Tag: urban nature

5 Simple Tips to Turn Your Yard Into Pollinator Paradise

With summer flowers blooming, it’s a pollinator party. Here are 5 tips to keep the bumble bees and butterflies healthy and happy in your yard all season long.

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Consider the Catbird: The Surprising Secrets of a Common Backyard Bird

Take a look outside and you may well see a gray catbird. But this common backyard bird is full of surprises. Where did it come from? Will it return? Ornithologist Joe Smith takes a look at the science of this long-distance migrant.

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Nature Makes Us Smarter. OK, Now What?

Research says being in nature makes you smarter. But what does that mean, exactly? Bob Lalasz looks at some questions remaining for the science of nature’s cognitive benefits.

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Go to Your Happy Place: Understanding Why Nature Makes Us Feel Better

Experiences in nature make us feel better — but why? Scientist Greg Bratman is lifting the lid on what’s happening in our brains — and his research might revolutionize the way we use and conserve green space.

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10 Popular Citizen Science Projects

As Citizen Science Tuesday nears its first birthday, here is a retrospective of the most popular projects. It’s not too late to participate!

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Urban Wild: Flying Squirrels of the Beltway

To see the southern flying squirrel, you don’t make a trek into the wilderness or visit a national park. You need to visit a small nature preserve a short distance away from the bustling urbanity of the U.S. capitol.

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Citizen Science: Survey Katydids in Your Neighborhood

That night music you hear coming from the trees? At least in part, that’s coming from katydids. Despite their ubiquity, very little is known about these charismatic critters. But you can help. Grab your smart phone and head into your neighborhood for a katydid census! Blogger Jon Fisher gets you started.

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Jon Christensen: Why Nature’s on the Margins in U.S. Cities–and That Could Be a Good Thing

City Nature Milwaukee

Screenshot of Milwaukee’s “greenness” measures vs. average home value by neighborhood. Source: City Nature

Bob Lalasz is director of science communications at The Nature Conservancy.

The evidence keeps sprouting up like daffodils: Experiencing nature is good for us — physically, emotionally, cognitively. (Check out this new study on how a walk in the park can reduce brain fatigue.) But as the world becomes ever more urbanized, which urbanites have enough access to nature to reap these benefits…and how can we make that access more equitable?

Enter City Nature — a new project from Stanford University that maps the “greenness” and “paved-ness” of more than 2,500 neighborhoods in 34 U.S. cities (as determined by the shade of remotely sensed pixels) and then lays over that demographic data such as ethnic diversity and average home value as well as access to parks to produce portraits of American urban nature — who lacks it, who has it in abundance, and how those disparities match up with individual city plans and visions.

Those disparities are wide, according to Jon Christensen, an environmental historian who is one of City Nature’s two principal investigators and who teaches in UCLA’s History Department and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The hope, says Christensen, is that urban planners and activists can use City Nature’s data to eventually pinpoint the neighborhoods that have the greatest “nature need” — and take action.

But City Nature’s data also holds surprises — including how much urban nature in the United States has happened in spite of central planning, and how little impact great landscape architects such as Frederick Olmsted have had on that development. I caught up with Christensen to learn more:

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City Nature has a project called “Naturehoods” that measures neighborhood proximity to parks as well as neighborhood levels of “greenness” — which includes plants in backyards, parkways, street tree canopies. What disparities are you finding between parks and greenness across the United States? And does having a park nearby always mean you have “access” to greenness?

JON CHRISTENSEN: Parks don’t seem to be distributed in U.S. cities in a way that is biased towards any particular class. That’s partly a historical artifact of the way the cities have developed and the flight to the suburbs — there are lots of parks throughout cities.

But greenness or unpaved spaces tend to not be evenly distributed. There is a tendency — although it’s not uniform — that greener parts of cities tend to be wealthier neighborhoods with higher per-capita income and higher percentages of owner-occupied homes. That doesn’t mean that wealthy people live only in green parts of town — they can choose to live wherever they want, so they are often found in a lot of different neighborhoods and increasingly, we know, back in dense downtowns where there is often less green space.

But the greenest parts of cities often seem to be areas where people have big lots, backyards, lots of trees, nearby open space, and expensive homes. An economist might say these homeowners have made a trade-off. As one person I talked to here in L.A. told me, she doesn’t need a park, she has a big backyard. She’s only been to the local park once in decades. By contrast, the least green parts of town often seem to be home to people with lower incomes and less valuable property. They might have parks, but those parks may be more neglected, run down, more paved over to make maintenance easier for cash-strapped city park agencies, and there are fewer trees and smaller backyards, if any, and less open space around.

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Everyday Nature: How I Came To Love House Centipedes

I’ve been called a lot of strange things in my life, but I never thought I could be called a nematode-lover.

I certainly never envisioned a day when my wife would start referring to house centipedes – those terrifying huge invertebrates that seem to have a million legs and run at top speed – as our “honored guests.”

We’re definitely not “bug people,” so what turned us around?

As an ecologist, I can appreciate that even unlovable critters serve valuable functions in nature like decomposing organic matter and keeping the populations of other organisms in check.

Then again, I never thought the indoors had room for biodiversity or strange “guests.” Living in the aptly named “eco-house” in college (where a dirt floor basement and holes in the walls contributed to hefty populations of slugs, moths, flies, and more) forced me to get used to it, but it certainly wasn’t my ideal living situation.

So you can imagine my unhappiness when I discovered several years ago that I’d moved into a condo chock full of house centipedes.

Then the ecologist in me started wondering why they were there, and what would happen if I successfully got rid of them.

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