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Posts Tagged ‘urban’

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Photo: Pearl Mak/NPR
Girard Children’s Community Garden in Washington, D.C. was created on a vacant lot and is now a thriving community space for neighborhood kids.

Most of us know that spending time in nature makes us feel good, but many city children have few opportunities to find that out for themselves. A chain of community gardens in Washington, DC, provides anecdotal evidence that green space reduces stress, and now a controlled Philadelphia study gives more scientific proof that that is exactly what’s going on.

Rhitu Chatterjee reports at National Public Radio, “Growing up in Washington, D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, Rebecca Lemos-Otero says her first experience with nature came in her late teens when her mother started a community garden.

” ‘I was really surprised and quickly fell in love,’ she recalls. The garden was peaceful, and a ‘respite’ from the neighborhood, which had high crime rates, abandoned lots and buildings, she says.

“Inspired by that experience, years later, Lemos-Otero, 39, started City Blossoms, a local nonprofit that has about 15 children-focused community green spaces across Washington, D.C. She wanted to give kids from minority and low-income communities easy access to some greenery. …

” ‘Having access to a bit of nature, having a tree to read under, or, having a safe space like one of our gardens, definitely makes a huge difference on their stress levels,’ says Lemos-Otero. ‘The feedback that we’ve gotten from a lot of young people is that it makes them feel a little lighter.’

“Now a group of researchers from Philadelphia has published research that supports her experience. The study, published Friday in JAMA Network Open, found that having access to even small green spaces can reduce symptoms of depression for people who live near them, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

“Previous research has shown that green spaces are associated with better mental health, but this study is ‘innovative,’ says Rachel Morello-Frosch, a professor at the department of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley, who wasn’t involved in the research.

” ‘To my knowledge, this is the first intervention to test — like you would in a drug trial — by randomly allocating a treatment to see what you see,’ adds Morello-Frosch. Most previous studies to look into this have been mostly observational.

“Philadelphia was a good laboratory for exploring the impact of green space on mental health because it has many abandoned buildings and vacant lots, often cluttered with trash, says Eugenia South, an assistant professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and an author of the study. …

“South and her colleagues wanted to see if the simple task of cleaning and greening these empty lots could have an impact on residents’ mental health and well-being. So, they randomly selected 541 vacant lots and divided them into three groups. They collaborated with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society for the cleanup work.

“The lots in one group were left untouched — this was the control group. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society cleaned up the lots in a second group, removing the trash. And for a third group, they cleaned up the trash and existing vegetation, and planted new grass and trees. The researchers called this third set the ‘vacant lot greening’ intervention.”

You can read what happened at National Public Radio, here.

Photo: Pearl Mak/NPR
Girard Children’s Community Garden will be celebrating 10 years this year. The garden signs are in both English and Spanish.

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Photo: Mary Carole McCauley, The Baltimore Sun
Tuba player Dan Trahey has helped make OrchKids a national model for lifting up kids. “We’re all interconnected,” he says. “We’re bad at this in America, where we’re all bred to be soloists. We create our own little worlds, and that’s really dangerous.”

When I was in second grade, my mother convinced the school principal to show a movie for children that I think came from the United Nations. It involved hand puppets who were enemies. And what I remember most was that in the end, each puppet felt its way up the arm of the puppeteer and discovered that they were connected.

That message, the message about human interconnectedness, is always having to be retaught, but people who understand it often get involved in initiatives that help disadvantaged children. Consider this story.

Michael Cooper writes at the New York Times, “From the outside, Lockerman-Bundy Elementary School looks forbidding, a tan monolith built in the 1970s. Some of the rowhouses across the street are boarded up — reminders of the cycles of poverty and abandonment this city has struggled with for years.

“Inside on an afternoon [in April], though, it was a different story. Music echoed through brightly colored halls lined with murals. Classes were over, but school was not out: Young string players rehearsed Beethoven in one classroom, while flutists practiced in another and brass players worked on fanfares in a third. Also on offer were homework tutors, an after-school snack and dinner. …

“It was just another afternoon at OrchKids, the free after-school program that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and its music director, Marin Alsop, started a decade ago with just 30 children in a single school. The program now reaches 1,300 students in six schools; its participants have gone on to win scholarships to prestigious summer music programs; play with famous musicians, including the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis; perform at halftime at a Baltimore Ravens game; and win accolades at the White House.

“The program was the idea of Ms. Alsop, who began thinking about how to forge closer ties to the city soon after she became Baltimore’s music director — and the first woman to lead a major American symphony orchestra — in 2007. …

“The first student to enroll in the program was Keith Fleming, then a first grader. ‘At first I didn’t really like music,’ he recalled recently. ‘I just thought, I’m going to do this because I didn’t really have something else to do. The first day came, and I started to learn music — and I started to like it.’

“He is 15 now, and his tuba skills have taken him to Austria and London and helped him win an audition to the Baltimore School of the Arts, where he is a sophomore. …

“From the very beginning,” [Nick Skinner, the OrchKids director of operations], said, ‘it was very important that we were immersed in the school, and in the community.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here. And there’s a nice article at the Baltimore Sun about tuba player and OrchKids volunteer Dan Trahey, here.

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Photo: blvckimvges
Santiago, Chili, turned a congested area into a walkable, artistic delight for $550,000 raised from sponsors. But will the pilot program last?

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In the congested capital of Chile, people who value walkable cities took matters into their own hands to pilot a livability initiative. The only question now: will it last?

As Martín Echenique reported at CityLab, “It was all done in record time. In just 30 days, more than 120 people — led by 32-year-old Chilean visual artist Dasic Fernández — transformed one of the most congested and iconic streets in the center of the Chilean capital.

“Today, Bandera Street, next to the government palace and the city’s main square, is a colorful promenade, thanks to an urban intervention that’s unprecedented in Latin America. …

“Fernández, who lives in New York City, joined forces with architect Juan Carlos López, and in three days they developed a proposal to sway the mayor: The idea was to transform Bandera into an example of tactical urbanism that fused art and architecture, and that would set a precedent for how both disciplines can successfully intervene in urban spaces. …

“ ‘The idea was to pedestrianize the street, to put a little green area, some color and furniture. There was nothing like an elaborate request from the municipality,’ said Fernández. …

“The Municipality of Santiago did not have to take any money out of its pocket. The entire project was financed, basically, through payments made by various brands to make their logos visible on the Paseo, where tens of thousands walk through each day. … According to the artist, the total cost of the project did not exceed $550,000. …

“ ‘We made a team of 20 local and Latin American muralists, who painted each block in eight or 10 hours. There was a whole coordination. It was a true visual choreography,’ said Fernández. …

“At the end of this year, the Chilean capital will have to make a decision: either reopen the Paseo to cars and public transport, or keep it pedestrianized, permanently. …

“The decision is not in the hands of the municipality, but with the Chilean Ministry of Transport, which has already indicated that the street must be reopened to public transport. However, the mayor of Santiago, Felipe Alessandri, is advocating for Bandera to remain an exclusively pedestrian route and cultural space. …

“Although Fernández says that he is accustomed to his work being temporary or reversible, he hopes that the Paseo Bandera can remain as a pedestrian street, not only because it sets a precedent in the region, but because he believes such spaces create a sense of citizenship.”

Read about the ancient and modern themes of the mural and also about previous Santiago design innovations at CityLab, here.

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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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