Sunday, February 8, 2009

Growing Our Greenspace

In response to recent musings of mine on this here blog about the subject of park planning, Lonnie Murray posted the following thoughtful comment:

"Unfortuntely it takes great political will to challenge the threats to our greenspace, especially when it is justified under the cloak of 'in-fill'. It's too easy to see greenspace as merely 'undeveloped', and thus the perfect location for a new road, athletic facility, etc. Perhaps it would be useful to define as a community what we actually mean by greenspace, and clarify its value to us. Then, we need a ordinance requiring a no net loss of greenspace within the city, and find a way to make it binding."

Lonnie's comment reminded me of an observation I once heard William McDonough make, the gist of which was that the ideal city features so much greenspace (including green roofs atop its buildings) that it's hard for a bird flying above to tell when the countryside ends and the city begins.

While I don't know that the City of Charlottesville could ever get authority to pass an ordinance requiring no net loss of greenspace, I don't see why we cannot at least establish it as a goal. And I would actually go further -- we should be working toward a net gain of greenspace in our community, even while welcoming quality infill development. Between increasing our tree canopy, installing more green roofs, rain gardens and vegetated swales, promoting higher-density, pedestrian/transit-oriented development vs. more suburban sprawl, converting rivers and seas of asphalt into green streets and green parking lots, dedicating City capital funds for the purchase and preservation of greenspace, establishing an offset program by which developers plant more new trees than they displace, and maybe even converting some existing city streets or parking areas into pedestrian throughways and pocket parks or community gardens, there's no reason we can't have more greenspace in Charlottesville than we do today.

There's always going to be some disagreement about what would make for a good infill project vs. a bad infill project, but I'm convinced that we can grow our greenspace while maintaining a healthy economy and, in the process, become an even more vibrant place for people to live, work, play, shop, enjoy nature, and run a business.

Or, we can always just shell out $150 to solve the problem this way. :-) (Thanks Victoria)


Victoria said...

Great post, Dave. Like you, I greatly appreciate Lonnie's comment on your previous post.

I feel strongly that we need to have a certain percentage of quiet green space that exists solely for its own wonderful sake. It's vital that we have natural areas that adequately support native wildlife and plants, provide oxygen, filter pollution, etc. Unfortunately, that can't be solved via pocket parks, though I think they are invaluable when utilized in conjunction with larger unspoiled green areas.

Charlottesville is a beautiful city, but we're losing ground fast. There's no reason that we can't follow in the footsteps of cities like DC (Rock Creek, National Arboretum, Roosevelt Island), NYC (Central and Prospect Parks), LA (Griffith), and SF (Golden Gate and Yerba Buena Gardens).

I've lived here 25 years and am continually surprised at how far behind we are with our parkland and green space compared to so many other communities around the US. Where's our botanical garden promoting native species, or our wildlife center? Our small green amphitheater for picnics and classical or folk music? We're all about softball and soccer etc, but the vision just seems to end there.

Jen said...

I really appreciate how you fleshed out the idea of what urban greenspace can look like, Dave. As Lonnie said, it's really tricky to define the term, and the functional examples you gave certainly appeal to me.

For instance, I notice that many empty lots around town are "green" in color but don't serve any obvious purpose and even attract trash. You suggested development options for such parcels that would keep them green and measurably add to the quality of life in the city.

Also, development is going to come somewhere, and I'd personally rather see it concentrated in the city (incorporating the green features you mentioned) rather than spreading throughout the rural areas and contributing to low-density sprawl and the loss of arable (green) land there.

Lonnie said...

I'd really be interested in talking more about a comprehensive plan for both Albemarle and Charlottesville about how we can sustain and grow the amount of greenspace.

Here are some small details which could really enhance some of the ideas you've already presented:

1) Pursue community-wide wildlife Habitat certification.

2) Working with the Monticello Historic Plant society and VNPS, to establish a target percentage of Albemarle native species to be used in all city and park plantings, to be gradually increased over time with the eventual goal of 80% natives for new plantings.

3) Jointly fund the Natural Heritage Committee's efforts to identify rare species and habitats and add them to a GIS layer. Aldo Leopold said "To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering". Before we can recreate habitat, we've got to save the blueprints.

4) Using UVa's model of Stream Daylighting to integrate functional wetlands for mitigating stormwater (instead of detention basins). Furthermore, prohibit any further culverting of streams in the City and growth area.

5) Establish green corridors, not unlike Tallahassee Florida's Canopy roads.

6) Now that we've got people using the idea of Green Roofs, let's encourage adoption of a semi-intensive design, and use of rare native eastern rock outcrop species in the design. The goal here being to create urban ecosystems as refuges for rare plants.

7) In major road projects, plan ways for wildlife to safetly cross roads.

8) Oh, and last but not least, I second the creation of a Charlottesville Botanical Garden... ;-) (I'm currently working with two groups in Charlottesville to actually present a unified plan to the City for that very idea).

Thanks for the post!