In 2018, the Green Cities program begins its 14th year! Conceived in 2004 by Forterra and launched in the City of Seattle, the Green Cities Partnerships have now grown to nine participating cities. From Everett to Puyallup our efforts seek to help communities regain, restore and reconnect with green spaces and critical landscapes in their community.
There are three goals of the Green Cities Partnership Program:
- Improve the quality of life, connections to nature, and enhance forest benefits in cities by restoring our forested parks and natural areas
- Galvanize an informed and active community
- Ensure long-term sustainable funding and community support
A Green City Partnership brings together local government agencies, community members, businesses, schools, non-profit groups and all who are concerned about a healthy environment.
The partnership creates and implements community-based stewardship of our land resources. The results are a land base that provides maximum ecosystem benefits. These benefits include reduction of flooding, mitigation of climate change, increased wildlife and biodiversity, improved air quality and cleaner water for humans and salmon.
Forterra’s Green City Partnership provides a comprehensive program for cities to address the growing needs for green infrastructure and a way to help implement their Comprehensive Plan, Stormwater Management activities, Park and Recreation Plans and other efforts that directly impact the sustainability and livability of their community.
Underling all of our efforts is the desire to connect Green Cities to one another (e.g., fill in the Gaps on the map). Creating this dynamic and interconnected series of Green Cities will help to reverse some of our past mistakes, bring communities closer together and provide more opportunities for community members to get outdoors and be in nature.
The foundation of the Green Cities Program are the people. Through community engagement and volunteerism, Green Cities has involved more than 77,000 individuals throughout our Puget Sound. These volunteers have provided more than 1.1 million volunteer hours in our local parks and public green spaces.
There are many entities who rely on volunteers to accomplish goals of restoration, but the Green cities program is unique in that we engage volunteers to complete the work, but we also help them to be more connected to one another and to nature. Whether it is a college biology class achieving their service hours or a business providing volunteers for an MLK Day of service, there is never a shortage of dedicated volunteers. We see our program as going beyond pulling ivy or planting new cedar trees. Of course the program’s goal is make the experience of volunteering rewarding and informative, but we hope individuals come away from the experience with and understanding of the “why” this work is important. Tying it to the ‘big’ picture always receives a positive response from volunteers and helps them feel connected to nature and to their community. We all want to feel valued and connected.
Another unique element of our program is that many sites have regular and ongoing work parties. Metro Parks Tacoma for instance has several sites with monthly volunteer events. This provides volunteers an opportunity to see positive change on the landscape that is a direct result of their work over the course of a season, 5 years or event 20 years. It provides a way to more deeply engage in the effort. It also helps them connect and understand to the difficulty of this work.
Finally, there are numerous resources online for volunteers to learn more about the Partnership (e.g., what is the best ways to remove English Ivy from trees or what is the Target Habitat for a certain site). This all provides and interactive environment where volunteers can engage as much or as little as they desire.
Dedicated city staff, non-profit organizations, colleges, local K-12 schools, numerous businesses, conservation districts, Port of Seattle, the Port of Tacoma and many more have all come together to ensure that there is a sustained commitment to the long-term health of critical landscapes across the Puget Sound region. Currently, nine cities participate in the Green Cities Program and include: Seattle, Everett, Kirkland, Redmond, Snoqualmie, Tukwila, Kent, Puyallup and Tacoma.
Each of these cities have developed a 20-Year Plan that provides the vision, goals and implementation strategies to restore a certain amount of acres in their community. This 20-year Plan also provides cost estimates, maps of all lands and condition of those lands, as well as a structure to establish a Habitat Steward Program. The 20-Year Plan provides the key guiding document to achieve the desired results.
Land Restoration Goals and Activity
Together, our collective goal stands at approximately 9,000 acres of land to be enrolled in restoration by 2037. We are about 25% completed, with a little more than 2,000 acres enrolled in restoration activities. The big disclaimer is that every few years we add another Green City and the targets grow. In 2018, we are already confirmed to add the cities of Burien, SeaTac and Des Moines. Only time will tell how many acres these cities will seek to enroll. Do you care about healthy green spaces in your community? Do you want to be the next Green City? Contact us.
Native plants To restore these 2,000 acres, partners have planted more than 900,000 native plants. Our goal is to source plants locally and use plant palettes that help us mimic the lowland Puget Sound forest or other target habitats appropriate for the area. From small ground covers like Trillium to the mighty Western Red Cedar, our goal is to reintroduce the diversity of species and structure that have been lost in recent decades.
A young Western Red Cedar
Invasive To get to a point where these planting can occur the remove of large areas of invasive plants is necessary. Here in the Puget Sound we deal with countless invasive species, seemingly more than any other part of the country. The most pervasive plants include English Ivy, Himalayan Blackberry and Scotch Broom. Others include; Knotweed, Reed Canary Grass, Archangel, Thistle, Creeping buttercup, Policemen’s Helmet, English Holly, European Hawthorne, Garlic Mustard, Butterfly Bush, Morning Glory, Herb Robert, Poison Hemlock and many more.
Ivy – run for your life!
Over the years we have develop standards or Best Management Practices (BMP’s) that guide the removal of invasive plants and provide guidance on how to create a planting plan and how to install new native plants.
Why do we do the work we do
By now everybody has committed to memory the list of ecosystem services provided by a healthy environment, from wildlife biodiversity to reduced asthma rates in children, a healthy environment is critical to our well-being.
The ability or act of providing a service (e.g., clean air) by elements of nature is called ecosystem services. As we become more in tune with our environment and gather a deeper understanding of her functions, systems and outputs we can learn how to work within those parameters. On a very simple level we try to mimic nature and keep some semblance of her dynamics. This is the primary activity of the Green Cities Partnerships. However, this can be difficult because the only constant in nature is constant change. Whether it is a natural disturbance like a lightning strike that opens up the canopy in a forest condition or a man-made disturbance like logging, the natural world is constantly adjusting and readjusting itself. This is often called dynamic equilibrium. The key factors in dynamic equilibrium is how intense and frequent the disturbance is, and the ability of natural elements to recover from this disturbance.
In the urban landscape we are faced with many additional challenges than disturbance as part of the dynamic equilibrium process. One of the biggest challenges is the edge effect. Almost all of our natural areas and green spaces are surrounded by private property. All of these properties, private and public, usually have large areas of invasive plants like Scotch Broom, Himalayan Blackberry or English Ivy. All three of these invasive plants are easily spread by seed. So even though we can spend hours and hours removing these invasive plants from our sites, the wind, bird dispersal or other wildlife will quickly drop seeds back onto our restoration site. It has been determined that a Scotch Broom seed can remain dormant in soil for 100 years, just waiting for an opportunity to sprout. This makes long-term maintenance in the urban landscape mandatory for all restoration work. We can never truly walk away from a property and say it is complete. We can, hopefully get to a state of dynamic equilibrium where the native habitat is healthy enough to recover from most disturbances and only on an infrequent basis (e.g., every 5 years) will we have to return for minor treatments. We will dive more into the state and equilibrium of habitat in later blogs
Simply stated, Habitat Stewards are volunteer leaders in their community. Unique to the Green Cities Partnership is our dedication to training and involving our community members for leadership roles. The Habitat Steward Program is for those volunteers who want to go beyond the three hour work party and take on all aspects of the restoration of specific sites. In other words these habitat Stewards adopt a site and guide all management aspects. Habitat Stewards are trained in how to run an event, conduct outreach, technical aspects of restoration, speaking in front of a groups, and all tracking protocols.
Currently, there are 220 Habitat Stewards in the nine Green Cities. Many Green Cities hold orientations and initial trainings annually, others will do a training as needed. Contact us to find out more about the Green Cities Habitat Steward Program.
Please come back soon to read more blogs, in the coming months we will blog about specific plants and wildlife, introduce you to target Habitats and highlight some of our work across the Green Cities network.