Green and With Growth!
July 20, 2021
Have you found yourself in a local conversation about “protecting green space and the increasing demand for housing and commerce” right here in our Comal County? I certainly find myself experiencing some form of that topic frequently!
When you are privileged to live on heritage acres that have engaged in agricultural endeavors through several generations it is difficult to realize how many others look at the trees and spread wondering if there are alternatives for this space. Weekly inquiries regarding the acreage with an eye toward development and/or commercial options get disruptive. In our dynamic Comal County, there is such an accelerating pace to find space to make way for the incoming folk who are eager to find a future among us.
As I stroll along outside with my walking stick or a young companion, I think of how fortunate we are to have this cherished space and feel the weight of its stewardship. Sometimes I think back to the indicators that show that our rivers, springs and stretches of Hill Country spaces have been a point of opportunity from the earliest of times. There are a few locations where Clovis peoples’ practices can be found. Nomadic and indigenous others have left their marks through the generations as well. How inviting the springs and rivers have been for the Veramendi, Landa, Zink and other families that began patterns of settlements that give us the basic outlines of life along the Guadalupe, Comal and Blanco Rivers. So, too, we see those settlement outlines among the hills of the great escarpment. That rise into the hills gave them, as they give us, the vistas we cherish.
Now we find our village and its surrounding areas in high demand for homes and so much more. Our “corridor” that races through along the
interstate highway puts us as one of the “select between” locations between two burgeoning urban centers. Indeed, we are the beneficiaries and victims of the “new and thriving Texas.” That current reality tells us our reflections and decisions related to best use and green space are urgent matters.
There are some developers and planners endeavoring to take the growth needs seriously while placing a value and protective eye on the green spaces available. Let’s encourage and participate in these conversations with the developers and planners who look at available space, fresh and discard water, air quality, and wildlife protection. The quality of such dialogue is heartening. Lest we miss the opportunity that comes but once before it’s gone forever, let’s see together what to develop and what to preserve, creating a broad basis for choosing and planning. Our time is now!
Join us for discovery and a look forward on 13 July at 6 p.m. in a Zoom session with our neighboring Hays County Commissioner, Lon Shell. He has agreed to give us an overview of the Hays County Regional Habitat Conservation Plan, Hays County Parks Planning and their Open Space Master Plan. Since these adjacent neighbors are experiencing all the real estate and commercial pressures “along our shared corridor,” some Hays clues helpful for Comal just might become obvious and helpful. It should prove beneficial to explore how each County looks toward the other along the Blanco River and the remaining county line. It’s a conversation overdue!
Check the details on the website www.comalconservation.org for the most up to date events and information.
Program: "Having Growth & Green Space"
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, CCCA hosted an evening program on “Having Growth and Green Space.” Guest speaker, Hays County Commissioner Lon Shell, talked about the whys and wherefores of Hays County’s efforts to preserve land in the county: the Hays Regional Habitat Conservation Plan, Parks and Open Space Master Plan, and the highly successful open space bond election.
He described their planning processes and highlighted some of the wonderful parklands and natural areas to be protected as a result of these efforts. Commissioner Shell has a well-deserved reputation for fiscal conservatism,
ensuring that tax dollars are spent with the utmost respect for those who pay them. He has also been an architect and champion of land protection efforts in Hays County.
Commissioner Shell is a local small business owner and County Commissioner for Precinct 3 in Hays County. In his service to the county, he has developed a well-deserved reputation for fiscal conservatism, ensuring that tax dollars are spent with the utmost respect for those who pay them. He has also been an architect and champion of land protection efforts in Hays County.
Green Spaces Are a Necessity, Not an Amenity. How Can Cities Make Them Accessible to Everyone?
A growing body of science is demonstrating that spending time in nature — or even an urban park or garden — is good for us.
But the grass isn’t green for everyone.
But the grass isn’t green for everyone.
By Lydia Rivers
April 11, 2021
April 11, 2021
Homebound city dwellers gained a newfound appreciation for their local parks and gardens during COVID-19. Green spaces became a lifeline for people to get out of the house, relax and gather safely.
But these oases beyond our doorsteps are much more than places to hang out for a couple of hours. Researchers have long known that urban green spaces are critical to our emotional and physical wellbeing.
“[Green spaces] are not an amenity, they’re a necessity — we have to have it,” says psychologist Marc Berman at the University of Chicago. “Just like clean water or clean air, we have to have natural spaces in our environment for people to be able to function well.”
While pandemic lockdowns called attention to the importance of green spaces, it has also brought to light how access to nature is diminishing as more people move to cities — and oftentimes, low-income and people of color experience the greatest barriers. With 80 percent of the U.S. population residing in cities, providing accessible and high-quality green spaces is now recognized as a key way to promote better long-term health among all residents — not just a privileged few.
HAPPIER AND HEALTHIER
Parks, waterfronts, walking trails and sports fields are all considered green spaces and they provide areas for people to exercise, relax and socialize. Studies have found that people who spend as little as spend two hours in nature each week report higher levels of wellbeing compared to those that don’t. These boosts to mental and physical health span across socioeconomic statuses, neighborhoods and genders. Even if you’re not the outdoorsy type, it’s still possible to reap the benefits. Time spent outdoors still results in positive cognitive benefits — regardless of if you are actually enjoying yourself.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that regularly visiting parks can lower depression, improve sleep, reduce stress and bring about greater levels of happiness. But beyond that, green spaces may affect our lives in far-reaching ways. A growing body of work suggests that interacting with nature might improve cognitive performance, attention, memory and creativity.
In fact, living near a green space might even help you live longer. A scientific review published in The Lancet Planetary Health found urbanites living near a park or a garden had a lower risk of premature death. In their work, the researchers used a vegetation index to measure the density of greenery in locales. Using their scale, barren areas composed of rocks or sand would score closer to a zero, while an area like a lush tropical rainforest would score closer to one.
The researchers found that the higher the vegetation index, the lower the rate of premature death. When an area’s vegetation index increased by only 0.1, those living within a third of a mile from the space experienced a lower rate of premature death by about 4 percent. They also found that green space benefits are “dose-dependent,” meaning that those who spend the most time in green spaces tend to experience greater health benefits. But not all green spaces will do the trick.
“If you're in a park and right by a busy road, you're probably going to get fewer benefits than if it's more secluded and quieter,” said Berman. “The more immersive and the more separated [the green space] is from all the distractions in the city environment, the more the benefit.”
WHY ARE GREEN SPACES GOOD FOR YOU?
It’s no wonder that being around lush trees and basking in the sunlight feels good, but why is that the case?
Some researchers theorize that green spaces encourage more active lifestyles and socialization — two things that are known to improve health and wellbeing in other contexts. Additionally, attractive public green spaces help spur socially connected neighborhoods — which enhances psychological health through positive social interactions and a sense of community.
Other research, however, suggests that there is something inherent about green spaces themselves that are good for us. According to the attention restoration theory, our daily lives are often cognitively draining and this can result in poorer moods. But the that are good for us. According to the attention restoration theory, our daily lives are often cognitively draining and this can result in poorer moods. But the stimuli nature provides creates a restorative environment that relieves attention fatigue.cognitively draining and this can result in poorer moods.
Increased urban vegetation also helps to negate something called the heat island effect.Urban areas with limited greenery and highly concentrated city structures become “islands” of higher temperatures relative in comparison to areas further away. Daytime temperatures in urban areas are about 1-7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than temperatures in outlying areas and nighttime temperatures are about 2-5 degrees higher.
Experts say these conditions are detrimental to health because they amplify pre-existing conditions and contribute to heat-related deaths and illnesses, such as respiratory difficulties and heat stroke.
More air conditioning isn’t the answer, which is energy intensive and expensive. But more green areas in cities can curb the heat island effect by reducing surface and air temperatures — in addition to sucking harmful smog and pollution from the air.
THE PROBLEM OF BECOMING "TOO GREEN"
People of color are three times more likely than whites to live in nature-deprived areas, while 70 percent of low-income communities live in areas lacking green spaces. And while these are troubling statistics — sometimes adding green spaces in neighborhoods can backfire.
Green spaces are in demand, just like any other desirable neighborhood amenity. Adding new green spaces in neighborhoods that previously lacked them can increase rents and displace lower-income residents who may have lived in these communities for decades.
Known as “environmental gentrification,” a term coined by professor of urban studies Melissa Checker at Queens College, it refers to a situation in which only wealthy individuals benefit from new green spaces.
Checker says the phenomenon builds on the popularization of the environmental justice movement, founded on the principle that all people are entitled to equal environmental protection regardless of identity — the right to live, work and play in a clean environment. Developers are cashing in on this growing interest in sustainability and green living. And while making neighborhoods greener appears as both ecologically and socially sensitive on the surface, environmental gentrification forgoes equity in favor of profit‐minded development.
Threats of environmental gentrification force people from communities who would otherwise support environmental improvements to face an awful paradox — choosing between new green spaces that would work to address environmental justice issues, making neighborhoods healthier and more attractive, or rejecting such initiatives to resist gentrification and increased housing costs that tend to follow.
Still, although gentrification can result from new urban green spaces, it’s not predestined. The just “green enough” strategy works to avoid this paradox by focusing on environmental goals defined by the communities affected by a lack of green spaces while avoiding additional developments to keep locals in place without attracting wealthier individuals.
Being “green enough” requires a balancing act of collaboration and interests between local governments, community groups and environmental advocates to be successful, but it is an attempt to ensuring equitable access to the benefits of green spaces.
“We think these environments can nudge people into better health and better psychological wellbeing, so let's do that,” said Berman. “Let's start changing the environment.”
Buda Considers Transportation Bond Package for November Election
By Warren Brown
June 16, 2021
June 16, 2021
The city of Buda is developing a bond package in preparation for November’s election, and it would include funding for a series of road, drainage and transportation projects.
If called, the bond referendum is also likely to include money for parks, but that portion of the bond is not as far along in the development process.
Buda’s last bond election was in 2014, and taxpayers approved $55 million to build a municipal facility and public safety facility while also providing for street, drainage and park improvements.
With funds and projects from the previous referendum in short supply after seven years, Assistant City Manager Micah Grau said city leadership believes it is an opportune time for new projects and funding.
The Buda Bond Advisory Committee was tasked by City Council with outlining what a new bond package should look like.
Commentary: Make Room for Nature, Protect Water
Suzanne Scott, For the Express-News
May 17, 2021
May 17, 2021
Nature’s ability to boost our well-being has never been more apparent, or more desperately needed, than in the past year. During the pandemic, people reconnected with nature — spending more time in parks, walking on trails, biking or sitting in their backyards.
We found respite from uncertainty among trees, plants and wild spaces that offered something predictable — the beauty and healing force of nature.
As businesses reopen and we spend more time with friends and family, we must not forget the important role nature has played getting us through this past year. Rather than return to the pre-pandemic development status quo, we must make protecting and preserving our natural environment a higher priority. Doing so will improve our physical and mental health — and our quality of life.
The San Antonio metro population has grown by more than 1 million people since 2000. There are plenty of reasons why. Between our booming economy and unique urban character, the River City is a mosaic of diverse cultures and heritages.
But that growth comes at a cost. Development has overtaken wildlife habitats and is straining our water supply. Paving over open spaces has made many neighborhoods more vulnerable to flooding. All that asphalt absorbs and retains heat, making scorching summer days not just uncomfortable but dangerous.
San Antonio is one of the hottest metro areas in the country and climate models project more days with triple-digit heat by 2040. Those higher temperatures can have lethal implications, especially for the elderly, who are more susceptible to heat stroke.
As studies of San Antonio and other cities show, heat doesn’t affect a metropolis equally. Areas with more concrete and fewer plants get extra hot. And that disproportionately harms people who have lower incomes, are less mobile or lack housing.
Rapid growth is also taxing our treasured natural water resources. I saw as much firsthand during my tenure at the San Antonio River Authority. The river serves as a barometer of the impact of development and climate change on our local ecosystem. And the river is growing prone to extremes.
Torrential flows are becoming more common, as the proliferation of impervious pavement can turn a rainstorm into a flash flood. Low flows are becoming more common, too, as we draw down the Edwards Aquifer and the springs that feed it stop flowing.
The sustainability of the aquifer is at risk, given that our annual average rainfall could decline by 3 inches by 2040, according to the city’s climate plan. Right now, some 2 million people in Central Texas depend on it for clean drinking water.
Fortunately, there are several simple ways to make room for nature in our city — and address climate change and the health of our water supply in the process.
For example, we can plant trees to lower temperatures throughout our city. According to new research from the Nature Conservancy, neighborhoods in San Antonio with the lowest household incomes have nearly half as much tree cover as the areas where our city’s highest-earning residents reside. As a result, those low-income areas are just over 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer.
Setting aside space for parks and trees within new housing developments can reduce the risk of flooding. Trees reduce soil erosion and soak up water through their roots. That can represent the difference between a few inches and a few feet of rainwater coursing down the street.
Conservation efforts like these don’t merely make our city more livable and equitable. They also improve people’s health. Access to green spaces — even small neighborhood parks — provides mental health benefits, including improved cognitive development in children and lower risk of depression and psychiatric disorders in adults.
Everyone in San Antonio deserves access to green spaces that can restore us. Yet only 11 percent of the city’s land is used for parks and recreation. The median city nationwide sets aside one-third more of its land for parks.
There is much to love about San Antonio’s growth. But we can’t neglect the value of nature as we grow. Nature is not a nice-to-have amenity. It’s a must-have investment.
Regreening San Antonio can bolster the well-being of all our city’s residents, whether they’ve been here for decades or days — and offer a model of sustainable, equitable development for the rest of the country. When we needed nature the most, it was there for us. Now, we need to be there for nature.
Suzanne Scott is state director at the Nature Conservancy. Previously, she was general manager of the San Antonio River Authority.
By Lauren Canterberry
June 29, 2021
June 29, 2021
The city will be able to impose development standards including review and approval by city bodies, regulating the form and placement of buildings, ensuring housing diversity and implementing walkability and connectivity standards.The New Braunfels City Council on June 28 voted unanimously to approve the creation of the third Water Improvement District, or WID, in Comal County that will cover a proposed 1,888-acre development.
Following recommendations from city staff, City Council members also adopted the development agreement for the SouthStar Communities development that is located in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.
SouthStar Communities, a New Braunfels-based development company, has been in talks with the city of New Braunfels since early 2020 to negotiate the development agreement and create the WID.
The property, called Mayfair, is located north of Kohlenberg Road and bisected by I-35 in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of New Braunfels and is owned by the Texas General Land Office.
SouthStar is anticipated to develop the land over the next 15 to 20 years and will incorporate residential, commercial and public space into the community, said Thad Rutherford, CEO of SouthStar Communities. Developers expect to have the first homes completed by 2023.
By approving the WID, officials in the city have the ability to enter the agreement to outline permitting and planning reviews and oversee the developer’s commitments to deliver project amenities for the district.
New Braunfels Utilities is expected to consider a utility agreement with the developer in August, Rutherford said, but the community will be responsible for funding and maintaining water and wastewater infrastructure.
City approval of the WID and development agreement are contingent upon SouthStar and NBU formalizing the utility agreement.
In addition to utility infrastructure, Rutherford said Mayfair will finance the creation of roadways, fire services, emergency medical services, police services and trash collection for the community.
Urban Sprawl Making Its Way Toward Slower Growing Parts of Hill Country
By Matthew Mershon
January 13, 2020
January 13, 2020
DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas — Cities up and down the I-35 corridor have experienced explosive growth over the last decade, but the counties adjacent to them have largely escaped the surge of people. That all appears to be over, with the urban expansion beginning to head their way.
“We have three of the fastest growing counties - not only in Texas but in the entire country - in Hays, Comal and Kendall counties,” said Katherine Romans, executive director of the Hill Country Alliance.
Romans’ mission and that of the Dripping Springs-based organization is to bring stakeholders together to discuss the growth being experienced in the 17-county Hill Country region and how to protect the natural resources of the area.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data regarding population change between 2010 and 2018, Hays, Comal, and Kendall counties have all ballooned by more than 35 percent over the last decade. The growth there is being driven by the urban expansion of Austin and San Antonio.
All three of those counties share borders with Blanco County, a county that’s only experienced about a third of the growth - their population only increasing by 11.5 percent or about 1,000 people over the last decade.
“Obviously growth in Central Texas doesn’t happen the same across the board,” said Romans.
“Blanco County is still pretty rural,” said Ron Fieseler, general manager of the Blanco Pedernales Groundwater Conservation District.
“We’ve got a lot of large ranches, medium-sized ranches, farms, that sort of thing - agricultural, community-type county. It’s not so much that people are either for or against the growth, it’s just that they would like it to be well thought out.”
Fieseler and his counterpart, Katherine McClure, have had a front row seat to the growth that has occurred in Blanco County. The two test proposed developments for the availability of groundwater and monitor water levels in wells drilled across Blanco County.
Over the last 15 years, Fieseler said the county has averaged about one new subdivision every year. He attributes the slow growth mostly to the county’s distance from the regions to major cities.
“We’re just a little too far - we’re probably an hour to an hour-and-twenty, maybe an hour-thirty minutes from various parts of Austin,” said Fieseler. “Same thing with San Antonio. And I think for many years at least, it’s been less than cost effective for people to live out here and work in those two cities.”
The county’s subdivision regulations have also helped curtail the more expansive growth that their neighbors have experienced, according to Fieseler.
“The one thing that’s helping keep Blanco County rural is that the subdivision regulations require that any new subdivision that proposes to use water wells and a septic system, privately-owned septic system, the subdivision has to have a minimum lot size of five acres,” said Fieseler.
Despite the restriction, in 2019 the number of developers that requested groundwater testing shot up by 700 percent in Blanco County. Fiesler said the day after New Year’s, he was already meeting with developers proposing another new Blanco County subdivision, and he said he’s caught wind of another in the works.
“That’s probably due to the fact that they’re running out of developable land in Hays County and Burnet County and Comal County,” said Fieseler. “We are seeing an increase in growth and I suspect it’ll continue.”
The surge in development likely won’t compare to the record growth in and around Bexar and Travis counties, with Blanco County only projected to grow by 30 percent over the next 30 years.
“Even a 30 percent increase has profound implications for the fabric, the nature of that community,” said Romans.
“We’re losing agricultural and working lands to kind of low-density subdivisions. We’re seeing more and more wells being drilled into our aquifers. We’re seeing increased impacts on surface water, on the water quality of rivers like the Blanco and Pedernales Rivers that run through Blanco County.”
It’s why Romans said having the conversation about encouraging growth that also helps preserve the atmosphere and aesthetic that draws visitors and potential future residents to the Texas Hill Country.
“We need to be really cautious about where we’re directing population growth,” said Romans. “Often times a new roadway facilitates faster growth than we may as a community want to see, and so we need to be having those conversations in real open and honest and public ways, so that the community is involved in shaping the future.”
“We need to be focused on creating great places for people to visit and experience the Hill Country. We also need to be cautious that we don’t love the Hill Country to death,” said Romans.
Parks are emerging as important public health solutions in urban communities. Nearly 40 years of research evidence confirms that nearby nature, including parks, gardens, the urban forest and green spaces, support human health and wellness. The research about active living and opportunities to avoid chronic diseases (such as diabetes, heart disease and respiratory problems) is particularly relevant to large parks where people can enjoy walking and bike paths, and playing fields. But, equally as important is the role of small parks and nature spaces for health.
By Kathleen L. Wolf, Ph.D.
April 3, 2017
April 3, 2017
In many communities, additional land for large parks is either expensive or difficult to repurpose. Every parcel or easement is ever more valuable. Creating small parks can be a productive public and private joint venture that introduces the spaces for nature encounters that benefit everyone.
CO-BENEFITS OF CITY SYSTEMS
An emerging opportunity for parks and recreation is the integration of green infrastructure and parks goals. Infrastructure systems are planned to systematically source and deliver crucial services or products, such as transportation or water systems. The term “infrastructure” usually brings to mind roads, pipes and power lines. Green infrastructure systems, however, are practical integrations of built and ecological systems that incorporate natural and constructed green spaces to replace or augment traditional gray infrastructure.
Parks and green infrastructure can be co-designed for co-benefits. Parks can serve their primary goals to offer recreation and aesthetic amenities, while also containing spaces that mitigate stormwater or improve air quality. Green infrastructure can achieve essential utility functions in the community, but may also be designed to create the environments that provide nearby nature experiences and support health.
Green infrastructure includes bioswales, rain gardens and other water harvesting features. If a collection of these small nature spaces is to be installed within a community, then a systems outlook is important. The TKF Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to creating small, high-quality gardens, promotes a “sites-to-systems” outlook so that the sum benefit of small nature spaces is greater than the many parts. Rather than focusing only on the design of individual parcels or features, a broader planning approach could integrate a series of small spaces into a coherent network.
Integrating parks and green infrastructure, co-design for co-benefits: these can be unconventional practices in many public works and parks departments. They are goals that cross the borders of typical policies and purposes. Why is this activity important? Health services costs total nearly 17 percent of the annual U.S. gross domestic product. Creative programs that enable more nature contact in the city can help reduce costs at both the national and community level.
HEALTH BENEFITS FROM SMALL NATURE SPACES
Following is a small sample from the research literature of the health benefits gained specifically from small nature spaces:
Scientific evidence should be the basis of future efforts to make cities more sustainable and sustaining. We now know that nearby nature — including small plots or parcels imbedded within all land uses — directly contributes to quality human habitat and is profoundly important for the health of mind and body. Integrations of parks and infrastructure goals can provide more opportunities for the nearby nature experiences that promote good health and sustain wellness.
Kathleen Wolf, Ph.D., is a Research Social Scientist with joint appointments at the University of Washington, College of the Environment, and the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.
Green infrastructure: Two words that don’t go together very often, but when they do, the results are extremely advantageous.
By Jennifer Fabiano
AccuWeather staff writer
AccuWeather staff writer
“Green infrastructure can be anything from parks to arboretums to backyards to green roofs,” Carly Ziter, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said. “We really need diversity from our green spaces in our cities if we want to get multiple benefits; variety is really key here.”
Ziter’s research suggested that green spaces, such as parks and backyards, can provide many benefits to urban areas. Ziter explains that these “benefits” are often called “ecosystem services.”
In more developed areas, neighborhood parks and people’s yards store very high amounts of carbon, which helps reduce carbon emission levels in cities.
“It's really important is to keep your yard green,” Ziter said. Instead of paving an area, keeping green space and plants in your yard “is really important because your property is part of a much bigger ecosystem and is part of that proven fabric of the city,” Ziter said.
By keeping your yard green, you provide your city with the ecosystem services that urban green spaces provide. Here are four little known ecosystem services that urban green spaces provide to cities.
URBAN HEAT ISLAND EFFECT
Urban heat island effect is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as “built up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas.”
Replacing pavement with green spaces is beneficial because pavement holds onto a lot of heat, according to Ziter.
The urban heat island effect has many effects on the health and efficiency of cities, including increased energy consumption, increased air pollutants and greenhouse gases, impaired water quality and compromised human health and comfort.
According to the EPA, the average annual temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8 to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than its surroundings, and during the evening the difference can be as high as 22 degrees.
Increased temperatures and higher air pollution levels can be dangerous and contribute to respiratory difficulties, heat exhaustion, non-fatal heat stroke and heat-related mortality.
The urban heat island effect also exacerbates the impact of heat waves, which are periods of abnormally hot and humid weather. Heat waves can be extremely dangerous and even fatal to the elderly, children and those with pre-existing conditions.
Green rooftops can provide shade and actually remove heat from the air through evapotranspiration, a process in which water is transferred from the land to atmosphere by evaporation from soil and by transpiration from plants.
Soil can absorb carbon from the air, which helps reduce carbon emissions and in turn makes green spaces an important aspect in battling climate change.
Ziter’s study showed that backyard soils can capture even more harmful carbon emissions than soils in native forests or grasslands. Urban backyards and green spaces contribute to reducing carbon emission levels in cities, which makes air cleaner and healthier for its residents.
Green infrastructure can aid in urban water regulation. One aspect of green infrastructure is green roofs, which can reduce combined sewage overflow. “Green roofs act like a giant sponge,” Anastasia Cole Plakias, the vice president of Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm, said.
The soil on a green roof will slow the rate that water moves into the sewer system, which helps regulate the process.
As cities become more paved and less green, there is more water entering the sewage system, which can overwhelm it. When the system is not able to be route the runoff to a sewage treatment plant, it can often be discharged directly into local waterways, untreated, according to Plakias.
“That, of course, is devastating for marine ecosystems, it is a human health issue and it’s a very expensive issue,” Plakias said.
Green infrastructure is not only extremely beneficial in aiding in the economics of water regulation but actually add economic value to a city, according to Mike Houck, director of Urban Green spaces Institute in Portland, Oregon.
Urban green spaces increase property value in cities, according to Houck.
“If you look at New York City and Central Park, the first thing the designer did was figure out what the increased taxes would be around the park's edge,” Houck said.
A Look at the Texas Hill Country Following the Path We Are on Today (2008) Through 2030
The purpose of this report is to educate stakeholders in Texas and the Hill Country on what this 17-county, Central Texas region will look like in 2030 (given the assumption that the population will grow at the projected rate of growth, and no new authority is granted for managing the growth).
The Rise of ‘Blandscaping,’ and Why Not All Green Space is Created Equal
This copy-and-paste approach to landscape design is the ecological equivalent of gentrification. And it needs to stop.
By Stuart Connop and Caroline Nash
July 1, 2021
July 1, 2021
With skyscrapers climbing ever higher and unoccupied city areas increasingly scarce, demands on urban space are increasing. Making the most out of this space requires a careful balancing act between short-term human needs and long-term planetary benefits.
All too often, attempting this balancing act ends up in “blandscaping,” the practice of creating virtually uniform green spaces that are devoid of local character or distinctiveness. These bland landscapes arise when urban green spaces are designed with an entirely human focus: making them attractive to look at and easy to manage, but containing almost none of the valuable biodiversity that would otherwise have occupied the space.
Rather than tailoring the built environment to the local landscape, blandscaping uses what might politely be called a “copy and paste” approach. Globally, similarly generic designs abound, often using the same materials—and the same species—across vast geographical areas.
Like a tidal wave of uniformity, this approach sweeps biodiversity aside. Just as the monocultures created by intensive single-crop farming have threatened a huge range of plant and animal species, blandscapes render formerly diverse ecosystems identical by removing the variety of habitat features—including different soil types, complex plant structures, and unique hydrological patterns—that allow nature to flourish.
The creatures that blandscaping benefits most are “urban generalists”: the kind of hardy animals that thrive almost anywhere, such as feral pigeons and house mice. These species prosper at the expense of others that require more specific habitats, including hedgehogs and rarer pollinators like the pantaloon bee.
THE DANGER OF BLANDSCAPING
Blandscapes are often celebrated for increasing biodiversity simply because they’ve replaced slabs of tarmac or concrete with something green. Typically focusing on evergreen hedges, exotic and complex flowering plants, lots of grassy areas to sit or walk, and a covering of wood chippings, or bark, to suppress undesirable plant species, blandscapes can at first glance appear to provide a home for nature.
When the starting point is a square of sterile gray, adding any greenery might seem to be the best option. But the “any green is good” mantra misses opportunities to rewild our urban landscapes with the complex mosaics of nooks and crannies that help nature proliferate.
Far from being praised, blandscaping should be seen as the ecological equivalent of gentrification. Resident communities are being displaced under the guise of revitalizing the area, and what remains is a habitat suitable only for the elite few rather than the many.
Throwing generic plants and soil into a landscape design is a form of ecological cleansing. Local species face little chance of survival when natural habitat diversity, which provides the range of resources needed to support all kinds of nonhuman communities, is removed.
The irony is that many of the postindustrial “wastelands” being blandscaped, such as the rapidly regenerating landscape of the Royal Docks, were muchricher in the very biodiversity that we need to be protecting predevelopment.
In fact, some of the most biodiverse habitats can be found on unmanaged postindustrial sites like Canvey Wick, in Essex, where
nature has been allowed to thrive by itself. Sites like these offer a far better blueprint for urban design than the cookie-cutter approaches typical of many city spaces.
When we confine ourselves to blandscapes, we miss out too. From birdsong to butterflies, proximity to nature carries a host of benefits. Why should we settle for unimaginative and exclusory urban environments, when the natural world has so much more to offer?
ECOMIMICRY: DESIGN INSPIRED BY NATURE
An emerging approach to urban design--ecomimicry—recognizes the many lessons we can learn from the self-organizing systems of the natural world. In the words of designer Van Day Truex, when it comes to design, Mother Nature is our best teacher.
An ecomimicry approach starts with reading the local landscape like a book. By getting to know how different parts of a regional ecosystem intertwine, urban designers can integrate the ecological functionality that already exists in the landscape—like an abundance of pollinators, natural flood defenses, and food—into what they build.
Examples include covering roofs in locally typical vegetation that can feed animals and humans, or building around, not over, coastal treasures like dunes and mangrove forests, and incorporating habitat features of these landscapes into the new surrounding landscaping to increase habitat connectivity, ecosystem service provision, and resilience.
With an awareness of nature’s importance gaining momentum, increasing numbers of entrepreneurs are developing nature-based designs with ecomimicry at their core. Welcoming biodiversity back into our urban areas can reconnect communities with nature, supporting equal access to the social, physical, and psychological benefits nature provides us for free.
Our project, EU Horizon 2020 Connecting Nature, is working with cities worldwide to explore how to bring nature back into urban landscapes. We’re helping tease out the trade-off process between human and environmental needs that city planners face when trying to integrate nature. In doing so, we hope to introduce ecomimicry approaches to the mainstream and to restore cities to the biodiverse glory of the landscapes in which they lie.
If ecomimicry is to gain a foothold in our landscapes, three things are necessary: We must involve local ecologists who understand the unique complexities of the habitats being altered. We must ensure that the inherent value of all creatures is reflected in our approach to urban design. And we must embed this approach into policy so that it lasts for years to come.
How Cities Can Avoid ‘Green Gentrification’ and Make Urban Forests Accessible
June 9, 2021
Many people have developed stronger relationships with urban nature during the pandemic. Some have enjoyed views of nearby trees and gardens during periods of isolation, taken walks after Zoom-filled days or socialized at a distance with friends in local parks. As housing has become increasingly unaffordable, some people have taken refuge in parks as places to live.
As society “builds back better” from COVID-19, cities are increasingly aware of the importance of urban nature — particularly their urban forests — and are working to make it accessible to everyone. Montréal has promised $1.8 billion for city parks and some of Vancouver’s Making Streets for People program, which closed streets to traffic and connects green spaces, will likely persist after the pandemic.
Urban forests provide many benefits to urban dwellers, from moderating extreme heat and improving psychological health to offering opportunities to socialize or engage in culturally important practices.
The more cities grow, the more urban residents need access to enjoy — and be in relationship with — urban forests to maintain well-being. Yet despite their importance, urban forests are not broadly accessible.
URBAN FORESTS ARE UNFAIRLY DISTRIBUTED
Urban trees and parks are inequitably distributed across many cities around the world. Socio-economically marginalized people tend to have less access to urban forests, and would likely gain health benefits from them.
These inequitable distributions exists in Vancouver and Montréal, for example. Older, more affluent and, to some degree, whiter neighbourhoods often have larger, more mature trees, that overhang buildings, sidewalks and roads.
Areas in Vancouver with less than 0.55 hectares per 1,000 people and/or no park access within a 10-minute walk. Cities, increasingly aware of this challenge, are improving access to green spaces for underserved residents via equity-focused plans and policies. For example, Portland Parks and Recreation has partnered with low-income and racialized communities to plant more street trees in low-canopy neighbourhoods. Vancouver Parks and Recreation has mapped tree canopy, park access and recreation demand to identify priority areas for resource investment.
However, cities need to be aware of the risk of green gentrification, which occurs when urban greening initiatives trigger a series of negative impacts commonly associated with gentrification. These can include increases to land or property values, which raise property taxes and make living there less affordable, changes to the character of a neighbourhood or the displacement of low-income, long-term residents, such as in Austin, Texas, and along the New York City High Line.
The High Line in New York is a 2.5 kilometre linear park built on an abandoned railroad in 2009. Housing values increased 35 per cent in a decade for homes closest to the park. My lab is studying ways to prevent or control green gentrification, via local and place-based research, and national analyses. Our research to date suggests that urban greening initiatives need to:
DIFFERENT CULTURES & DIVERSE NATURES
These issues go beyond distribution: accessibility and opportunities to experience, enjoy and relate to urban nature are different for different people. Despite the dominant narrative that “green is good,” urban green spaces are not neutral spaces. They reflect the dominant cultures that shaped and continue to control them.
Racialized scholars, such as Georgia Silvera Seamans, have raised awareness of the dangers that racialized populations face in urban forests. Indigenous scholars, such as Deborah McGregor, have highlighted the importance of reciprocal relations among all beings in Creation as the core of Indigenous environmental justice. These realities are not currently part of mainstream urban forest management, but they could and should be.
Our recent research on biocultural diversity (the indivisible relationship between human culture and nature, between cultural diversity and biological diversity) in Vancouver highlights the diverse ways in which local people are in relationship with and stewards of the local urban forest.
For example, Mayan gardeners at the Maya in Exile Garden at the UBC Farm celebrate their Indigenous culture by cultivating the Three Sisters: corn, beans and squash. The many plum and cherry trees in Vancouver celebrate the rich Asian heritage of the region.
While cultural groups are not monolithic, research suggests they may have different urban forest preferences and needs. According to one study, populations in Toronto with British ancestry are more likely to appreciate shade trees and naturalized areas than those of Mediterranean heritage, who may prefer food trees and gardens.
Grenadier Pond is a popular fishing spot in High Park, in Toronto. Biocultural diversity can also create points of conflict. In Metro Vancouver, local Indigenous and allied land defenders monitor and resist development of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which runs through urban forests across the region. And many urban forests exist on unceded territory where Indigenous stewardship is not acknowledged.
Despite these diverse relationships and responsibilities, most North American urban forests reflect European values, esthetics and biocultural relationships. For example, cultural tree modification or ceremonial crop cultivation remain rare in most urban parks in North America, and land defenders are criminalized for their stewardship work.
While many people and communities are expressing their diverse relationships with nature through their work on the ground every day, these relationships and needs are not yet part of mainstream conversation or widely celebrated in the form and function of urban forests.
HEALING THROUGH NATURE
These ongoing efforts represent an opportunity for city governments to welcome diverse needs and perspectives into urban forestry practice. Cities and their residents need to open their minds to alternative ways of seeing the world and relating to nature, and encourage forms and uses of urban nature outside the mainstream.
An important initiative that offers the chance for intercultural learning and healing is the National Healing Forests Initiative. This important program provides guidance on creating urban forest spaces as places for healing, learning, sharing and reflection about Canada’s history and the legacy of Indian residential schools. Canadian society must support and participate in these initiatives.
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink how we live together, including how we live with each other and our urban forests. The time to start this conversation is now.
Sustain the natural environment and enhance urban spaces through land conservation, community engagement and education.
San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States, with regional population growth projected to almost double in the next 50 years. Urban growth, without careful planning and preservation, will disrupt quality of life for all unless we act today. By protecting undeveloped land and water resources, cultivating urban green spaces and community, and educating the next generation about the environment we depend on, we can help ensure a better quality of life now and in years to come.
To date, Green Spaces Alliance has helped protect over 133,000 acres of land over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone, safeguarded 458 additional acres of private property and 123 acres of donated land, fostered over 40
community gardens across San Antonio, and educated over 3,700 students on the importance and beauty of nature with our Picture Your World Youth Photography Program. Bexar Land Trust, doing business as Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas, conserves land for the public good. We have a long track record of success, using the best science and information available to determine the most important lands to conserve to have the greatest impact on our water and wildlife habitat. But there’s so much more to our land – and our work – than just the acres on the ground.
THE AUSTIN ENVIRONMENTAL DIRECTORY