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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

allandale
In the 1970s, landscape architect Elliot Rhodeside, FASLA, Rhodeside & Harwell, created a program with immense, lasting value for Boston: the 1,400-plus-acre urban wilds program. Not quite parks, urban wilds are in-between natural open spaces — wetlands, shorelines, hilltops, meadows, woodlands — saved from development. To this day, they have a “unique hybridity,” and are still not part of Boston’s official park system. In a session at the ASLA 2013 Annual Meeting in Boston, Harwell, the program creator; Paul Sutton, the current manager of the urban wilds at the Boston Parks and Recreation department; and Jill Desmini, a professor of landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), discussed the challenges involved in both preserving and maintaining Boston’s wild urban places.

Protecting Wild Beauty in the City

As a young landscape architect, Rhodeside said Boston’s wild urban spaces had a “profound effect on me.” He felt that “developing these natural areas was the wrong way to go,” because only in Boston can “someone walk out of their house and come across a Puddingstone rock cropping right in the middle of their urban backyard.”

To make conservation a reality, Rhodeside, who was then chief landscape architect for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, had to get a plan in place. After winning a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) with some $50,000 in matching funds from the city, Rhodeside began reaching out to the local communities to connect them to the vision. “The idea wouldn’t work unless we could tie it to the neighborhoods.”

Rhodeside said he was inspired by San Francisco’s hilltop parks, with their unique micro-climates. “These places provide relief from the city.” Palo Alto has these wild wetland trails. He also looked to Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Eliot, and Ian McHarg for models.

At first, the goal was pretty conservative: to simply identify 10 sites with natural value, some 100 acres in total. But his team soon set-up a database and recorded all known threatened sites. Using an aerial photographic analysis, they covered the entire city. They decided to focus on “scenic, vacant land next to park lands, undeveloped land, vacant land next to water bodies, and highly publicized areas.” Combing the whole city, they discovered more than 2,000 acres of land possessing “scenic beauty and natural value.” If all these ecologically-valuable lands were protected, they would expand Boston’s park system by 50 percent.

The next step was to create an implementable plan. For that, they had to find out who owned what. Through their investigation, they discovered that the city already owned 25 percent of the prospective urban wilds. “They were just sitting there unprotected.” Collaborating with community leaders and the Boston Conservation Commission, they began pushing the city to protect those.

One advocacy tool was a “beautiful report” that was both “poetic and comprehensive.” A companion education piece was put up in Boston’s subway showing people how they connected to existing natural areas. Then, Eugenie Beal, a local conservation advocate, came in and set up a $250,000 line of credit from the bank to buy up urban wilds and then hand them over to the city. She created the Boston Natural Areas Network (BNAN), “accomplishing an enormous amount.”

Rhodeside said their efforts succeeded in saving 2,000 acres in part because the timing was right. “We were in a recession, so we had a respite from the development era. It was the era of conservation.” He added that a burst of “renewed interest in the great landscape architects of the past helped,” as did the new federal programs that were created in the 70s like the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) and others.

Managing the Wilds Without a Budget

After BNAN was set up, it became “extremely active,” said Sutton. Through the 80s and 90s, the program became “adept at purchasing private property and transferring it to the parks department.” But while there were victories, with large parcels added to the network of wilds, the overall condition of these natural places declined, all the way through the 90s. This decline began with the economic downturn in the early 80s and statewide tax cuts. The result: “There was no maintenance, and lots of graffiti, litter, vandalism, drugs, and invasive plants.”

Still, one victory was purchasing Allandale Woods in West Roxbury, some 100 acres of forested wetlands near the Arnold Arboretum. Another was adding 25 acres of woodland near Hyde Park. To connect Boston’s MBTA transportation system with the Arnold Arboretum, the arboretum was given Bussey Brook Meadow, adding another 25 acres.

In the 90s, the city hired a urban wilds consultant who focused the parks department on creating a master plan for these places. Then, beginning in 2000s, there was a renewed effort to purchase and set aside ecologically-valuable land. The city got Belle Island Marsh, “one of the most ecologically-productive systems in the city,” a wetland that is being further restored.

Nira Rock was renovated. “It’s a success story.” The urban wilds program “piggy-backed of a nearby playground restoration,” leveraging the activist neighborhood. There has also been a “subtle, hidden restoration of larger sites,” multi-year initiatives that involve a real “hodge-podge” of local groups. Volunteers now deal with invasive plant removal and trail improvements throughout the system of urban wilds.

Sutton said the urban wilds program is “still a stepchild. We can’t use the park system logo.” There’s no budget, given most of the parks department’s finances go to active recreation areas and historic parks. “We have to market ourselves to the city.” But he said realtors are starting to see the value of the restored areas. And universities and non-profits are getting involved.

Within an increasingly revitalized system, the big challenge remains how to deal with sites spread all over the city and “getting new stewardship groups formed.” For the future, he wants these urban wilds to be “fun, inviting, and accessible,” but he also worries about how the city is going to “market these spaces to the next generation” so they remain valued.

Redefining These Places as Novel Ecosystems

Desmini, who teaches landscape architecture at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), said there were 143 urban wilds covering some 2,000 acres in 1976. In 2010, there were  just 105 wilds covering 1,414 acres. Of that, 785 acres are permanently protected.

She said in the Allston / Brighton areas of Boston, “lots of urban wilds were lost.” In East Boston, segments near the airport are also gone. Other sites have been “dramatically transformed” over the past 40 years. Many places now have a “unique hybridity.”

Desmini said the definition of an urban wild has also changed over the years as these places have evolved. “Urban wilds are not parks or wilderness,” but something in between. Urban wilds are “unorganized scraps of nature,” celebrated for their “indigenous qualities.”

Urban wilds are “places of natural beauty and reflect a history that predates the American revolution.” They are a living story of “urban ecology and abandonment.” These are spaces “where nature instead of man shapes the space,” yet humans’ influence is still felt. They can be defined as novel ecosystems.

As with any novel ecosystem, they will not be pure, but they can still be celebrated. They have an “openness,” so they can be viewed as either “orphans or opportunity-filled.” They are rich with “vegetative succession and continuously evolving.” They can also have different hybrid uses. As an example, she pointed to an urban wild in Berlin where the local authorities actually allow graffiti spraying during certain hours.

Today, preserving an urban wild is about “conserving spontaneously-vegetated sites.” She said the future will be about “innovative maintenance” that takes into account the unique qualities of these spaces.

She said it’s also important the city starts treating the urban wilds as a comprehensive system of novel ecosystems. “The city can amp up the hybrid qualities.” Otherwise, they will “continue to struggle with fragmentation.”

Image credit: Allandale Woods / Boston Exotic Flowers

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Image-2-Tahari-Courtyard
“Great presentation, but a little bit preaching to the choir,” said the woman sitting behind me at Sunday’s general session of the ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston. Indeed, when Dr. Stephen Kellert, the Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, took the stage to give his talk on biophilic design, he mentioned he felt strange presenting to a room full of landscape architects, as they are on the front line of designing humans’ relationship to nature.

Biophilia is the “inherent human need to affiliate with nature.” This need, while instrumental to our health and physical and mental well-being, is a “weak biological tendency that benefits from and is strengthened by learning.” Biophilic design strengthens and enforces our affiliation with nature, which leads to, simply stated, happier and healthier people.

Image-1-Arizona-State-University-Polytechnic-Campus
If you read this blog with any regularity, there’s a good chance you’ve come across posts on biophilic design and the importance of nature in people’s everyday lives. You’ve seen posts that outline how nature is fundamentally good for us, providing benefits for our mental and physical well-being.

So why do we continuously preach to the choir? Dr. Kellert put it this way: while 99 percent of human evolution happened in the natural world, the modern “natural habitat of people is the built environment.” Consider these facts: 80 percent of the world’s people live in cities. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors. Children today spend just 40 minutes a week outside versus 52 hours a week in front of some sort of electronic media.

We continue to talk about because it’s not only critically important to our future, but because it’s not yet standard practice and needs to be. “We’re the only species in the world that needs to prove nature is important.” As he pointed out, it’s strange that the “exploitation of nature,” which accounts for 15 percent of the global economy, is accepted without question, while the aesthetics of the natural world is either seen as a luxury of the wealthy or something that’s really very nice, but not at all important.

The truth — a point that cannot be overstated and is also worth repeating — is that if we ignore the human need for contact with nature, one that is deeply rooted in human development, we do so at a risk to our mental and physical well-being. So a deeper understanding of the importance of the aesthetics of nature, and how they can be applied through biophilic design, needs to be explored.

The beauty of a place is actually very important. Beauty invites us in, and, through curiosity, which is the first step to engagement, promotes learning. Learning, in turn, enforces our biophilic needs. Beauty of place promotes a sense of stewardship for a natural setting, which leads to more time spent in nature, which in turn promotes our mental and physical well-being.

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Biophilic design of landscapes and buildings mimics the aesthetic coherence and organizational symmetry of nature through emulation and design. It’s also an ancient practice, some of our most revered buildings and landscapes have an essence of natural settings, but it’s one that has fallen away in recent time with sprawl and auto-centric design.

But the negative trends in both human health and unsustainable communities can be reversed. As Dr. Kellert put it, “we designed ourselves into this predicament; we can design ourselves out of it.” At its core, biophilic design is not just a buzz word, it’s simply good design, but one that requires a new design ethic. Until then, he’ll continue to preach.

Read Kellert’s most recent book, Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, ASLA 2013 intern and Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

Image credits: (1) ASLA 2006 Professional General Design Honor Award. Small Is Beautiful. Eli Tahari courtyard. Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates / Elizabeth Felicella (2) ASLA 2012 Professional General Design Honor Award / Arizona State Polytechnic. Ten Eyck Landscape Architecture / Bill Timmerman, (3) ASLA 2013 Professional General Design Honor Award. A Mother River Recovered: Qian’an Sanlihe Greenway. Qian’an City, Hebei Province, China. Turenscape / Kongjian Yu, FASLA.

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sugar-beach
“Growing plants is the goal,” said James Urban, FASLA, Urban Trees + Soils, at the 2013 ASLA Annual Meeting in Boston. To grow healthy plants, one needs healthy soils, and landscape architects who understand soils and know how to call a soil scientist. In a wide-ranging talk, Urban and his co-presenter, soil scientist Norm Hummel, discussed how landscape architects can design with new soils the right way, particularly in challenging, damaged urban landscapes.

Whether natural or man-mixed, soils have physical, environmental, and chemical properties. These are all important to the health of a growing medium. Physical properties include organic matter, water, drainage, and aeration. Environmental characteristics include light and temperature. Chemical elements include the pH balance, and the presence (or not) of phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium, which are all critical elements for plants.

To determine what kind of soil is needed for a project, Urban said goals and requirements are needed early on in the design process. Questions that need to be asked: “What type of trees and plants are you trying to grow? How big do you want these plants to get?” As an example, depending on the requirements, an oak can grow to 25 feet and last 50 years, or grow to its full extent and live hundreds of years. Landscape architects have think through these things in terms of soil early on.

It’s also important to know how a site is being used. A landscape may have lawn, but is that walked on a few times a year or thousands of times? Urban said the National Mall’s turf gets a quarter of a million visitors per day. That space gets 3,000 events a year. Use will determine what kind of irrigation and soils are needed.

Urban said there are eight critical properties of soils, which soil biologists can test to determine if soils meet specifications. They include structure, texture, density, nutrients, pH, organic matter, and density, which are all “inter-connected.”

More often than not, Urban said trees and plants don’t do well because of the physical properties of soils rather than the chemical. If something goes wrong — a tree is stressed, shows early fall color, or even dies — landscape architects may be planting the wrong trees and plants for the soil types.

Some details on soil’s physical properties: The structure of soils has to do with how well-glued together the soil particles are. Particles are attracted to other particles — and organic matter glues them together. Clay soil has a strong structure due to the stickiness of the soil. Silt soil has a weaker structure, while sand has no structure at all. Sandy soils are useful in areas that need to drain.

Urban added that man-made mixed soils are very different from natural soils. Mixed soils include soils that have been broken apart and put back together.

Soils are also made up of spaces or voids where water can flow. Ideal forest soils have a void space of about 50 percent, while urban compacted soils are around 20-30 percent. With the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), Urban said more landscape architects will need to measure soil structure.

Soil texture is also important to examine. Clay, silt, and sand all have different surface areas given the unique sizes of the particles. Fine sand is .24mm, while silt is 2.4mm, and clay, nearly 24mm. Just within the family of sand, there are huge differences as well, with fine sand having properties distinct from coarse grains.

Hummel, who said he has examined over 100,000 soil samples in his career, said organic matter is a major contributor to soil health. Organic matter can be amended with either peats or composts.

He said many peats are actually not sustainable and shouldn’t be used to augment the organic matter in damaged soils. Peat farming can strip an area of nutrients, creating environmental damage. However, he made an exception for sphagum peat, which is more expensive, but a renewable resource. For Hummel, sphagum peat is “superior to compost, which breaks down rapidly.”

But compost is most often added to soils to boost the amount of organic matter. Compost is often used with disturbed urban soils that have suffered from erosion and compaction. Compost types include yard waste (grass, wood chips), bio-solids (treated municipal sewage), animal manure, and mixed waste. Some regional compost specialties include pine bark and rice hulls. Hummel added that soils have a “disease suppressive capacity.” Still, he cautioned against the practice of using 90 percent compost and 10 percent soil, saying that a “tree planted in that will simply fall over or die.”

Hummel also delved into the chemical properties of soils – and whether it’s possible to chemically amend damaged soils. He concluded that altering the PH balance of existing site soils is “unrealistic.” What’s better is to focus on the availability of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous in the soil.

While sending soil samples to a lab will yield data on all these properties, these properties can also be requested in soil specifications. Hummel said landscape architects can even specify things like permeability in soils.

Urban concluded that it’s best to reuse dirt where possible, but sometimes grading and compaction have “killed the soils.” To understand the problems and solve them, landscape architects can use web soil surveys, study soil maps, take their own samples, examine them, and send them to the lab. “Landscape architects need to learn how to do this.”

To learn how to go on to the next step and fix soils, check out Urban’s book, Up by Roots.

Image credit: Sugar Beach, Toronto, by Claude Cormier / Deeproot

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crabgrass_cover
Suburban sprawl is nearly universally denigrated. Aerial photography reveals sprawl to be malignant housing divisions metastasizing across the landscape — a wasteful, ecologically devastating byproduct of a host of misguided policy decisions and cultural values. In contrast to dense urban centers, which are widely promoted as hotbeds of creative thought and innovation, suburbia is closely associated with stifling conformity. In the view of many urban planners and designers, suburban sprawl is essentially a mistake. However, given that a majority of Americans live in the suburbs, should we so quickly dismiss suburbia as a purely negative force? Has suburbia’s unique low-density environment incubated any positive cultural changes independent of the city?

In Crabgrass Crucible: Suburban Nature and the Rise of Environmentalism in Twentieth-Century America, Christopher Sellers argues that American environmentalism largely arose out of suburbia. Sellers lays out an alternative narrative for the cultural impact of the suburbs.

He argues that suburban expansion is typically viewed in terms of two distinct narratives: city building and nature destroying. In the city-building narrative, suburbanization is viewed in terms of the expansion of the built environment out from the urban core. This view ignores nature, instead concentrating on factors such as economics, infrastructure, and people. The nature-destroying narrative arose as a reaction to this viewpoint, casting suburbanization as a process of consuming natural lands. This narrative still predominates environmental thinking today.

Sellers contends that both of these narratives perpetuate an overly restrictive definition of nature, where nature only exists outside of human influence. As an alternative, he promotes an ecological narrative for suburbanization, where the environment represents a hybrid of natural and human systems. In his view, suburban expansion does not erase nature, but instead creates a new kind of hybrid suburban nature, where ecological systems unavoidably intersect with human settlement.

Using Long Island, New York, and Los Angeles as case studies, Sellers illustrates how American environmentalism first gained traction as a suburban grassroots movement. As Sellers writes, “around 1970, no cluster of issues contributed more to a new environmental politics than the multiple affronts to land, water, air, and human flesh in America’s most transformed urban edges.”

This book is significant because, whether we like them or not, the suburbs are not going anywhere. Instead of devoting all our energy toward designing new communities, shouldn’t we concentrate on improving what we already have? We can reconsider what suburbia has already given us and what it can become.

By tracing the emergence of environmentalism in suburbia and then valuing hybrid suburban nature, Crabgrass Crucible puts to rest the narrative of suburbia as a purely nature-destroying phenomenon. The challenge now is how we might exploit these low-density settlements for ecological and social benefit. Sellers writes, “Any resolve to propel an entire society toward a more sustainable future must take seriously the nature near where most people live, at least as much as the nature where fewer people reside.”

Read the book.

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Master’s of Landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer intern.

Image credit: University of North Carolina Press

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economist
In its latest special report, The Economist magazine put forth a counter-intuitive yet fascinating thesis: more economic growth is the best hope for preventing the next great wave of extinctions. They argue that as countries become richer, their citizens actually demand cleaner air and water, which benefit wildlife. With weekends off — and more free time generally — these rich-world residents also want to go to public parks and experience nature first hand. According to the Living Planet Index, which is created by the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), biodiversity is actually rising in the rich world and falling in poorer (tropical) ones. So the answer for the planet’s species may be to boost growth in poorer countries in South America, Asia, and Africa.

The entire series of articles is worth reading in depth, but here’s a top-line take on some of the key arguments and data presented:

Man Is Evolving

In the past, man has not been good for nature. Man wiped out most the ancient mega-fauna, including the mastodons, mammoths, and sabre-tooth tigers. With the rise of new technologies, “man’s destructive powers increased.” As mining and industrial development expanded across the globe, forests were decimated, rivers poisoned, and sea and land animals driven to the brink. But, they write: “In a sense this orgy of destruction was natural. In the wild, natural species compete for resources, and man proved a highly successful competitor.” The Economist adds that religion fueled the ascendancy of man over nature, with the Bible granting man “dominion over every creeping thing.”

Now, attitudes have changed for the better. “People have, by and large, come round to the view that wiping out other species is wrong. Part of the reason is pragmatic: as man has come to understand ecology better, he has realized that environmental destruction in pursuit of growth may be self-defeating. Rivers need to be healthy to provide people with clean water and fish; natural beauty fosters tourism; genes from other species provide the raw material for many drugs.”

The change in views towards nature has led to political action. Beginning in the 1970s, the world has increasingly come together to protect natural resources and endangered species. Countries have created national parks and financed support for them. There are now rules against polluting air and water. New technologies make conservation even easier. But while all this is increasingly true in developed countries, it’s not yet in developing ones, although there are signs of progress. For example, as Brazil develops, the rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has actually fallen. In 2004, some 24,000 square kilometers were decimated. Last year, there were just 5,000 square kilometers destroyed.

Extinctions Are Natural

The Economist writes that throughout Earth’s history extinctions have been the “norm.” Amazingly, “around 99 percent of all creatures that have ever lived have disappeared from the face of the planet. Hardly any of the species that are around now existed 100 million years ago; it is unlikely that many of today’s species will exist in another 100 million years. In the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year-history, that is not a very long time.”

Extinctions, as scientists have demonstrated, come in great waves. To our knowledge, there have been five major waves in history. These extinctions were caused by geological events and the impact of asteroids. A sixth one, caused by man, may be underway.

To determine whether a great wave of extinction is now happening, we have to understand how many species there are. To date, only 2 million species – large and small – have actually been identified. There are lots more smaller creatures than larger ones, so scientists believe many more small species remain undiscovered. “The most widely used estimate now 8.7 million species, not counting micro-organisms such as bacteria and archaea.”

Then, we have to calculate whether the rate of extinction exceeds the norm, which Stuart Pimm, a professor at Duke University, has established as a “background rate” of “one per million species years.” This means that if there are one million species, one would go extinct every year.

And then, we need to understand the actual number of species that have gone extinct. According to The Economist, many conservation organizations, in advocacy mode, have said up to a million species could soon go extinct, but the reality is only 9 counted extinctions have happened between 1980 and 2000. Still, most of the world’s great conservation biologists, including E.O. Wilson, have continuously raised the alarm, which should be heeded.

There’s Hope: People Now Value Biodiversity

As the developed world has become more prosperous with economic growth, people have “freedom to think about things beyond their material welfare.” Prosperity has given people more leisure time, and “enjoying nature is one of humanity’s favorite pastimes.” According to The Economist, some 71 million Americans say they “watch, feed or photograph wildlife in their spare time, more than play computer games, and 34 million are hunters or anglers who also, in their own way, enjoy wildlife.” Being out in nature may also boost happiness (as is explored in more depth in ASLA’s guide to the Health Benefits of Nature).

Communities have also realized that they need nature to survive, too. Birds kill the insects that plague crops. Fisherman’s livelihoods rely on stable stocks of fish. Bees are vital pollinators that we depend on for much of our produce. And then there are so many species of flora and fauna that have yet to be examined for their human health benefits. So many drugs have come from the rainforest. Perhaps the cure for cancer may be there, too.

Some positive trends:

  • In the U.S., eagle populations dropped from half a million in the 18th century to 412 breeding pairs by the early 1960s. There are now more than 7,000 pairs.
  • In 1990, Britain’s environmental agency said only 53 percent of its rivers were safe for recreation. Now 80 percent are.
  • China created its first national park in 1982. “It now has 1,865 of them, covering 110 million hectares, three times the area of America’s parks.” A recent article attributed this to the rising numbers of Chinese taking vacations.
  • In 1909, only 3.5 percent of the world’s land area was protected (according to a 1985 study). Today, some 13 percent of the planet is protected, and the target of 17 percent may be met.

The key then may be more economic growth globally, not less. And we’d add: more landscape architects to design parks and access to nature, not fewer.

Explore this fascinating set of articles.

Image credit: The Economist

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ivory
At the White House yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the launch of a new federal council on wildlife trafficking and expanded efforts to combat the global elephant ivory trade. The council, which met at the Forum to Counter Wildlife Trafficking, will advise the Interior department and a presidential task force on this issue. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also “crush and destroy” nearly six tons of elephant ivory captured by its agents and inspectors on U.S. soil.

Jewell said: “Poaching of wildlife has become a crisis that threatens large numbers of species including elephants, rhinos, great apes, tigers, sharks, tuna and turtles. With guidance from the new Advisory Council on Wildlife Trafficking, we will continue to work in partnership with countries where these animals live and roam and other nations to shut down the illegal trade in wildlife products and to bring poachers and traffickers to justice.”

According to the secretary, the ivory “crush” will highlight “the rising tide of poaching and trafficking that is threatening wild populations of elephants, rhinoceros, and other iconic species – and strengthen global efforts to crack down on these criminal activities.”

Beyond destroying the raw and carved whole tusks the agents seized, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also update regulations to close loopholes that make it easier for criminals to bring ivory products into the U.S. In Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the service will provide more equipment and support to build up countries’ efforts to combat the trade.

The U.S. is trying to make this a global effort because the ongoing slaughter of elephants and other species isn’t just an African problem. Demand is coming from the U.S. and other rich countries. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said: “The United States is part of the problem, because much of the world’s trade in wild animal and plant species – both legal and illegal – is driven by U.S. consumers or passes through our ports on the way to other nations.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service reports that the total population of forest elephants in Central Africa is down 62 percent. “Elephant massacres have taken place in Chad, Cameroon, and the Central African Republic in the past year, as well-armed and organized criminal enterprises have taken advantage of insufficient protection capacity in remote landscapes and the rising price of ivory on illegal markets.”

The Service uses a conservation fund to finance more than 170 global conservation projects, providing more than $8.6 million in aid, which is matched by $14.3 million in support by foreign governments and non-governmental organizations. To finance additional efforts to combat the wildlife trade, Ashe encouraged Americans to buy the Save Vanishing Species postal stamp at their local post office or online. The stamp has raised $2.4 million so far.

But clearly, these efforts, while commendable, are far from enough — as elephant ivory is being seized in record numbers across the globe. Just recently, inspectors in Hong Kong made another large seizure of elephant ivory, nearly 1,200 tusks weighing 4,800 pounds, worth some $2.5 million. The tusks were hidden in a container coming from the African country Togo. Two other busts in the past year found another 12,000 pounds of tusks.

Image credit: Elephant Tusk Seizure / Elephant Ivory Project

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greenspace
According to the TKF Foundation, more than 80 percent of the U.S. population and 50 percent of the global population now live in urban areas. To ensure people can live in dense environments packed with people, parks and open space are critical. Without those, people flee to the suburbs to get away and have access to more nature.

So to green cities, landscape architects and planners are now “comprehensively integrating ecology and nature into built environments using systems approaches, such as green infrastructure, low impact development, and urban landscape ecology.” The cost of these efforts is justified by “call outs of better air and water quality; reduced heat island effect; and reduced carbon emissions.” While those benefits are clearly very valuable to quantify, there has been a recent movement to quantify the human health and well-being benefits of all this urban green in “stress recovery, improved mental health, faster healing and improved community situations, including lower crime rates.”

But, they argue, Americans still often want their nature to be pristine — they want to access nature in “grand natural areas that inspire awe and instill a deep, meaningful sense of the power of nature.” The trick is to then create urban places where people can also experience the “power of nature.”

So they’ve started the National Open Spaces, Sacred Places, a design and research initiative, which is designed to “propel greater community commitments to creating those spaces that satisfy the soul.” To this end, the foundation recently announced $4.5 million in awards for six landscape design and research projects, involving some top researchers from the fields of neuroscience, genomics, immunology, psychology, and others.

According to the foundation, this “collection of exceptional spaces will demonstrate how nearby nature in the city can provide sacred and spiritual experiences. Each project will combine the creation of tranquil, restorative spaces in urban environments with rigorous study of their impact on users’ well-being and resilience.” The landscapes were selected because they “target and engage an urban population in need.”

The six projects will share some common characteristics, which seem rooted in biophilic design concepts:

  • They must include a “portal,” which is defined as an “archway, a gate, a stand of trees, a pergola, or other marker” where “there is a clear movement from the space of everyday life and functioning.”
  • Each site features a path, “whether linear and well-defined, or more meandering.” Paths allow people to focus their “attention and achieve a mindfulness about the surroundings.”
  • Landscapes will also have a destination, “an appealing feature or end point” that can “draw in a person to the welcoming space.” TKF Foundation describes this as a “sojourn, however brief,” that is “rewarded by a feature that encourages quiet, fascination, joy, and spiritual connection with nature.”
  • Lastly, the “surround,” or design elements, such as plantings, fencing, or trees must be included to “provide an encompassing sense of boundary, safety and enclosure. Portal, path and destination invite one to experience a space; the sense of surround ensures that one experiences a sense of being away and an emotional separation from the stress and challenges of life.”

Each landscape will also include a “signature bench” where visitors are invited to sit and write in a journal attached. Since 1995, TKF Foundation has been creating “temporary green refuges” in universities, “tough inner-city neighborhoods, in hospitals, and prisons,” writes Grist. In these places, they’ve created access to journals, where visitors can sit and write down their thoughts. From these, more than 20,000 comments have been collected and transcribed.  The foundations writes that in these journals, “one finds remarkable, heartfelt testimonials about the power of nature to transform, heal and bring clarity through reflection.” Based on these comments, the foundation decided to enroll scientists to further study the health and well-being benefits of nature.

The six projects:

The Green Road Project at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center: “Built on a woodland section of the campus, it will surround ‘Wounded Warriors’ and their families with the healing powers of nature in an oasis of respite—and combine a healing, patient-centered approach with rigorous data on what works to improve the health of veterans.”

Dr. Fred Foote (CAPT, MC, USN, Ret.) said the Green Road project will use three metrics to study the impact of the space on patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): “combined biomarkers of the stress response; qualitative analysis of journals and stories using natural language processing; and advanced genomics.”

A Green Space a Day: “Following up on findings from research conducted in Japan and the Netherlands that links being in nature with healthy immune response, A Greenspace a Day research will help determine what it is about nature that improves immune functioning and reduces stress for urban dwellers.”

According to TKF Foundation, Frances Kuo, PhD, Landscape and Human Health Laboratory, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, plans to study “existing green spaces created by the TKF Foundation and its partners in the Mid-Atlantic region to pinpoint which design features enhance the functioning of the immune system, particularly in distressed and vulnerable populations.”

Landscapes of Resilience: This project will examine how “new open space, sacred places can contribute to community resilience while supporting recovery from an array of major crises — human, natural, technological and even political.”

The research will be conducted by Keith Tidball, PhD, an Extension Associate and Associate Director of the Cornell University Civic Ecology Lab, and Erika Svendsen, PhD, a Research Social Scientist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Measuring What Works for Healthy Green Spaces: “While a body of evidence has shown that nature improves health outcomes and cognitive functioning, the missing link is still why these effects occur. Measuring What Works for Healthy Green Spaces aims to determine what it is about nature that has such tremendous effects on our brains and our health and create guidelines for the future design of natural spaces.”

The research will be conducted by Marc Berman, PhD, University of South Carolina, who wonders what about nature has a positive impact on our mental health.

Naval Cemetery Landscape in Brookyln: “As one node of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative – a 14-mile commuting route for non-motorized transportation – the Naval Cemetery Landscape project will seek to provide restorative relief to individuals from the urban environment. Sited atop an old cemetery at the former Brooklyn Navy Yard, this new meadow will revitalize the native plant and pollinator populations in the region and attract other forms of life that depend on thriving numbers of these native inhabitants.”

The project is being led by Milton Puryear, Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, who is partnering with the Green School of East Williamsburg and Brooklyn Community Housing and Services. In addition, Christopher Weiss, PhD, NYU’s Applied Quantitative Research Methods Program, will “collect data from The Green School students and BCHS residents throughout the lifetime of the project, measuring their reaction and response to the natural space as it develops.”

A Nature Place, Portland, Oregon: “A preterm baby — a child born before 37 weeks of pregnancy — is at heightened risk of physical and developmental problems. The earlier the birth, the greater the risk. And a mother’s stress is a significant contributor to preterm delivery. Realizing this, Legacy Health is combining its traditional medical expertise with the healing power of open green spaces to create a four-season garden at the Family Birth Center and Cardiovascular Care Unit at its Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. Patients and their families will be able to walk through and rest in the garden, adding to their peace of mind and rebuilding their strength. There will even be special equipment to make sure less-mobile patients — such as pregnant women on bed rest and patients with reduced mobility — can spend time outside.”

The research component will be lead by Roger S. Ulrich, PhD.

Explore the projects.

Image credit: A Green Space a Day / TKF Foundation via Grist.

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A recent study by urban forestry guru David Nowak and other researchers at U.S. Forest Service and The Davey Institute found that urban trees save at least one life per year in most cities and up to 8 people per year in large metropolises like New York City.

“Trees growing in cities help clean the air of fine particulate air pollution — soot, smoke, dust, dirt — that can lodge in human lungs and cause health problems,” Grist explains. As an example, “trees clear 71 tons” of air particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter (PM2.5) from Atlanta’s air each year.

As explained in a recent post on outdoor air pollution, urban particulate air pollution kills as many as 2.5 million people each year. PM 2.5 has a drastic effect on human health, including premature mortality.

Researchers noted that larger particles between particulates 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter—also called coarse dust particles or PM10—are removed by trees at a substantially higher rate. However, the health benefits of PM2.5 removal is 30 to 350 times more valuable.

What happens to our health when those trees die from natural causes en masse? Apparently, as another recent study claims, people die, too. This study study showed that the “loss of trees to the emerald ash borer increased mortality related to cardiovascular and lower-respiratory-tract illness. This finding adds to the growing evidence that the natural environment provides major public health benefits.” Untrammeled development would then also have the same negative health impacts at the ash borer.

Of course, the health benefits are not restricted to our lungs and heart, but also our minds. As can be seen in a new UK-wide study, parks, gardens, and even street trees in urban areas improve the mood and mental well-being of the surrounding residents.

The value of trees goes well beyond their immediate air quality-reducing properties, too. According to one recent U.S. Forest Service study, “urban forests are responsible for storing 708 million tons of carbon—a service valued at $50 billion.”

Not to ignore the financial side of better health, the Nowak study also claims that “the average health benefits value per hectare of tree cover was about $1,600, but varied [from city to city].”

The study concludes that “trees can produce substantial health improvements and values in cities.” Although more research is needed to improve these estimates, this study also leaves room for new research that explores the local effects of tree-filled landscapes in cities.

Read the study and check out a recent animation from ASLA: Urban Forests = Cleaner, Cooler Air.

This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.

Image credit: Bryant Park, NYC / Wikipedia

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A new study by an international team of scientists has found that outdoor air pollution kills 2.5 million people worldwide each year. According to BBC News, the researchers calculated the vast majority of the deaths, 2.1 million, were linked with fine particulate matter, with some 470,000 deaths from ozone. In addition to contributing to these deaths, outdoor air pollution increased “respiratory and heart disease risks, with the young, elderly and infirm most vulnerable.” Other research has shown that indoor pollution, particularly in developing countries, causes another 2 million deaths annually.

The researchers wrote: “Epidemiological studies have shown that PM2.5 (particulates with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns – about 30 times thinner than the width of a human hair) and ozone have significant influences on human health, including premature mortality.”

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particulate matter is a “complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets. Particle pollution is made up of a number of components, including acids (such as nitrates and sulfates), organic chemicals, metals, and soil or dust particles.” The EPA is most focused on particles 10 micrometers in diameter or smaller because “those are the particles that generally pass through the throat and nose and enter the lungs.” Finer particles, which are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, are found in smoke and haze. Forest fires, residential fire places and wood stoves, agricultural burning, power plant emissions, and car exhaust pipes all release those particles.

The researchers used mathematical models to derive their estimates. Interestingly, they found that their estimate was lower than previous ones. But this may have been because of their methodology: “Our methods likely underestimate the true burden of outdoor pollution because we have limited the evaluation to adults aged 30 and older.”

In the same BBC News article, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated it’s difficult to calculate the world’s most polluted areas because “many cities with high levels of air pollution do not have monitoring systems in place.” Still, outdoor air pollution was seen to be very high in China and India’s booming cities and in major urban areas in Latin America and Africa.

Overall, the WHO stated that mortality rates in cities with higher levels of pollution are 15-20 percent more than in relatively cleaner cities. Indeed, a scary new study states that outdoor air pollution in China is decreasing the life span of the average urban Chinese by 5.5 years. In comparison, in the European Union, which has some of the world’s most stringent air pollution standards, life expectancy is reduced by just 8.6 months because of fine particulate matter.

Climate change is also exacerbating the effects of bad air, contributing about 3,700 more deaths a year. As cities become even hotter in the summer, the air becomes even more dangerous.

Interestingly, climate change may also be changing the “biochemical characteristics” of plants, and not in a good way. “Trees use chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to attract pollinators as well as deter damaging attacks from insects and larger animals. However, higher temperatures can cause many tree species to emit more VOCs into the atmosphere, which reacts with sunlight to form ozone or more particulates.”

As a recent video from ASLA demonstrates, it’s important to plant low-VOC trees in urban areas, along with dealing with power plant and car emissions. If done so, trees can actually aid in reducing air pollution because they help catch air particulates with their leaves. They also evapo-transpire and create shade, which cools the air.

Learn more about the positive benefits of urban trees.

Image credit: Beijing Air Pollution / Daily Tech

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In the Chicago area alone, there are over 300 types of native bees. In addition to this bounty of diversity, there’s also the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, which was introduced by European settlers to the eastern part of North America in the early-1600s. Honey bee colonies eventually went feral and spread throughout the eastern colonies. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that the honey bee finally made it to western North America.

During this time, honey bees became an important part of the U.S. agricultural system. While many native bees and butterflies are important pollinators, they are no match for the honey bee and the sheer volume of pollination that creature can accomplish. At the height of summer a single hive may contain as many as 50,000 individuals. In contrast, many native bees are solitary creatures. Through sheer number, honey bees are then more productive at pollinating our crops. Today, pollinators like the honey bee are responsible for every third bite of food we eat. For example, we couldn’t grow almonds in California without beekeepers trucking in colonies of bees.

If you’ve read about honey bees recently, it’s probably news reports about the rapid decline in their populations and the mystery surrounding the exact cause of colony collapse disorder (CCD). You may have heard about how honey bees are hard hit by pesticides, especially neonictinoids, which have been banned by the European Union for the next two years over worries about the adverse effects to all bee species. Similarly, in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is under more intense pressure to regulate these pesticides, as they have recently been sued by commercial beekeepers and environmental groups, which claim that the insecticides clothianidin and thiamethoxam – both neonictinoids – have negative effects on the central nervous systems of honey bees, not to mention other beneficial pollinators.

After CCD came to light in 2006, beekeepers across the board noted winter losses that ranged from 30 to 90 percent. While losses fell to 21.9 percent for the winter of 2011/2012 — as bees possibly benefited from what was the fourth warmest winter on record — it still remains true that keeping honey bees alive and healthy is becoming more of a challenge.

According to bee experts, most of those winter die-offs aren’t related to CCD, that mysterious ailment in which all the bees weirdly disappear from one’s hive. The vast majority of die-offs have to do with mites, diseases, decreased foraging opportunities from habitat loss, weakened immunity due to generations being exposed to pesticides and poor nutrition, and unfortunately, sometimes, neglectful beekeeping.

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates there are between 139,000 and 212,000 beekeepers in the U.S., most of which are hobbyists with 25 hives or fewer. I have a hive in a back yard in Chicago, though not this summer. I went to Washington, D.C. for an internship instead. Most of the beekeepers I know don’t have more than a few hives here and there. But the fact is there are a lot of hobbyist beekeepers, more and more all the time. Chances are, even if you’ve never met me, you’ve seen my honey bees or the honey bees that belong to my fellow beekeepers. Our honey bees have a range of three to five miles from their hive. Our hives are all over the country, on city rooftops, and in suburban backyards.

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This growing number of beekeepers contributes to the general population of honey bees, which helps fight a general decline in colony numbers. The number of honey bee colonies in the U.S. has decreased from 5 million hives in 1940 to 2.5 million today, even while the demands on our agricultural system increase. That demand is also local now. With the push for a return to local food systems and community gardens, honey bees are being introduced into neighborhoods. This only helps increase the yield of neighborhood gardens. Bees can help produce more and bigger fruits and vegetables. Honey bees are so worth keeping: honey fresh from a hive is a wonderful thing. Eating locally-produced honey will also go a long way to help seasonal allergies.

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It isn’t hard to be a beekeeper, but it does require a lot of time and attention. There’s a lot to know about honey bees, but they are worth the time as they are endlessly fascinating creatures.

Unlike the yellow jacket wasp, the creature honey bees are constantly being mistaken for, honey bees are merely defensive, not aggressive. This is not to say that bee stings don’t hurt — they do — but honey bees would rather collect pollen. They will not bother you if you don’t bother them, they only want to defend their hive and protect their queen.

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Getting started with backyard beekeeping can be as simple as ordering all the equipment, a package of bees, and just going for it. But finding a beekeeper to learn from, in addition to reading every book you can before you start, is a better option. Find your local beekeeping club and introduce yourself. Beekeepers love talking bees and share stories of tips, triumphs, and tragedies.

If you can find a place to volunteer and participate in an inspection before you get your own hive, that’s even better. I had the pleasure of volunteering with Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory, where I apprenticed under a number of experienced beekeepers before I finally got my own hive. I also took a class with the Chicago Honey Co-op, a fantastic urban apiary that offers beekeeping classes. When you’re ready to become a beekeeper in your own right, check to make sure beekeeping is actually legal in your community.

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Want to help bees, but don’t really want to own a hive? There are number of things you can do. Fill your garden, patio, window boxes, and balcony with plants that honey bees and other pollinators love. If you have a garden, refrain from using pesticides. Urban and suburban bees may actually be healthier than rural bees because they aren’t subjected to an onslaught of pesticides. If you see a swarm, don’t panic. A swarm is a good thing, the natural reproduction of a colony. Call a beekeeper who will be more than happy to take the swarm out of your tree and off your hands. Please note, a swarm, despite the scary connotations of the name, is actually quite docile.

In fact, one of the main challenges for a neighborhood beekeeper is the uninformed community member, whose unfortunate first reaction to seeing a hive is to be afraid. Neighborhood beekeepers generally act as ambassadors for their bees, teaching people and reassuring community members that the honey bee is beneficial and safe. When I inspect my hive, it isn’t uncommon for neighbors to watch and ask questions.

The beekeeping resources I’ve included are those known to me in my hometown of Chicago. If you’re a beekeeper elsewhere and know of great resources in your community, please share them in the comments.

This guest post is by Heidi Petersen, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture candidate, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and ASLA 2013 summer intern.

Image credits: (1) Honey bee in Lurie Garden / Heidi Petersen, (2) Back yard hives / Heidi Petersen, (3) Frame of honey bees and queen / Donna Oppolo, (4) Friendly honey bee / Heidi Petersen, (5) Image 5: Learning to inspect at Garfield Park Conservatory / Donna Oppolo, (6) Capped honey frame / Heidi Petersen

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