"America The Beautiful" In Urban Areas
Before settlers came over from Europe, our country was bursting with plains full of flowing prairies, roaming bison, galloping wild mustangs, and beautiful forests. A prairie that was once ranging from the Rocky Mountains in the west to Illinois and Indiana in the east and from Texas to Canada, now only has 1% left. As Katherine Lee Bates quoted back in 1893: "Beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties…" The country she described is no longer the same. We have turned our prairies and forests into farmland, buildings, and cities. The open areas in cities are landscaped parks with alien species created to look pleasing to the eye. Native vegetation helps the local wildlife thrive too. All those animals were present in the native environment but not in the park. The birds shied away from the park beach area preferring the wide open water dedicated to them. And prairie dogs are not going to be digging holes and tunnels in the perfectly manicured grass. The 95% vegetation in the natural area allowed for native wildlife to be present and abundant. While I'm not advocating for all skunks and prairie dogs to be present in urban areas, we have taken away a lot of their habitat and we should give them a sanctuary to return to. Not only can people take pleasure in our true roots by enjoying our original habitat, but by altering everything, we are harming our ecosystem.
Biodiversity is the variety of genes, species, organisms, and ecosystems in which we all interact. It is important to consider biodiversity in urban environments when planning and managing the area. Plants and vegetation are essential to our existence in maintaining climate, water balance, and carbon appropriation. The destruction of many habitats in built-up areas has led to localized extinctions for plants and wildlife. By creating "green corridors" or open spaces we can help preserve these habitats. Native green spaces in cities can also help educate the communities and help connect people to nature making populations more sensitive about conservation. Three-fourths of people in developed countries, and one-half in less developed countries live in urban areas. Over half of the world's population live in suburban or urban developments. Where can people connect to nature if they live in areas surrounded by skyscrapers, cement, and bricks?
Parks are landscaped areas that don't resemble the true nature of our environment. The area around my house is surrounded by both a nature reserve area and a large park. While the nature reserve area has 95% native vegetation, the park contains only 30% native species proving that manicured areas aren't a true resemblance of our habitat. Sustainability is the "capacity of the earth's natural systems and human cultural system to survive, flourish, and adapt to changing environmental conditions into the future. " We humans seem to be adapting and changing, but at what cost? What percent is left of the expansive prairie that once was? How much forests are cut down each year destroying the habitat for animals? How much have our glaciers shrunk? Are there any wild mustangs left?
The bison that once roamed freely are now mostly confined to a small patch of land in Wyoming and Montana. While humans have flourished, it has come at a cost to other forms of life. The simple aspect of creating open spaces with native vegetation can help reduce our ecological footprint and provide a landscape for species to live and thrive in. Ken Thompson, Kevin Austin, Richard Smith, Philip Warren, Penny Angold, and Kevin Gaston showed in "Putting small-scale plant diversity in context", that only 33% of garden plants are native while the remaining 77% were foreign. This coincides with the data that I found in my neighborhood. The purpose of their study was to survey the biodiversity in gardens in the UK to examine the composition of the flora. This was done by examining 60 private gardens located in the urbanized area, drawing scale plans of each garden, and listing all the plants. This was all done in July 2001. Besides showing that most plants were alien, they also stated that a number of the species found in the gardens are uncommon in the wild, but were plentiful in the gardens. We need more area that provides native plants: not just 30%, allowing for more natural biodiversity and habitat for wildlife. A study by Ken Thompson, John Hodgson, Richard Smith, Philip Warren, and Kevin Gaston: "Composition and diversity of lawn floras" looked at the entire composition of lawn flora in 52 gardens in Sheffield, UK to analyze how lawn floras compare to natural grasslands. A complete list of all the plants were made during the surveying period between July and September 2000. They showed that most lawn quadrants were similar to semi-natural grasslands. It also showed that domestic gardens can provide ecosystem functioning through biodiversity, but yet the influences are substantially modified by human decision about what to grow and where to grow them. Paul Robbins and Trevor Birkenholtz examined the "expansion of lawn monocultures and their concomitant high-input chemical management regimes". They looked at the proportion of turfgrass in urban development by using tax assessors' data and aerial photography to assess the size of lawns in Franklin County, Ohio and if the size of the lawns changed as the time became more modern. The results illustrate that the coverage of turfgrass was 23% of the land cover in the county and that the coverage of lawn will continue to rise to 25%.
A lot of land cover in new urbanized areas and suburbs may consist entirely of turfgrass which brings about the use of fertilizer, insecticides, and herbicides. Of U. S. households, 83. 9% apply fertilizers and 63. 8% utilize insect control chemicals which increases the harmful chemicals released into the atmosphere each year. Creating turfgrass also displaces the land that used to be there. But it also means that turfgrass "changes the soil profile, stormwater runoff, water consumption, micro-fauna diversity, energy use, air quality, and opportunities and constraints for terrestrial wildlife. " This all increases our ecological footprint while decreasing our use of sustainability. For example, the reduced amount of vegetation decreases the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by the vegetation. This is one of the components leading to global warming. Another example, by changing the soil profile, nutrients can't be recycle: water can't be soaked up leading to an increase in water runoff and a decrease in infiltration. By changing the soil profile, nutrients can't be recycled in their normal process of biogeochemical cycles which fall in line with sustainability.
While the expanse of lawn has been increasing, people's attitudes towards nature has been changing, leading to a greater appreciation of nature. Environmental psychologists suggest that contact with nature is fundamental for human health and well-being. In urban areas though, natural areas can range from highly cultivated gardens to naturalistic ones leading to difference in what "natural" is. H. Ozguner and A. D. Kendle look to clarify what 'nature' and 'natural' are in the public's eye. And, whether natural landscapes have a greater value than ornamental landscapes. To do this, a questionnaire was conducted with specific sites that adequately represented the types of landscapes with random respondents. The majority of people (over 80%) thought the Botanical Gardens to be more attractive than the natural park. However, 90% thought that both sites were comfortable and natural but also managed. The majority of respondents declared both sites 'safe', but thought the Gardens to be more peaceful, calming, and a better place to ease stress; while they considered the park a better place to experience freedom, sense of naturalness, and socialize. The park was also a better place for wildlife. Respondents stated they would like the areas to be more natural looking, informal, undulating, and natural growing showing a desire for more naturalistic landscapes. In designing a park in an urban area, I would conclude that both aspects (natural and landscaped) need to be included in the design with a bigger emphasis on the nature part. As was stated in one of the articles and in the data that I found, only 30% of the flora present in gardens and parks are native. Lawn area is taking away from our natural landscape and causing environmental problems. And most people found both natural and landscaped areas to be pleasing to the eye.
Therefore, we should create a park that incorporates both aspects but provides a larger habitat for native life to grow and flourish. We can install turfgrass, vegetation, and a cement biking/trail path near the playground along with park benches and picnic tables. This allows for kids to play and for dogs to run around without trampling over native vegetation. Then depending on what native vegetation is already there, surrounding the park we can keep the landscape how it is or assist it, but still keeping it as a nature park. Meaning that it would be a dirt path with perhaps a few more native to the area trees and shrubs planted. Benches could still be put in along the path. Overall, the natural area would be as natural as could be helping our wildlife, maintaining our portion of global biodiversity, and assisting in sustainability.
Let us try to keep what is left of our native landscape, native. We cannot change the past. We cannot altogether fix what we have destroyed over centuries. But we can try to help our ecosystem and keep what little we do have left, as how it was meant to be. Native plants and open spaces are extremely important, especially to suburban and urban areas where most or all of that native vegetation has been replaced by developments. Let us try to create and preserve an area where prairie dogs run across the dirt path teasing the dogs, an eagle soars above and lands in its nest, a skunk meanders along minding its own business. Pelicans dive and scoop up fish, herons stand in the marshy areas on the banks of the lake, and frogs hurriedly hop along trying to keep out of sight. Let this natural area we create be a green space with native plants but one that is safe, free, and peaceful, and that could remind people of what Katherine Lee Bates saw the first time she made her way west.