Seattle leads the nation in sustainable urban forestry!

The Emerald City remains true to its name. The City of Seattle’s Parks and Recreation was awarded the distinction of Forest Stewardship Certification, the highest international certification for sustainable maintenance of forests. While FSC has become a standard for sustainability for timber forests, Seattle is the first metropolitan area in the country to receive this certification for urban forestry!

As the first Green City Partnership, Seattle represents the realization of a public-private model to bring the community together to promote healthy forests and sustainable ecosystems. We’re pleased to have been able to participate and share in Seattle’s success!

Currently, the Green Seattle Partnership estimates that 23 percent of the entire city is covered by tree canopy – but the goal is much greater: “We have a goal for our forest of 30 percent canopy for the entire city” says Mark Mead, senior urban forester for Seattle Parks and Recreation. Considering that the potential loss of urban forests in just 20 years without active stewardship is 70 percent, this 7 percent increase will take lots of work. But, we know Seattle is tackling this challenge in with the highest sustainability standards!

Congratulations Seattle!

How are you helping our city and region to expand the tree canopy …and all of the benefits that come with it?

The Art of Tree Management

“We managed light, we paint with light, and we paint with shade in our trees.”

A couple walks through the light and shadows created by an urban forest. Photo credit to Natalie Cheel

This is how Dr. Kim Coder begins his recent discussion of tree management on Arbor Views, the podcast for the International Society of Arboriculture.

What a unique way to describe how arborists integrate trees into our environment! They work with the absence and presence of light yet, their art sets its course in a potential stage, and arborists must continue to negotiate with the trees themselves in order to manipulate their benefits and obstacles.

“All the benefits we derive from trees, many of those things actually are a proxy for how healthy the crown is, how healthy the green stuff is. We can make bigger stronger trees …which is what arbor care is all about”

Several simple models help us develop each tree’s potential growth. This gives us better clues to evaluate how our own trees are doing. In fact, 78-82% of the weight mass of a tree is from water:

“If you look at a tree, if we had infrared vision, we could see that in a nice sunny day, it’s a fountain of water … below the leaves, coming from that crown is just a bubbling cauldron of water vapor.”

That description illustrates how Dr. Coder found that about 80% of all variation in tree development is due to water – whether there’s too much or too little or how the aeration process for the water vapor is managed.

This type of research demonstrates the greatest tool we have to manipulate the soil or the branches, and guide the tree as our paintbrush. But also, this research teaches us that more patience is necessary for letting the tree figure out its issues.

Who knew tree scientists are artists painting the canvas of our cities with light!

Where to Place Parks

Forsyth Park sits along the spine of the Historic District, uniting pedestrian over car traffic. Credit to Kevin Klinkenberg

What makes a park work? Baltimore answered this question earlier this year with, “location, location, location”. City Planner Kevin Klinkenberg agrees. In his latest post on the benefits of walkable cities, Klinkenberg says what makes Forsyth Park great is how central it is (physically) to community life in the Savannah’s Historic District. Forsyth Park dominates the spine of the district for many blocks, squarely inserting green space into city living. It diverts traffic and allows pedestrians and cyclists a logical place to enjoy and congregate. Instead of making parks the land use of last resort, cities must to actively pursue locations for the best parks.

This is how purposeful city planning can develop urban forestry, and local communities! We are so excited here at Green Cities to have committed partners that bring the private and public stakeholders together to protect and restore urban green spaces just around your corner. And we’ll keep you in the loop as the benefits of urban parks are discovered around the nation!

Unlimited urban woods (sort of) and directed attention fatigue

photo by Pieter Kers, on local ecologist courtesy of Hedwig Heinsman of DUS

Leave it to architects in Amsterdam to come up with this quirky, creative idea to help alleviate directed attention fatigue. DUS Architects Amsterdam describes their single tree inside four mirrored walls as a “never-ending forest in the middle of town.” As explained in the local ecologist post from a little while ago where I found this, the pavilion was displayed in front of the New Amsterdam Public Library this summer. From the outside, it looks like a square, white box. From this inside, it looks like this picture to the left.

Local ecologist admits that this installation does not fulfill vital ecosystem functions that make an urban forest so valuable. But it does make us think about directed attention fatigue. University of Michigan professors Rachel and Stephen Kaplan were among the first academics to study the psychological effects of nature, and they are still working to produce more research demonstrating natural settings’ “profound, positive effect on both mental and physical health.” The Kaplans have shown that working in nature, gardening, taking a walk in the woods, or even enjoying a view of trees from a window can reduce stress and improve people’s health, from cancer patients and caregivers to regular city-dwellers. A natural place “doesn’t have to be big or pristine” to have a positive effect, claims Rachel Kaplan. “Most of all, it has to be nearby.”

How much does a park or natural area near you affect your health and well-being? Small pocket parks and large expanses of greenbelts affect us in ways we might not always know or appreciate. I know that, as a city-dweller myself, my quality of life is much improved by having them around. If you give back by volunteering at an upcoming work party in Seattle, Tacoma, Redmond, Kirkland, or Kent, you ensure that these areas remain healthy enough to keep us healthy for years to come. And then get the return on your investment: take a walk or bike ride through them, meet a friend there, play, read a book, or otherwise take time to give your directed attention a rest.

Within the Gradient: Introducing the Science of Green Cities

Our region exists across a dramatic gradient: from the peaks of the Cascades and Olympics to the Sound; from the wildlands of the National Parks and Forests to the urban cores of our cities.  This sphere encompasses all of our cities; our jobs and homes.  It also provides the spaces in which we interact with the natural world.  But a lot of questions about this interaction exist:

  • What value is nature to me, or to my community?
  • Is my environment in danger?
  • What impact do I have on nature in my city?
  • How can we improve the natural resources in our communities?

Since late 2009, the Green City Partnerships have been participating in a collaboration with a US Forest Service Research effort called the Green Cities Research Alliance.  This work is similar to exciting research that is being completed across the country like Chicago, NYC, and Baltimore looking at the interaction of people with ‘everyday nature’, in the places where they live, work, and play across the gradient.

It is important to understand the value of ‘green’ to all our landscapes, not only our forests and farms, but also the green in our cities.  Within our gradient we have a variety of types of landscapes, but also cities too!  We live in small towns and exurban communities.  And work in industrial centers and mixed use spaces.  We shop at malls, on mainstreets, and mom and pop’s.  Each of our communities can and does benefit from nature in their own unique way.

The Green Cities Research Alliance is conducting efforts to better understand this relationship of our cities with the natural world.  Research includes investigation of:

  • The people stewarding our parks and open spaces
  • The quality of natural habitats
  • Economic and other values of nature
  • Public health, and the benefits of outdoor restoration and recreation

Amazing work like this in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere is springing up like crazy: check out this, and this, and this, and this here.   Green Cities Research Projects hope to uncover information about our interaction with everyday nature like these projects have, that can help our region thrive through health and stability, as well as provide data that is useful in cities across the country.  We will make an effort to keep you informed.  Please check back regularly for posts on the Science of Green Cities to see what we are discovering!

Is it greenspace?

Last week an article in Grist posed the question, “Why do you love the place you live? We want to know.” Journalist Sarah Goodyear quoted a recent Gallup survey called “Soul of the Community” that was all about the attachment we feel to the places we live, and what drives that attachment. Then she invited readers to respond in their own words about why they love the place they call home.

The Gallup survey results were very interesting, and naturally, got me thinking about where Green Cities fit into all this. In every one of the 26 communities surveyed, social offerings (“the availability of arts and cultural opportunities, availability of social community events, the community’s nightlife, whether the community is a good place to meet people, and whether people in the community care about each other”) were the most important factor in attachment. What about volunteer events? Time and again, we hear that what motivates people to volunteer is the social aspect, just as much as the environmental. Work parties are great places to meet new people, or spend time with those you know already. And a whole neighborhood of people coming together to make their local park or natural area healthier says a lot about how much we care about each other.

The second most important was openness (“This is regarding whether residents view their communities as good places for different groups, including older people, families with children, young adults without children, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and young, talented college graduates looking for work”). I was happy to read this one too. What’s great about environmental restoration is that almost anyone can take part. Young or old, all experience levels, backgrounds, lifestyles, everyone is welcome to help keep our urban environment thriving, again for the benefit of everyone.

The third most important driver of attachment was a no-brainer: a community’s aesthetics (“its overall physical beauty and the availability of parks, playgrounds, and trails”). We’ve been reading a lot, especially lately, about how important it is to have access to well-maintained, healthy natural open space, both for mental and physical well-being.

Reading all this, it’s no wonder that volunteers donate hundreds of thousands of hours a year towards restoration work parties in parks and natural areas through the Green Cities Network. It’s one of the reasons we love living where we do.

Goodyear posts that the response to her article was “tremendous” and published an edited selection in a follow-up article today. Many of the responses cite open space, natural features, and parks specifically. The Gallup survey results also found that people who feel strongly about the place they live are more likely to “actively participate in its success.” Meaning that it’s a positive feedback loop: if you feel good about where you live, you’ll do more to make it better, and then feel even better about it.

Get into that positive feedback! Participate in the success of your city by volunteering to keep the parks and natural areas that make it great to stay healthy. If you live or work in Seattle, Tacoma, Redmond, Kirkland, or Kent, there are opportunities for you to get involved.

Join us for Green Seattle Day 2010!

Looking to volunteer in a local park,  plant native trees and shrubs, and get to know your neighbors? If so, then Green Seattle Day on November 6th from 10am-2pm is the event for you!
Green Seattle Day is the kick off to the Green Seattle Partnership planting season and is a celebration of our neighborhood parks and committed volunteers. On November 6th from 10am-2pm, 1,000 volunteers are expected to gather in 14 parks across Seattle to lend a hand in restoration.   Interested volunteers can search for a local park and register on the Green Seattle Partnership Website: www.greenseattle.org.

You maybe thinking, “Why should I spend the day in a local park when I could be sitting on the couch watching TV?” Well, here are just a few reasons:
1. Green Seattle Day gives you they opportunity to take an active role in the restoration of your local park. More than that! You will get to name the plant you put in the ground and you can return and give your plant pep talks, or take photos as it grows throughout the years!

2.The day of volunteering will allow you to meet your neighbors and even make some new friends. We have found that pulling out ivy and planting trees are actions that bring out the friend making vibes in folks.

3. FREE STUFF! ohhh, now I have your attention. We are going to be giving out fancy Green Seattle Partnership t-shirts to all present volunteers and there will also be some other sweet giveaways at our hub sites, Lower Woodland Park and Camp Long. Not all sites have the same giveaways, but you will be greatly rewarded with a happy feeling inside no matter where you spend the day volunteering and having fun.

So! We would like to cordially invite you NO, challenge you to spend your Saturday morning on November 6th hanging out with GSP folks, planting trees, and making new friends. Find your local park and sign up for a work party (www.greenseattle.org) ! See you in the parks!!!

If you have any questions or would like to organize a group of volunteers for the event please contact Katie at katieca@cascadeland.org or 206-905-6952.