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Archive for April, 2016

Anyone who has traveled abroad knows that cities in the United States are not as densely populated as cities in Europe, Asia and Latin America. By design, we do not use our urban space efficiently.

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Colonia Del Valle, Mexico City

 

This is especially true in our suburbs. We love our lawns and even bland commercial developments have large mowed grassy areas with a few trees. The result: our cities take up much more space than they need to.

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Also modern cities are unusually large, historically speaking. It used to be that a city with a million inhabitants was considered significant. Now mega cities of over 10 million are found throughout the world and cities with one or two million people are common. The amount of land that has been urbanized, even in densely populated cities is unprecedented.

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Avenida Revolution, Mexico City

Sprawled out cities, therefore, make a bad situation worse… but do they have to?

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Asian Bush Honeysuckle degrading an area set aside for recreation

Could a sprawled out city be landscaped to be more ecologically sound? Could the space between roads and buildings be transformed into gardens based on ecological considerations?  Can we preserve native plant communities, water quality, and species diversity, while at the same time improving city life with more interesting landscaping?

In other words, can we manage our cities to enhance ecology by transforming our lawns and gardens?

 

Here in the heartland of North America, our sprawled out cities have created an ecological disaster.

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Not only has sprawl inefficiently taken up a lot space, but urban landscaping has created a situation where the disastrous landscaping decisions in the city have actually damaged distant areas.

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Climbing Euonymus or Wintercreeper, another invasive mess

 

Imported invasive plants flourishing in our neighborhoods have spread into areas designated as natural habitats. These invasive species have devastated our parks, conservation areas and wild lands.

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Asian Bush Honeysuckle smothering an urban park

 

Bad landscaping decisions have become a form of pollution that continues to reproduce itself far beyond the degraded areas where these bad decisions have been made. Such “pollution” continues to replicate into ever expanding areas of monotonous monoculture.

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Asian Bush Honeysuckle covering everything that is not paved or mowed

 

The responsibility of making informed decisions concerning urban landscaping, therefore requires accepting the consequences of introducing nonnative species. At the very least our gardens should do no harm.

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A control burn area in a state park: a traditional landscape

 

Our responsibility within a sprawled out city is to dedicate as much land as possible to restoring natural ecosystems.   Imagine an urban landscape where pockets of native plant communities are restored in such a way as to enhance the aesthetics of the city.  Lawns and gardens would be transformed into showcases for native plant environments. Beatifying the city could help preserve our biodiversity.

 

When it comes to urban landscaping, our priorities need to change. Gardening for a purpose would go beyond having a nice bed of flowers or a rich green lawn. Instead we would concentrate on making our urban outdoor space a valuable refuge for at risk plant communities.  By using such plants as a palate, we can enhance areas that are nowhere near reaching their aesthetic potential in contemporary suburban settings.

Photos courtesy of Nadia’s Backyard

Your backyard can be a breeding ground for invasive species or a refuge that serves as an example of what makes our part of the world beautiful and unique. The challenge of limiting your garden to native plants can become a celebration of creativity with a purpose: Preserving our natural heritage.

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