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Posts Tagged ‘urban’

The Power of Urban Trees

Photo: Wikimedia
A shady street in suburbia.

John has been working with the Arlington Tree Committee to inventory the town’s trees and promote the benefits of an urban canopy.

Recently, his team has connected with the lab of Lucy Hutyra, associate professor of earth and environment at Boston University, who plans to bring post-doc colleagues to Arlington to help determine the best planting strategies for combatting problems like heat islands.

A 2016 CityLab article about Hutyra’s research with BU biologist Andrew Reinmann notes that trees in urban and suburban environments actually do a better job of removing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than trees in forests.

As Courtney Humphries reported at CityLab, “Forests are important asset in fighting climate change, absorbing an estimated 30 percent of the carbon dioxide we emit from burning fossil fuels. But those estimates come from big forests, says Reinmann, and we know relatively little about how patchy forests function, and whether they provide the same services that large forests do.

“A study published [in December 2016] in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Reinmann and BU environmental scientist Lucy Hutyra shows that forest fragments in New England behave differently than intact forests in surprising ways: they may pull significantly more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than predicted. …

“ ‘You can see how the structure of the trees all along the edge is different,’ [Reinmann] says, pointing to a stand of oaks with long horizontal branches reaching over the backyards, soaking up the additional sunlight. Slicing and dicing forests with housing developments, roads, and agricultural fields creates a multitude of forest edges and, as Reinmann and his colleagues are finding, conditions at the edge of a forest are different than deep inside it. These effects add up; currently, 20 percent of the world’s forested land is within 330 feet of an edge.

“Edge conditions can actually be a boon to the trees that remain. An earlier study from Hutyra’s lab found that urbanization makes trees in Massachusetts grow faster. …

“ ‘On, average the forest is growing 90 percent faster near the edge,’ says Reinmann. In some cases, individual trees are growing faster, and in other cases, they’re growing more densely. …

Given the growth boost at edges, Reinmann and Hutyra estimate, forests in southern New England take up about 13 percent more carbon dioxide than they’re given credit for, and store about 10 percent more carbon. …

“But, Reinmann says, ‘the really important thing to stress is that it does not mean forest fragmentation is a good thing. The carbon sink here is still substantially lower than it would be if we didn’t lose any forest.’ In other words, slicing up a forest to store carbon is a very bad idea.”

Click here for more, and here for the street tree map John’s team is building thanks to their Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation grant.

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Photo: Chuck Wolfe
Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. Photographic urban diaries can help residents absorb what there are seeing and can ultimately influence city planning.

Cities are organic, changing, blossoming, decaying amalgams of individuals, buildings, dumps, businesses, trees, animals — so many elements that it is impossible to put your finger on what makes a great city great. It is even hard to get agreement on whether or not a particular city is great.

Seattle is a city that is very conscious of its idealistic character. And it’s one that keeps reaching higher.

Knute Berger at Crosscut writes, “No one wants a ‘better city’ more than Seattleites. … If anything is in our civic DNA, it is the drive of commerce and the determination to build not just a better city, but the ideal one: prosperous, just, beautiful.

“Tall order, and one around which there is much dispute. Charles Wolfe, a local land-use lawyer, author and urban observer has a suggestion to help us sort through some of our conflicts. He touts the personal documentation of the city we live in, urging us to create urban ‘diaries.’

“This isn’t self-indulgent ‘journaling’ but a thoughtful process of observing and recording a city — what works, where human activities thrive and what evokes our emotional responses.

“Wolfe’s latest book is Seeing the Better City (Island Press, $30), which is described as a tool kit for ‘how to explore, observe, and improve urban space.’ Wolfe — who has written for Crosscut and who is a friend — says the answer to a better city doesn’t start with a white board, an attitude or a bushel of land-use ordinances; it begins at the level of human experience and how we train ourselves to see it and understand it.

“Wolfe’s main medium is photography, aided by technology — geo-mapping, social media — to record his impressions and observations, which might range from how bikes, trains and pedestrians share space in Nice, France, to a homeless person’s tent with a grand view of Elliott Bay. …

“Why is keeping an urban diary worthwhile? Wolfe argues that it trains us to be better citizens, to care more and understand more about where we live. Therefore, we might be more motivated to attend meetings or offer insights and solutions into the planning process. …

“Wolfe’s book tells us urban diarists can also be useful to planners and policymakers. An urban diary ‘walk and talk’ workshop in Redmond created diaries of the town’s historic core — and that then informed the planning process. … When we all act like flâneurs, ‘trickle up’ urban planning can result. …

We don’t need to travel the world to be an urban diarist. Our own stomping grounds offer an infinite opportunity to feel and observe.”

More here.

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When I was at the magazine, I often sought out authors from different regions who could write about the benefits of community gardens to low-income neighborhoods. Kai remembered that and tagged me on Facebook when he posted an article yesterday about a comprehensive farming initiative in inner-city Detroit.

Robin Runyan writes at the website Curbed Detroit, “This week, the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) revealed its plans for the first Sustainable Urban Agrihood in the North End.

“Wait, an agrihood? It’s an alternative neighborhood growth model, positioning agriculture as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development. There are some agrihoods around the country, but in rural areas. This is the first within a city.

“MUFI’s agrihood spans three acres on Brush Street, a few blocks up from East Grand Boulevard. MUFI runs a successful two-acre garden, a 200-tree fruit orchard, and a children’s sensory garden. They provide free produce to the neighborhood, churches, food pantries, and more.

“The big part of the announcement was the plan to renovate a three-story, 3,200-square-foot vacant building that MUFI had bought at auction years back. …

“The Community Resource Center will include office space for MUFI, event and meeting space, and two commercial kitchens on the first floor. A healthy cafe will be located on vacant land next to the CRC.

“Tyson Gersh, MUFI President and co-founder, said at the announcement that they want to be the first LEED certified platinum building in Detroit.”

The article credits Sustainable Brands, BASF, GM, and Herman Miller and Integrity Building Group for providing much-needed help on the project.

More here.

Photo: Michelle & Chris Gerard
The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative.

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EcoRI News is a local environmental site where I often find good stories. I especially like this one. It’s not only an upbeat environmental story, but it features middle-school and high-school enrichment in a district that has not often been able to afford enrichment.

Frank Carini writes from Central Falls, “Crammed into 1.3 square miles is a diverse community of 19,300 residents, lots of traffic and plenty of pavement. The most densely populated city in the smallest state also lacks green.

“Central Falls has the lowest percentage of tree cover in Rhode Island. … Today, only 3 percent of Central Falls is green space, a problem Mayor James Diossa soon began addressing when he took office three years ago.

“ ‘Past administrations had never given priority or importance to the role of trees,’ he told ecoRI News earlier this year during a tour of revitalized Jenks Park and a nearby community garden. ‘Trees are instrumental for a community.’

“When Diossa took office in January 2013, it had been nearly three years since the city filed for receivership and nearly two years since it had filed for bankruptcy. Those challenges, however, didn’t prevent Diossa and his administration from implementing ‘Operation Tree Hugger.’

“In December 2014, students from Calcutt Middle School and Scituate High School partnered with the city to develop a proposal for the America the Beautiful-Tree Rhode Island 2015-2016 grant program. The students’ proposal was funded. Four months later, on April 10, 2015, the students planted 14 trees around Calcutt Middle School and established the Central Falls Arboretum.

“Since then, tree plantings haven’t stopped. Last year a group of local middle-school students planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. On National Arbor Day in April, six trees were planted in front of City Hall. A line item has been added to the budget to fund the planting and maintenance of the city’s slowly growing green space. …

“The city and its many partners, however, aren’t limiting new green to the tall variety. They are bringing back all kinds of vegetation. The 26th-most densely populated city in the country wants an urban jungle that features more than concrete, asphalt, steel and brick.

“The community seems to have embraced its greening. The mayor noted that neighborhood volunteers water new plantings, weed, and keep a watchful eye on new green space.”

More at EcoRI, here.

Photo: Joanna Detz/ecoRI News
Middle-school students have planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. Six trees were planted in front of City Hall in April. Central Falls High School students have planted eggplants, peppers and tomatoes in what used to be a vacant lot.

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It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

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Pat Zacks at the Camera Werks in Providence feels compassion for inner-city kids whose schools can’t offer many enrichment activities. That’s why she volunteers every year to mount and hang 500+ juried photos by Pawtucket, Rhode Island, fifth graders (and a few grownups).

On Wednesday I stopped off at the gallery where the “Calling All Cameras” photos are on display until the end of September. The theme this year,  submitted by Linda C. Dugas, is “Pawtucket’s Color Palette.” Winners of this, the 18th, annual photo contest also get their work featured in the city calendar.

An impressive slate of judges are responsible for choosing this year’s winning photos (Butch Adams, Richard Benjamin, Christy Christopoulos, Jesse Nemerofsky, and Aaron Usher). Winners will be announced September 25.

I wish my photo of a child’s box turtle entry had turned out well enough to post, but I’m sharing a couple other favorites here.

Stop by the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor visitor center, just off Interstate 95 in downtown Pawtucket, to find the box turtle. The visitor center is opposite the historic Slater Mill, birthplace of America’s Industrial Revolution.

And if you are ever in Providence, please check out the Camera Werks on Hope Street. Pat’s Facebook page, here, has more information on the photo exhibit.

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Sometimes when I’m trying to cross a city street in traffic that’s coming from all directions, I think about how people who don’t visit cities much — Inuit people, say, or rural tribesmen in Africa  — would cope. Probably about as well as I would cope dealing with the habits of lions or polar bears. We all develop the survival skills we need most.

Birds do, too. According to Scientific American, urban birds develop skills that let them outwit their country cousins on certain tests.

Christopher Intagliata reports,”While visiting Barbados, McGill University neurobiologist Jean-Nicolas Audet noticed that local bullfinches were accomplished thieves.

” ‘They were always trying to steal our food. And we can see those birds entering in supermarkets, trying to steal food there.’

“And that gave him an idea. ‘Since this bird species is able to solve amazing problems in cities, and they’re also present in rural areas, we were wondering’ are the rural birds also good problem-solvers, and they just don’t take advantage of their abilities? …

“So Audet and his McGill colleagues captured Barbados bullfinches, both in the island’s towns and out in the countryside. They then administered the bird equivalent of personality and IQ tests: assessing traits like boldness and fear, or timing how quickly the finches could open a puzzle box full of seeds.

“And it turns out the city birds really could solve puzzles faster. They were bolder, too, except when it came to dealing with new objects—perhaps assuming, unlike their more naive country cousins, that new things can either mean reward … or danger.

“The study is in the journal Behavioral Ecology [Jean-Nicolas Audet et al, The town bird and the country bird].”

More here.

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