Thursday, December 6, 2012

Urban Green

By: Aaron Wagner, Sustainable Building Associate
                                M.S. Landscape Architecture

As humans move to live in more in cities, we have had to rethink how cities are designed and incorporate more natural systems into the basic infrastructure.  Ecosystem services are one way in which many cities around the globe are doing just that.  “Ecosystem Services are the processes by which the environment produces resources that we often take for granted such as clean water, timber, and habitat for fisheries, and pollination of native and agricultural plants.” (ESA, 2000).  This also includes clean air and carbon sequestration too.
Examples of ecosystem services being utilized by cities are the Catskills Mountains in New York, which before agricultural development and large scale sewage run-off provided New York City with some of the best water in the nation.  As water quality fell below quality standards, the city looked into options to treat the incoming flow.  The cost to build and maintain a facility that performs the same function as nature is astronomical.  The city decided to invest $660 million dollars in an Environmental Bond Issue that allows them to currently buy land, halt development, and compensate property owners for development restrictions, as well as subsidize septic system improvements (ESA, 2000).  The result is a restored natural area that provides citizens with clean water to drink as well as an area in which they can play. This all maintained by New York City.  The success of that project has led NYC to further their use of natural capital. Check out their Green Infrastructure Plan here.

Aside from the monetary value ecosystem services inherently carry, they also bring many intrinsic values to the cities that use them.  The green spaces benefit people who live within the city by bringing nature back into the city core.  Numerous studies have shown that people need nature and that being exposed to nature causes humans to have lower levels of stress and improve moods.  Wildlife already living in the city limits are given a safe place to go.  And the land adjacent to these areas usually sees an increase in value because people are attracted to green and are willing to pay more to live in close proximity to green spaces; this is a fact of human nature.  Don’t fight the nature that is found in us all, integrate it, watch it, and become a proponent for it in your neighborhood.