of Maryland. He focuses on landscape experience and outdoor learning environments.

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Mia Lehrer / Metropolis

Mia Lehrer & the L.A. River – Metropolis, August 2014
“Defining large swaths of the city, it is perhaps the best lens through which to understand how Lehrer works … Her version of landscape architecture is more like alchemy, addressing landscape in a deeper, social sense.”

Will Toronto’s Ambitious Push to Grow its Urban Canopy Pay Off? – The Globe and Mail, 8/8/14
“The urban forest is an important part of the city’s identity, and city hall has made a formal commitment to increasing the number of trees – citing their environmental benefits as well as their positive impact on the city’s streetscapes.”

Do Evolving Neighborhoods Mean Dissolving Communities? Planetizen, 8/11/14
“As societal mores have loosened up and people become more willing to live next door to those who are different from them, these neighborhoods have come to seem less exotic and more desirable. In a certain way, places like Capitol Hill have become victims of their own success.”

New Queens Public Plaza Shows Public Space Doesn’t Take All That Much – The Architect’s Newspaper, 8/13/14
“Frankly, there’s not all that much to it – save for a new sidewalk, some planters, and a handful of bright bistro tables and chairs. But here’s what Bliss Plaza does have: People. And that’s the key.”

Geograph’s Quixotic Effort To Get Photos Of Every Square Kilometer Of Great Britain And Ireland FiveThirtyEight, 8/15/14
“Smartphone and digital-camera owners are collectively carrying out a worldwide data-collection task: photographing every nook and cranny of the world.”

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Browsing through the latest issue of Azure magazine, one can see socially conscious design is making its way even into the far reaches of Winnipeg, Canada. Folly Forest, a great, small project at the Stratchona School, which is in a low-income neighborhood, was put together with just $80,000 by local design firm Straub Thurmayr Landscape Architects and Urban Designers.

50-year old asphalt was broken apart so 100 trees could be planted within bright red and yellow-lined star-shaped spaces. Azure tells us: “To add rich texture and provide ground cover for the new plantings, they arranged bricks, logs, and stones inside the bases.”

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There are also “rusty cauldrons” and “silvery wooden beams,” found objects that add an industrial glamor.

The project has deservedly taken home a ton of Canadian design awards. Azure‘s jury gave it a merit award, and the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects (CSLA) awarded it a citation. CSLA said the project “demonstrates the immense potential of landscape architecture as a spatial and social transformer. It showcases how a simple measure can take ecological and aesthetic effects and turn them into the formative element of design.”

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The Prairie Design Awards also honored the project, writing that at just $20 per square foot, nature is allowed to “take root through an asymmetrically disposed composition of newly planted trees, benches, follies and earthen mounds. The program fosters playful engagement, through the eyes of a child, and provides any visitor, young or old, to engage with a truly delightful and special place.”

But beyond all the accolades from the design world, the teachers and kids at the school seem to get a lot of out their rugged new green space, too. Erin Hammond, a teacher at Stratchona School, told CBC News, the new space has been a boon for the kids. “It’s just been an amazing enticement to get kids outside.”

Teachers are using the green space to start new conversations about ecology. “Kids are going, ‘How come that tree has more leaves than this one?’ Well, that one has more sun than this one,” said Hammond.

See a video about the project.

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ecosystem-services

ASLA 2011 Professional Analysis and Planning Honor Award. Making a Wild Place in Milwaukee’s Urban Menomonee Valley, Milwaukee by Landscapes of Place / Nancy Aten

The Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an international organization committed to strengthening the role of science in public decision-making on biodiversity and ecosystem services, seeks expert landscape architects, ecologists, and others with policy experience to assess its latest research. The call for more engagement was made at a recent presentation at the Ecological Society of America (ESA) in Washington, D.C.

IPBES explains the reason for its existence on its web site: “Biodiversity from terrestrial, marine, coastal, and inland water ecosystems provides the basis for ecosystems and the services they provide that underpin human well-being. However, biodiversity and ecosystem services are declining at an unprecedented rate, and in order to address this challenge, adequate local, national and international policies need to be adopted and implemented. To achieve this, decision makers need scientifically credible and independent information that takes into account the complex relationships between biodiversity, ecosystem services, and people. They also need effective methods to interpret this scientific information in order to make informed decisions. The scientific community also needs to understand the needs of decision makers better in order to provide them with the relevant information. In essence, the dialogue between the scientific community, governments, and other stakeholders on biodiversity and ecosystem services needs to be strengthened.”

To reiterate, Douglas Beard Jr., National Climate Change and Wildlife Center, U.S. Geological Survey, and a co-lead for the science component of IPBES for the U.S. Delegation, said: “It’s always better to hear from a diverse group of people.”

Established in 2012, IPBES has convened multi-disciplinary groups of experts to conduct public assessments around the globe. With 114 member countries, IPBES is dedicated to becoming the leading international organization on ecosystem services.

Assessors will help make progress on the status of pollinators, pollination, and food production; scoping for a set of global and regional assessments of the status of biodiversity and ecosystem services; and scoping for a thematic assessment of land degradation and restoration.

If you are interested in nominating someone or being nominated for an upcoming call, please contact Clifford Duke at ESA, which coordinates the U.S. stakeholders.

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Blue Urbanism / Island Press

Timothy Beatley, professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, has done it again. His excellent book from a few years ago, Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, has been followed-up by an equally well-written and persuasive new one, Blue Urbanism: Exploring Connections between Cities and Oceans. In this book, Beatley expands his purview beyond the “green urbanism” of Biophilic Cities to the vast oceans that make up 70 percent of the face of the Earth and contain 97 percent of its water. While he still argues that cities must integrate green — really ecological design principles at all levels — into dense urban environments, he cautions that cities can’t ignore oceans and marine environments. He admits that he basically left out oceans in Biophic Cities. He certainly makes up for it in this book, which argues that we also have biophilic connections to the oceanscape, and that connection is essential to building a more “complementary, mutually sustainable relationship between city and ocean.”

It seems much of the inspiration for Blue Urbanism came out of a fortuitous experience Beatley had in Perth, Australia. There, he witnessed how “urbanites, under the right circumstances, can take on ocean conservation.” A real estate developer wanted to build a massive hotel resort along the coast facing the vulnerable Ningaloo Reef. The spot proposed was apparently the “worst location for preserving marine biodiversity.” Beatley was amazed by the collective sense of outrage, manifested in everything from bumper stickers to rallies and letter writing campaigns. Under pressure, the state’s premier (similar to a U.S. governor) shut down the plans. Beatley says “this story has stayed with me as a remarkable example of how urbanites, even those hundreds of kilometers away, can care for and advocate on behalf of the ocean world.”

The trick is turning all those good feelings about oceans — and the charismatic sea creatures we all love: whales, sea turtles, sea stars, to name a few — into real urban policies and plans that protect oceans. Beatley points to a few examples of local governments that have taken the lead, from San Francisco, with its ban on plastic bags; to Hong Kong, with its burgeoning movement to stop the consumption of shark fins; to Wellington, New Zealand, which has forged a deep and sustainable connection with its coastal environment. Still, Beatley thinks most cities can go much further than they are now, creating “blue belts,” to protect ocean spaces in the same way cities create designated “green belts” on land.

The world’s oceans — and their rich coastal zones — are in dire need of protection. While ocean diversity is important in its own right, our protection of it is really self-interested. This is because our “urban future and ocean world are intimately connected in numerous ways.” The world’s oceans are major carbon sinks, soaking up 2 billion tons of CO2 annually. Ocean related jobs total 350 million worldwide. Seafood generates $108 billion in economic value, while eco-tourism to reefs creates another $9 billion alone. We also get energy from the ocean — in the form of undersea oil deposits, and, hopefully, in the future, more offshore wind farms. Beatley says offshore wind farms could provide today’s energy needs four times over, if we were smart. Oceans are also our main transportation channels. But all of these interactions with our oceans must be done in a more considered, sustainable fashion to prevent more of what Beatley calls “ocean sprawl,” which negatively impact the “integrity of ocean ecosystems.”

Ocean sprawl has had terrible impacts. Those huge gyres — garbage patches — will continue to grow for the next 500 years, even if we stop putting any plastic in the ocean right now. Coal-burning power plants send huge amounts of mercury into the oceans. Here’s just one scary stat Beatley cites: “A recently released United Nations Environment Program report documents a doubling of mercury levels in the top 100 meters (300 feet) of ocean water over the past 100 years.” Then, there are events like the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Too many cities don’t understand their connection to oceans. Beatley explains how a number of local non-profits are trying to change that. In Seattle, a group called Beach Naturalists is helping locals understand the magic of their coastline. “The program trains several hundred volunteer naturalists in the ecology and life found in the intertidal zone, and these volunteers patrol the city’s parks to help people understand more about life in tidal pools.” And then there’s the group called LA Waterkeeper, which aims to build awareness of the massive kelp forests just off the coast of Los Angeles. Did anyone know they were there?

Returning to Wellington, New Zealand, Beatley explains how that city has “created a new marine reserve on one of its shores, a marine education center providing children and adults alike the chance to touch and see marine organisms, the world’s first marine bioblitz (engaging the citizens in the recording of marine biodiversity), and a powerful new vision of its ‘blue belt,’ a complement to its historic and prized greenbelt system.” Imagine if New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco — and all the major coastal cities around the world — took their marine environments as seriously as Wellington does, and actually extended the marine world into the city.

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Dive instructor with sea stars in the Wellington harbor / Mark Coote

In a few sections of the book, Beatley dives into what blue urbanism looks like. Of interest to planners, architects, and landscape architects, he outlines how the “redesign of buildings and public spaces to foster resilience to climate change and rising ocean levels” can also extend “urban spatial planning and conservation into marine environments.” He points to innovative examples in Singapore, Rotterdam, Toronto, and Oslo.

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ASLA 2009 Professional General Design Honor Award. Spadina Wavedeck, Toronto, Ontario, Canada / West 8 + DTAH

Read Blue Urbanism and check out the review of Beatley’s earlier book, Biophilic Cities.

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Tulane University is offering a $1 million prize to the team who comes up with the best solution for combating hypoxia-affected waters, the dead zones in the world’s lakes and oceans. Hypoxia is the oxygen depletion in water bodies caused by “excessive amounts of river-borne fertilizers and other nutrients.” Tulane’s grand challenge is a response to President Obama’s call for universities and philanthropies to step up and pursue innovative solutions to our most pressing environmental problems.

While the Gulf of Mexico is famous for its growing dead zone, the issue is increasingly global, writes Tulane. All over the world’s oceans and lakes, “nutrient enrichment can jeopardize the future of estuaries and coastal wetlands that depend on freshwater and sediment delivery for stability and persistence.”

Dead zones not only have an impact on the environment but also the economy. These unproductive areas “destabilize the businesses, families and communities that are sustained by fisheries.”

Phyllis Taylor, head of the Patrick F. Taylor foundation, who put up the million, said: “I believe a market based solution which rewards innovation and risk taking has the potential to create a sustainable and significant new technology for addressing hypoxia.”

Cristin Dorgelo, assistant director for Grand Challenges in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, said: “Prizes have led to breakthroughs ranging from Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight to new approaches to cleaning up oil spills.”

This is a great challenge because finding a solution clearly won’t be easy: “Solutions must meet a suite of simultaneous and sometimes conflicting needs – from protecting water resources and near-shore ecosystems to ensuring the capacity and vitality of agricultural productivity.”

The university writes that the prize will be awarded to a “testable, scaled and marketable operating model that significantly, efficiently and cost effectively reduces hypoxia.”

Landscape architects and planners should join interdisciplinary teams and enter the competition. They can help create the solutions that keep agricultural and stormwater runoff out of rivers and combat the dead zones.

Another competition for landscape architects: At the European Biennial of Landscape Architecture in Barcelona in October, one landscape created in the last five years will win the Rosa Barba European Landscape Prize, which comes with €15,000. Submit projects before April 11, 2014.

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Humans’ growth spurts stop by late adolescence, but trees accelerate their growth and get bigger as they age. According to a global study by 38 international researchers published in Nature, these findings could have implications for how the world’s forests are managed to contain the ill-effects of climate change.

Nate Stephenson, the study’s lead author and a forest ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), said: “This finding contradicts the usual assumption that tree growth eventually declines as trees get older and bigger. It also means that big, old trees are better at absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than has been commonly assumed.”

Stephenson added, “in human terms, it is as if our growth just keeps accelerating after adolescence, instead of slowing down. By that measure, humans could weigh half a ton by middle age, and well over a ton at retirement.”

According to the USGS, a global team of researchers took measurements of more than 670,000 trees from more than 400 species across tropical, subtropical, and temperate regions in six continents. They used the same methods to calculate “the mass growth rates for each species” and then analyzed trends across all species. The study found that nearly 99 percent of trees accelerate growth rates as they age. “For most tree species, mass growth rate increases continuously with tree size — in some cases, large trees appear to be adding the carbon mass equivalent of an entire smaller tree each year.”

With their miraculous, ever-increasing growth rate, older trees are then better at adding weight faster than younger ones. The Guardian writes that an older trees can add up to 600 kilograms of weight each year. These older, faster-growing trees, account for a “disproportionately important role in forest growth.” For example, “trees of 100 centimeters in diameter in old-growth western U.S. forests comprised just 6 percent of trees, yet contributed 33 percent of the annual forest mass growth.” This is because older trees continue to add girth as well as branches and leaves. More leaves mean more carbon absorption.

However, as USGS noted, it’s important to not lose sight of the forest for the aged trees. The accelerated rate of carbon absorption by some older, larger trees doesn’t mean “a net increase in carbon storage for an entire forest.” As living systems, forests are constantly in a state of flux — and that’s a good thing. A mix of older and younger trees in a forest may help limit the amount of carbon returning the atmosphere at any given time from the death of older trees.

Adrian Das, a USGS coauthor, said: “old trees, after all, can die and lose carbon back into the atmosphere as they decompose. But our findings do suggest that while they are alive, large old trees play a disproportionately important role within a forest’s carbon dynamics. It is as if the star players on your favorite sports team were a bunch of 90-year-olds.”

Stephenson told The Christian Science Monitor that these findings would ideally lead to more effort put into saving old growth forests. “Maybe if environmental changes are hitting your biggest trees the hardest, this is sort of an added impetus to go: ‘Oh my gosh, we need to mitigate that.'” Doug Boucher, director of tropical forest and climate initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists, added that “it reinforces the value of old-growth forests for the storage of carbon in the biosphere.”

One key take-away for local officials, planners, and design professionals: Do as much as you can to keep those old trees in place. It will be much harder to accomplish the same positive climate impact with younger trees.

Read the study.

Image credit: Old Tree by Andrew Danielsen / Fine Arts America

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According to new research out of the UK, moving into a home near green spaces, particularly in urban areas, provides people with long-term mental health gains up to three years after the move. Scientists at the University of Essex, who tracked 1,000 people over five years, found that moving next to a green space had a “sustained positive effect, unlike pay rises or promotions, which only provided a short-term boost,” writes BBC News. In the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the researchers argue that the research shows “access to good quality urban parks is beneficial to public health.”

Co-author Mathew White, from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter, UK, said his study built on an earlier one that showed people living in “greener urban areas displayed fewer signs of depression or anxiety.” His team tried to find out whether nature really was having an impact, or there was some other unknown variable at work.

As White explained to BBC News, “there could have been a number of reasons, for example, people do all sorts of things to make them happier: they strive for promotion at work, pay rises, they even get married. But the trouble with all those things is that within six months to a year, they are back to their original baseline levels of well-being. So these things are not sustainable; they do not make us happy in the long-term. We found that within a group of lottery winners who had won more than £500,000 that the positive effect was definitely there but after six months to a year, they were back to the baseline.”

Using data from the British Household Panel Survey, which has collected information about 40,000 households each year since the early 90s, the team found that “even after three years, mental health is still better, which is unlike many of the other things that we think will make us happy.” He added that “there is evidence that people within an area with green spaces are less stressed and when you are less stressed you make more sensible decisions and you communicate better.”

In The Mail, another co-author, Dr. Ian Alcock, also at the University of Exeter, said: “these findings are important for urban planners thinking about introducing new green spaces to our towns and cities, suggesting they could provide long term and sustained benefits for local communities.”

While the health benefits of adding more green spaces are now apparent, there would also be economic benefits. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) said depression was the leading cause of disability worldwide. Disabled workers are expensive for both governments and employers. Imagine if disability due to depression could be reduced simply through the addition of parks.

White said more policymakers, at least in the UK, are taking this type of research seriously, but these studies may raise sticky financing questions. “For example, environmental officials will say that if it is good for people’s health then surely shouldn’t the health service be putting some money in. …What we really need at a policy level is to decide where the money is going to come from to help support good quality local green spaces.”

Read the article, see more recent research on health and nature, and check out ASLA’s comprehensive guide to the health benefits of nature.

Image credit: Kevin W. Fitzgerald Park, Mission Hill, Boston / Studio 2112 Landscape Architecture

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