USA Today: “Push for urban parkland takes root”

The value of urban parks is ever more appreciated, reports USA Today…

“Push for urban parkland takes root” (4/13/08)

“We grew so rapidly in the ’80s and ’90s in the rate we were consuming land, people did become alarmed,” says David Goldberg, spokesman for Smart Growth America, a national coalition promoting green space. “This desire for parkland and capitalizing on natural assets is really taking hold.”

It is spurred by several factors, including mounting environmental concerns, improved property values for park-side real estate, increased demand for green space from health-conscious people moving back to cities and a greater availability of vacant industrial land…

“There’s a growing awareness of the importance of providing green space to cities around the country,” says Catherine Nagel, executive director of the City Parks Alliance and the National Association for Olmsted Parks (named after landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, one of Central Park’s designers). “We’re seeing a renaissance of parks supporters…”

“The environmental movement is looking to use as much of the landscape as possible to clean the air, provide natural drainage and do the kind of nature-friendly work that parks do,” says Garvin, who also works on the Atlanta BeltLine.

Concern over public health is another great motivator for cities to create parks and encourage outdoor activity, he says. Since the 1970s, the U.S. obesity rate has doubled. Diabetes eats up one of every $5 Americans spend on health care…

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…

…cities and metropolitan areas, now too large to conveniently escape, must themselves be viewed as incorporating both built and unbuilt
environments… And into the bargain, the urban environment will prove
to be more habitable, more sustainable, more “ecological”…

Loss of signature trees or groves to disease or development may devalue
real estate, impair sense of place, and cause emotional distress.
Conversely, the protection of a special tree or stand of timber
strengthens the communal sense of place…

The Ecological Cities Project: Greenspace in “The Humane Metropolis”
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…

Preserving areas of nature, open space, and trees and other vegetation
can have psychological as well as physical health benefits for local
residents. There is a growing body of research which points to the
power of nature to restore people from the stress of modern life,
including mental fatigue (Kaplan, Kaplan, and Ryan 1998; Frumkin 2001).
The positive benefits of nature have been found in a range of settings
and populations, including hospital patients’ recovery from surgery,
office workers’ productivity and job satisfaction, children’s ability
to concentrate and do well in school, especially those with Attention
Deficit Disorder, and even prisoners’ health and behavior (Frumkin
2001; Ulrich 1984; Taylor et al. 2001; and Moore 1981). Urban trees can
also have a positive impact on building community in inner-city
neighborhoods (Kuo et al. 1998). Many residents do not need these
scientific studies to persuade them–people appreciate nearby green
spaces as places to enjoy after a hectic day at work.

Greening Smart Growth: The Sustainable Sites Initiative
The presence of natural elements has several implications for personal
and community security. Shared green spaces, particularly those with
trees, provide settings for people to interact and strengthen social
ties. Residential areas with green surroundings are associated with
greater social cohesion in neighborhoods, and neighbors with stronger
social ties are more likely to monitor local activity, intervene if
problem behaviors occur,[48] and defend their neighborhoods against
crime.[49] Residents of buildings with greater tree and grass cover
report fewer incidences of vandalism, graffiti, and litter than
counterparts in more barren buildings.[50] Likewise, a study comparing
police reports of crime and extent of tree and grass cover found that
the greener a building’s surroundings, the fewer total crimes were

Photo Essay: 10 Reasons People Like Trees Around Them; Will the Sustainable Northampton Plan
Put Urban Trees at Risk?

The New Draft Sustainable Northampton Plan: Balancing Compact Growth Against Taxes, Urban Greenspace, Homeowner Preferences
objective of the Plan is to “implement ideas for maximizing density on
small lots”. (p.16) It calls for the City to “consider amending zero
lot line single family home to eliminate 30′ side yard setback”. (p.69)
It suggests the zoning laws be changed to “encourage single family
homes in Urban Residential zoning districts by significantly reducing
minimum frontage/lot width, for projects meeting form-based coding”.
(p. 71)

These changes have the potential to reduce or eliminate
the yards that separate homes from each other and from streets. This
loss of greenspace may well entail a loss of privacy, attractiveness,
flood protection (through an increase in impervious surfaces), and an
increase in the heat island effect, noise and congestion. If fewer
trees are shading homes, cooling costs are likely to rise…

Photo Essay: The Forest Behind View Avenue