THE UNTOLD BENEFITS OF GREENING CITIES
Towns and municipalities today are under huge constraints when it comes to their budgeting. Obviously we need services for road maintenance, water, sewerage and other necessities, but there are important needs that may not at first seem worth spending tax dollars on. Landscaping of the urban environment is one such item.
Many see landscaping as a frill, an unnecessary expenditure. It is true that a city or town can survive without street trees, parks and gardens, but are these items just drains on our budgets?
Let's take Moncton as an example. We'll get rid of Victoria Park, the plantings along Millennium Drive, the plantings along Centennial Drive, the trails of Mapleton Park, the trails along the Petitcodiac River and Irishtown Nature Park. Let's forget the street trees along Main St. and the new access to the bridge. Let's not put money into the small parks and natural areas in and around the new housing developments in Dieppe and Moncton.
It's not a pretty picture. Those parks provide a respite for the weary and for eyes that yearn for something not of brick, stone, asphalt and concrete. The plantings along the roadways are not just pretty, they provide unseen benefits such as pollution absorption, wind reduction and snow control. The trails give the public access to natural areas where they can exercise their bodies and reduce mental stress, as well as providing an educational tool for both young and old. The street trees provide shade in summer not to mention aesthetic appeal and parks and natural areas in developments give children a place to play and soak in the secrets of nature in what would otherwise be an 'unnatural' manmade neighborhood.
For the bean counters who may not consider these reasons compelling enough to spend money on landscaping, let's look at the economics of the situation. Would you move your business or family to a city or town that had no parks, no trails, no street trees? Most I can assure you would not. The natural environment of an urban area is critically important to the attraction and maintenance of tax paying citizens and businesses.
Those that have spent the money making their cities green and welcoming to pedestrians, hikers and cyclists have reaped rewards many times their initial investment. Areas that were once leafless wastelands or garbage strewn stream sides have been transformed into vibrant centers that attract investment. Rivers that have been reclaimed for public access quickly become the centers of recreation and public spirit.
The last few centuries have created cities as we know them, but most of the energies put into cities have been in the construction of buildings, streets and sidewalks. There is an increasing realization that in order for these cities to work they need to attract and hold people. Cities that make the physical environment both aesthetically pleasing and physically healthy are keeping their centers alive and thriving. Those that neglect the bond between humanity and the natural world will continue to stagnate.
If cities put effort into their landscapes, the population responds by respecting and caring for their own properties. People who love their towns and cities will take pride in their contribution to the whole. Gardens will be tended, trees planted and abandoned properties may well find concerned citizens putting in their own sweat to clean and green them.
There are many reasons to live somewhere. The economic life of a city is important but there are many other elements that contribute to a city's attraction that are less easily quantified but are nonetheless important. The cultural life of a city sets the tone for creativity and innovation. Let's not forget the gastronomical element. Having lots of diverse and good quality restaurants adds immeasurably to a city's appeal. Helping tie all this together is the physical reality of its streets and 'empty' spaces. The more greenery that surrounds us the more we feel at home, relaxed. It has been demonstrated that such cities have reduced crime rates and a high degree of citizen participation.
Green spaces, gardens and parks are not expenses, they are investments in a more healthy, welcoming and sane environment. Do not ever let the budget makers forget this. A city or large town is by definition a man made place, but we can and must provide spaces for nature to help make these mazes of brick, concrete and steel places that are comfortable and energizing for our selves and our children.
Copyright Bob Osborne
For Jan. 21, 2010