There are many factors drawing people to urban neighborhoods. Greater access to jobs, rich cultural experiences, educational opportunities, and access to resources to name a few, but without a doubt, urban living is growing. The United Nations estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.
As our cities grow, it’s important to consider the impact these spaces have on the environment, wildlife, and people. While urban greening may have started as a beautification movement, it has increasingly grown to include a variety of efforts that improve the lives of people and wildlife in the area, make cities more pleasing, and mitigate health effects.
Environmentally, urban trees pump oxygen into the air around them, while absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. They can reduce air temperature and the effects of smog, and indirectly reduce energy needs and pollutant emissions from power plants. Plants can help cool cities through the water that evaporates from their leaves when exposed to the sun’s rays, and by shading surfaces that otherwise might have absorbed heat.
Greening urban environments can also provide significant habitat for wildlife, and offer vital refuges for rapidly vanishing biodiversity. Infrastructure considerations like protecting riparian corridors and floodplains, increasing the use of native plantings, green roofs, living walls, and tree canopies, creating urban lakes and ponds, and designing nesting sites throughout the community can provide places for wildlife to feed, rest, and breed-ensuring continued populations.
For people, urban greenspace provides a multitude of benefits. Impervious surfaces contribute to heat island effects, creating potentially hazardous health conditions. Ensuring adequate green space can help mitigate this effect, so that people stay cooler despite rising temperatures. Nature integration brings beauty and a sense of calm to an otherwise bustling environment, promoting both physical and mental health, stress and anxiety reduction, improved cognitive functioning, lowered risks of depression, and overall greater mental and physical well-being.
A term that once just meant planting trees in cities has now grown to include a creative variety of green infrastructure that can take on a variety of forms, from small contributions like street trees to larger installation like parks and green spaces. Also, given the pandemic of 2020, the need for increased green space in crowded urban environments is more evident than ever before.