April not only marks Earth Month and Earth Day, but it also celebrates World Landscape Architecture Month.
Among the numerous green or eco-friendly measures environmentalists and nature lovers champion to save the planet are sustainable urban landscapes.
Urban landscapes create, restore and preserve urban parks, recreational areas, business parks, nature centers, and other green areas. Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, regenerative, and healthy for communities by sequestering carbon, cleaning the air, recycling water, moderating extreme temperatures, increasing energy efficiency, restoring habitats, and creating value through significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.
Urban Landscape Architecture
Landscape architects are artists, scientists and environmentalists. They team up with architects, horticulturalists, surveyors, engineers and conservationists to solve problems and create spaces that people can connect with and where they can connect with each other—meaningful, authentic spaces where people want to live and companies want to do business.
Good planning is crucial in urban landscaping. Multiple factors—including topography, property borders, utility placements, fences and other structures, existing trees and turf grasses, climate, sun exposure, soil conditions, irrigation, water drainage and maintenance costs—should influence every design choice.
Benefits of Urban Landscapes
Urban landscapes are much more than pretty plants, charming parks and green roofs. They also are the streets, sidewalks, alleys and parking lots that shape a city’s look, its functionality and culture.
Landscape architecture improves urban spaces and the quality of life of the people living and working in those spaces. It promotes sustainability and helps create healthier, more beautiful and more livable neighborhoods. It fights pollutants and encourages city dwellers to spend time outside, which is better for their health and for the community.
Following are five of the most important benefits of urban landscapes.
1. Environmental Benefits
Urban landscaping helps clean the air, water, and soil. Plants consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere. They shield us from extreme heat and cold, provide us with shade, reduce noise pollution.
Trees promote sustainability by providing shade that reduces the need for air conditioning and fossil fuel consumption. Trees also fight air pollution by “catching” and reducing airborne particles such as dust, smoke, pollen, soot and liquid droplets, and gasses such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. Some of these particulates are inhalable and can pass into the lungs and bloodstream, causing a variety of health problems.
A 2016 study by The Nature Conservancy reported that trees can cut particulate pollution between 7 percent an 24 percent. “Trees can remove as much as a quarter of the particulate matter pollution within a few hundred yards, and when planted in the right places, can offer a very effective barrier, filtering bad air and protecting local residents,” according to the report.
2. Climate Change
According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, urban landscaping can mitigate climate change by employing strategies that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 50% and 85% by 2050 and limit temperature rise by 2 degrees celsius.
With climate change, a little goes a long way. A climate temperature rise of only 2 degrees celcius can produce substantial negative consequences for our planet. According to a study conducted by NASA, a 2 degrees increase in temperature would:
- Wipe-out the chances of tropical reef recovery
- Melt ice sheets and rise sea levels to a point that could wipe Florida off the map
- Limit the agricultural food supply by inhibiting the production of the actual food in crops such as corn
- Limit fresh water supplies
However, urban landscapes can significantly and positively impact the environment. Planting trees in cities helps reduce the levels of fossil fuels, distribute energy, and improve air and rain quality as well as surface temperature. These benefits prove just how important it is to take the small step of developing urban landscapes to counteract the disastrous consequences of climate change on our planet. This simple step will promote a huge positive step for our planet’s future.
3. Social Integration
Hi-tech gizmos may be fun, but they have a tendency to keep urban dwellers inside, on the couch, in bed, hooked on social media, playing video games, passively watching others do things. The more time we spend with technology, the less time we spend connecting with others face to face, nurturing relationships with neighbors and getting involved in the community.
Urban landscapes create dynamic and inviting public spaces that attract people and encourage them to engage in meaningful social interaction.
4. Physical and Mental Health
Having access to quality urban green spaces and spending time outside—exercising, playing, socializing, enjoying nature, relaxing—is healthy for the body and mind. That’s just common sense, but research confirms that urban landscapes enhance the health and quality of life of city dwellers.
Green spaces encourage and increase physical activity, leading to numerous health benefits relevant to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, osteoporosis, mood disorders, psychological issues and overall health. In addition, urban landscapes improve health through its effects on pollution and temperature.
5. Food Security
A hop from urban landscape architecture to urban landscape agriculture provides us with yet another benefit: sustainability and food self-sufficiency. Food grown close to home through small-scale urban farming has a smaller carbon footprint than food grown in other states or countries that must be transported thousands of miles. Not to mention, it’s organic, free of pesticides, preservatives, and questionable GMOs.
Food also brings people together in a community and promotes physical activity, positively affecting the health of urban gardeners.
Urban landscaping proves that we do not have to venture far into a forest to hug a tree and commute with nature. We can do our part in protecting the environment and living in harmony with our natural resources right in our cities.
Want to learn more? Check out the trailer for the film Merchants of Doubt: