MA Secy of Energy and Environmental Affairs: Urban Parks Deserve Protection as do Habitat Reserves and Working Landscapes

In a January 16 guest column for South Coast Today, Ian Bowles, secretary of energy and environmental affairs for Massachusetts, argues that Smart Growth needs to provide for urban parks as well as habitat reserves and working landscapes (agricultural and forest lands). It’s not sufficient to presume that compact growth and the preservation of open space where it’s cheapest will result in optimal living environments:

The last administration [Mitt Romney’s] believed that policies and incentives for “smart growth,” steering development toward city and town centers, would be sufficient to protect open space…

The administration before that–Govs. Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift–supported land preservation, but measured success in acres. They spent money on open space–still, in only one year, 2002, exceeding Gov. Patrick’s commitment for each of the next five–but not necessarily the land most in need of protection.

We need smart land conservation along with smart growth. That’s why, going forward, the commonwealth is going to concentrate its land protection efforts on three priorities, which complement the administration’s smart-growth goals:

  • Urban Parks: For smart growth to succeed, urban life needs to be attractive. From a land perspective, the best thing we can do to improve urban living is to make sure there are beautiful parks within walking distance of every urban dweller. So we plan to create visionary urban parks in 10 to 15 cities in neighborhoods that don’t have them, and to significantly [improve] parks in all 51 Massachusetts cities over the next four years…

As Smart Growth concepts mature, urban greenspace is getting more and more respect. It may be relatively expensive to preserve park-like environments in downtown districts, but they benefit a large number of people. The woods and wetlands behind North Street represent a natural urban park that doesn’t even need to be created, just preserved.

See also:

Rutherford Platt, “Regreening the Metropolis: Pathways to More Ecological Cities”
In the 1950s, the conventional wisdom–for the affluent at least–was that cities are where people are, and the country is where you go on weekends and vacations to find Nature in some place bucolic or maritime. But today, even for those who can afford it, the time and cost of escaping the metropolis has grown with the spread of the metropolis itself and the growing numbers of vehicles trying to leave it… Meanwhile, those who cannot afford to sit in traffic in their SUV–the poor, the elderly, the infirm–are sentenced to live out their lives in the metropolitan environment, come what may…

The Ecological Cities Project: Greenspace in “The Humane Metropolis”
A metropolis (i.e., metro region or citistate) is considered green if it fosters humans’ connections to the natural world — an idea Anne Whiston Spirn promoted in her seminal 1984 book The Granite Garden. Spirn rejected the idea — easily absorbed if one watches too many “concrete jungle” films, or even televised nature documentaries — that the natural world begins beyond the urban fringe. “Nature in the city,” she wrote, “must be cultivated, like a garden, rather than ignored or subdued.”

UMass Press: “Natural Land: Preserving and Funding Open Space”
Protected open spaces are essential for human health and well-being. From the founding of the first urban parks, planners and landscape architects have recognized the recreational benefits of open space as a place for physical activity and restoration in crowded urban neighborhoods. The need to provide places for people to recreate is just as important today, especially as the sedentary lifestyle of many Americans including children has led to record levels of obesity and other health-related problems (Wilson 2002; Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse, undated; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1996). Parks and trails provide opportunities for people to improve their physical health…

Greening Smart Growth: The Sustainable Sites Initiative
Research has shown that interaction with or views of nearby nature can improve cognitive functioning. For instance, desk workers who have a view of nature report greater job productivity and satisfaction and fewer absences from work.[43] Children and youth may have the most to gain from green surroundings. Play in places with trees and vegetation can support children’s development of skills and cognitive abilities[44] and lessen the symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).[45] Likewise, living in a green environment can improve school performance,[46] concentration, and self-discipline…[47]

Irony of Infill: You Have to Drive to Enjoy Nature