In our world of exponential population growth and rapid urbanization, environmental conservancy often takes a backseat to development. We see this happening all around the globe: in Asia, the Mekong River is being dammed to provide hydroelectric power to surrounding areas. Closer to home, the Colorado River has been rerouted, dammed, and harnessed to irrigate farmland and supply water for millions of people. The benefits of such actions come at a cost. Devastating environmental impacts, from loss of native animal and plant species to wide-ranging droughts and flooding, often go hand-in-hand with our efforts to harness our natural resources for our use, and our cities are the first to face these consequences.
It is not realistic to revert rivers and deltas to their original natural states, and we are dependent on how these spaces currently benefit us. However, people are increasingly coming to see the importance of cleaning up and rehabilitating our ecology, to the extent that we can.
Cities benefit tremendously from cleaning up and restoring natural habitats. Increased bike paths and walkways have been linked with clear health benefits – along with encouraging physical exercise, they also mean less car traffic, which means less air pollution. Clean, revitalized waterfronts with dedicated areas for business provide prime real estate for housing, restaurants, and shops. As our climate continues to change, ecological restoration can also translate into safer cities, since restored marshes absorb floodwaters that would normally inundate a city, and open waterways handle rain much better than buried sewers and runoff pipes do. In an increasingly warmer climate, trees and vegetation have been shown to reduce surface temperatures, especially in areas covered with a lot of asphalt or concrete. Providing enjoyable outdoor spaces for residents also improves quality of life. There are many, many reasons for re-investing in our natural spaces, and our communities are leading the way.
For example, the Los Angeles River, a forty-eight mile long river that was boxed in by concrete in 1938 and largely closed off the to public, is now undergoing a “habitat enhancement,” which includes restoring small creeks, planting native trees and shrubs, recreating 719 acres of wetlands, and removing concrete to create riparian habitats. City leadership, residents, and environmental groups have worked together with the federal and state government to set this project in motion. In New York the Bronx River, previously one of the most blighted waterways in the country, is getting a second chance as clean-up efforts take off and parks and green spaces are built. Community groups and residents jointed with local government and federal agencies to accomplish this. Three rivers that flow into Lake Michigan have been cleaned up from years of pollution, dumping, and sewage overflows. Parts of these rivers are now filled with people boating and fishing, wildlife has returned, and restaurants, shops, and high-end condos and apartments now line many portions of the rivers’ edges. This restoration effort could not have been possible without community leadership and regional cooperation.
These successful habitat enhancement projects all center on community collaboration.
Together, we can act on our climate challenge by taking steps that will also help us closer to home. Here’s how communities can collaborate for effective climate solutions:
- Come up with solutions together. By uniting to come up with solutions to problems in their own backyards, city leaders and residents feel more invested in ensuring its outcomes.
- Collaborate with local businesses, especially those that will be directly affected by environmental mitigation plans. Helping businesses see that ecological restoration offers opportunities instead of obstacles is an important way to shore up support and gain allies. For instance, a cleaned-up waterfront attracts more customers and visitors, providing restaurants with strong incentives to support restoration efforts.
- Include a broad cross-section of the community. Students, non-profit organizations, churches, schools, and residents are all an important part of the community and have much to contribute when it comes to large-scale projects.
- Get city and local officials on-board. Having access to their resources, funding, and support is important in getting your plans off the ground.
- There is strength in numbers. Being able to show that various local community groups and residents support your project makes the project much more likely to get support and funding at the state and federal levels.
- Communicate clearly and effectively. Inspire and empower your officials and residents to take action, and emphasize solutions. To find out more about communicating about climate change in your city, check out our communications guide at Let’s Talk Climate.
Together, we can lead on healthy communities and a healthier environment. Join Path to Positive Communities for more resources.
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