Parks Are Good—but They Can (and Should) Be Better
By Jeff Turrentine
Years ago, my wife and I decided to while away an idle summer afternoon in her Texas hometown by driving our infant daughter to a neighborhood park. We pulled into the empty lot, liberated the baby from her car seat, and made our way somewhat warily through this public yet noticeably deserted space toward its small, forlorn playground. If the grass had ever been green there, it wasn't any longer; the punishing South Texas sun had dried it into a brittle yellow hay. There were few trees next to the playground equipment, and no shade of any kind to be found, so any metal or even plastic surface was searingly hot to the touch. The slide was a nonstarter. I flinched and had to let go immediately when I grasped the chains of the baby swing. The water fountain didn't work. We lasted all of five minutes before returning to the car.
As much as I'd like to forget it, this experience came rushing back to me when I read an article this week in The Conversation. In it, coauthors Julian Bolleter and Cristina E. Ramalho, an assistant professor and a research fellow at the University of Western Australia, respectively, make the case for something they call "greenspace-oriented development." The concept is similar to the much more well-known urban planning concept of transit-oriented development, which holds that communities reap substantial social, economic, and environmental benefits when they place commercial and residential development within walking distance of transportation hubs such as train stations, bus stops, or light rail stations. Bolleter and Ramalho believe that adding green space to this equation can boost these benefits significantly. They also think it has the potential to do more. By creating better urban parks, they say, cities can curb urban sprawl by giving residents what they often claim to be seeking when they flee cities for the low-density suburbs and exurbs: a connection with nature.
"Over the last century, in all regions of the world, the expansion of urbanized land has outpaced the growth of urban populations, resulting in unprecedented urban sprawl," Bolleter told me when I asked him to elaborate on his theory. "We need to work with the underlying desire for suburban living, around the world, in attempting to deliver density in these cities; otherwise our efforts will just waste a lot of time and money."
Encouraging more transit-oriented development is important, Bolleter believes. (The optimal urban green space, in his view, should be no more than a 5-minute bike ride or 15- to 20-minute walk from public transit.) But if cities want to maintain or increase density and stimulate urban infill, they have another powerful tool at their disposal to make density more attractive to people living in city centers and inner-ring suburbs. In the article, the authors suggest "redesigning parks to increase the naturalness, ecological function and diversity of active and passive recreational uses, which in turn can support higher-density urban areas."
That means thinking of urban and suburban parks as much more than big public lawns with a playground, a few picnic tables, and maybe a soccer field (if you're lucky). It means thinking of them as "multifunctional, mutable, and messy," in Bolleter's memorable phrasing — authentic oases from city life, where winding paths through forested landscapes lead to burbling creeks or meadows filled with native wildflowers; where you might stand a real chance of spotting a beaver or a fox; or where you might happen upon a group of neighbors tending a bounteous community garden. It means creating actual opportunities for escape into nature — for the kind of spirit-restoring connection with trees, water, and wildlife that all humans need.
Bolleter, who's a licensed landscape architect in addition to being the codirector of the University's Australian Urban Design Research Centre, is quick to list the many benefits that come with such connection. Regular immersion in the sort of green settings that he champions can vastly improve people's quality of life, he says, "first, by promoting physical activity; second, by reducing exposure to stress factors and providing an environment for physiological and mental recovery that delivers coping resources to deal with life; third, by promoting social interaction and a sense of community; and fourth, by providing a healthy, comfortable urban environment. Overall, these pathways lead to multiple health and well-being benefits that play out across an individual's life span."
Additionally, if people living in city centers and dense suburbs had greater access to nature, so the theory goes, they might be less inclined to drift farther and farther away in search of their own slice of manicured, green lawn. Winners in this scenario include not only the residents who are healthily and happily communing with nature, but also municipalities that are able to more efficiently distribute their services and resources. Another winner, of course, is the environment: Limiting sprawl means reducing car dependence (and the tailpipe emissions and traffic jams that come with it), preserving habitat and biodiversity, and even decreasing risks for flooding and runoff-related water pollution.
People's preferences for the suburbs and exurbs don't automatically denote a rejection of what more densely populated urban areas have to offer. "The problem has been that we generally haven't delivered density in a form that resonates with suburbanites," Bolleter says. Green space–oriented development can help correct that problem by providing people already living in dense communities, or cities and suburbs that want to increase their density, with "a multifunctional, communal backyard" capable of "replacing many of the functions typically found in suburban gardens, such as the ability to grow food, have pets, and entertain and relax in private—and in nature."
Just don't forget the shade trees, please. And the working water fountains. Especially in Texas.
Reposted with permission from onEarth.
By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.
Toxins in water produced by cyanobacteria was likely responsible for more than 300 elephant deaths in Botswana this year, the country's wildlife department announced on Monday.
How Did Cyanobacteria Poison the Elephants?<p>Cyanobacteria are microscopic organisms common in water and sometimes found in soil. Some cyanobacteria produce neurotoxins.</p><p>The cyanobacteria "was growing in pans" or watering holes, the principal veterinary officer of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Mmadi Reuben, told reporters.</p><p>Reuben said the deaths had "stopped towards the end of June 2020, coinciding with the drying of pans."</p><p>"However we have many questions still to be answered such as why the elephants only and why that area only? We have a number of hypotheses we are investigating," added Reuben.</p><p>Similar elephant deaths have also been recorded in neighboring Zimbabwe.</p>
Climate Change to Blame?<p>Not all cyanobacteria are toxic but scientists say varieties dangerous to humans and animals are occurring more frequently as climate change drives up global temperatures.</p><p>Southern Africa's temperatures are rising at twice the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.</p>
Elephant Paradise?<p>Africa's overall elephant population is declining due to poaching. But Botswana, home to almost a third of the continent's elephants, has seen numbers grow to around 130,000.</p><p>Botswana's government said it was continuing studies into the occurrence of the deadly bacteria. In the winter, elephants hydrate themselves mainly by eating roots and bark, especially of the baobab tree.</p>
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As West coast wildfires color the skies dystopian red and orange and an aggressive hurricane season batters the U.S. Gulf coast, college students are demanding their schools take bold action to address the climate crisis.
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