2017 was the year Cleveland turned its attention to “vibrant green space.” Since 2009, when the city launched a ten-year plan called Sustainable Cleveland 2019 (SC2019), the city’s Office of Sustainability has organized events and activities around a major sustainability theme.
Cleveland can lay claim to one of the more longstanding commitments to sustainability. SC2019‘s big event is the annual sustainability summit where hundreds of people gather for two days to consider opportunities on a theme. To date they have included renewable energy, local food, sustainable transportation and others.
The summit will take place on September 27 and 28 at Public Hall this year with the major focus on the role nature plays in promoting physical and mental health.
Leading up to the big event are smaller ones—like this week’s appearance at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History of environmental psychologist Kathleen Wolf.
Wolf noted there's a growing body of scientific evidence that having “nature nearby” improves health at all stages of life. Researchers are looking at how “a daily dose” of nature can improve health, including birth weight, incidents of ADHD in children, and reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and dementia.
“It’s not just nice to have,” Wolf said. "We actually need nature in our daily lives."
There’s still work to determine what is the “dosage” of nature we all need. But, Wolf shared, doctors are actually writing prescriptions to take a walk in a park.
We could use more “biophilic design” to support getting our daily dose of nature, she adds.
Biophilic design says University of Virginia Professor and Green Urbanism author Timothy Beatley, is “a city that puts nature first in its design, planning and management. It recognizes the essential need for daily human contact with nature as well as the many environmental and economic values provided by nature.”
Wolf said that Cleveland’s “Year of Vibrant Green Space” will make for a nice tie in to the body of knowledge coming from cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore, which have signed on to a network of biophilic cities.
As an organizing principle, biophilic cities might inspire someone to start a permaculture landscape business. Or volunteer to plant and maintain a tree on Arbor Day (April 28). Cleveland recently adopted a Tree Plan, and will begin planting trees this April, said summit coordinator, Dr. Cathi Lehn.
The Tree Plan is part of the city’s effort to reclaim its nickname The Forest City, Lehn said.
Many people understand the innate connection we have to nature even if it has been weakened as we're hard pressed to get outdoors. There are ways to bring nature into a constructed environment. Biophilic cities finds ways to bring small moments of nature closer to where people live. For example, Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Paduto at the urging of the director of the city’s botanical garden, Phipps Conservatory, signed the city on to the voluntary Biophilic Cities roster. Pittsburgh has made its riverfront clean up, trails and parks into a major green urbanism initiative.
Cleveland’s Office of Sustainability hopes to likewise make the Year of Vibrant Green Space the springboard for its tree plan and neighborhood re-greening efforts like its Climate Ambassadors program and Climate Action Plan. Wolf gave examples like adding parks near where incidents of chronic disease occur as a way of addressing "lifecycle diseases” like obesity and diabetes. She also mentioned programs like Strolls for Well Being, forest schools (classes where school children have creative time in the woods), the Children & Nature Network, and taking walking meetings as ideas in strengthening connections to nature.
“With all of the multitasking we’re doing, businesses are finding that mindfulness training and attention restoration can be beneficial." It's about observing nature and even patterns and materials in an open minded or "soft fascination” way.
She suggested involving medical facilities in the conversation. “We spend 17 percent of GDP on health services. Those are big bucks. We could look at patients and the presence of green space near their homes to see the effect trees have. We could spend some of those resources toward greening (our urban environment).”