Two days before the recent United Nations Climate Summit, more than 400,000 protestors gathered in New York City to take part in the People’s Climate March in an effort to draw attention to climate change. While goals of climate change campaigns commonly include calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and transitioning to renewable sources of energy, the role of parks in the overall environmental health of cities is often overlooked.
At the Climate March, urban parks were, quite literally, at the center of the action. The march actually began right outside of Central Park, and hundreds of students, concerned citizens, and interest groups gathered in Central Park West. However, the role of urban parks is much greater than just providing a gathering space.
As green spaces in an otherwise concrete jungle, city parks can strategically help mitigate local climate change-related problems. Since carbon dioxide is seen as a major contributor to global warming, urban parks can populate a city with trees and shrubbery. Whether they be fruit-bearing, nut-bearing, or just aesthetically pleasing, trees and plants create a carbon sink and can reduce abnormally high levels of CO2 generated in cities. The USDA Forest Service published a study showing that urban trees can influence local climates and energy use. Within urban areas, total tree carbon storage is estimated at approximately 650 million tonnes.
City parks can also play an integral role in reducing the urban heat island effect (a phenomenon in which cities are found to be between 2 and 10 degrees F higher than non-urban areas due to an abundance of concrete and reflective surfaces). Hotter temperatures in cities correlate to an overall increase in energy demands and higher pollution outputs. More trees lead to more shade and increasing vegetation increases transpiration, both of which are natural coolants. These effects can correct for increased temperatures and can reduce the need for carbon-intensive demands, such as air conditioning.
In this sense, urban parks really do contribute to the overall fight against the negative effects of climate change. Improving our city parks by creating better infrastructure and allocating space for more can further amplify the inherent benefits of green spaces.
Filed under: green infrastructure |