“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.”― Edward O. Wilson
As the holidays approach, many of us scatter to all parts of the globe to celebrate the passing of another year with our families, or close friends who are chosen family. Wherever you find yourself over the holidays, take note of the frequency with which you find yourself drawn to, or immersed in, nature. With time away from our day to day existence, some people gravitate toward green spaces, or snow-covered open spaces, for those in northern latitudes. Why do some find themselves drawn to these natural places when there is time to relax and reflect? According to one of the most eminent biologists of our time, E.O. Wilson, it is because the natural world is essential to what it means to be human--to what it means to feel whole.
For the first time in human history more than 50 percent of the world's population lives in urban environments. In the U.S. this number is closer to 80 percent. We are inhabitants of built environments, which are hugely fragmented, carving green space up into smaller and smaller areas. With this can come a separation from that which makes us feel whole.
Community green spaces may have a vital role to play in mitigating the detrimental effects of urban life by providing a critical outlet to reconnect people to nature. Aside from providing a place for mental and emotional peace, these spaces also combat the urban heat island effect, reduce air pollution, reduce city noise, and increase the health of city inhabitants by providing a place to exercise. They also provide wildlife habitat in otherwise low biodiversity areas. Preliminary research reveals that animals can thrive in conjunction with urban landscapes, like the bumblebee populations that take refuge in San Francisco city parks. City planners, designers, and urban landscapers are taking E.O. Wilson’s words of wisdom to heart and redefining what it means to be urban by taking the role of green spaces in city life seriously.
YardMap is a part of a growing movement to encourage green spaces in our communities. In addition to nearly 9,000 maps of homes--429 schools, 254 city parks, 237 nature preserves,126 community gardens, and 66 offices are documented. Many of these community sites are mapped in and around urban areas. This does not even include the growing use of wildlife medians and curbside storm water gardens as a means to both protect natural resources and green our urban landscapes.
Even while our understanding of the complexities of human/nature systems grows it is clear there is still work to be done in our more urban spaces. Individual gardens on private property are the most common place that urbanites find green spaces. The next wave of this green space movement is to supercede viewing our isolated gardens as individual entities by piecing together all the gardens that exist in our urban centers. How can all these spaces benefit from being seen as a small part of a larger whole? This unification will make our cities even more habitable to bird, bees, butterflies — and humans —by creating green or wildlife corridors. Similar to work done by conservation biologists who are building strategic bridges, overpasses and underpasses for mammals near busy roads, creating green corridors in cities provides space for urban wildlife to move more safely, and with greater access to resources in the urban environment.
Our urban ethos is shifting. We can seek a sense of community everyday in the places we inhabit and with the people who share our built environments. We can connect daily, not just around the holidays. Community green space can be at the center of those connections. Take an inventory of what is around you, and consider getting to know it well enough to add it to your YardMap.
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