Open Voices Blog

News and conversations about the growing evidence of the healing power of nature and green development in cities

Open Voices News Roundup: April 30

Posted on 04/30/13

Every week, we bring you the latest news in placemaking, landscape architecture, the nature-mental health link, and much more. Check back each week for new roundups and items.

Tune Up Your Immune System in the Garden
Sure, a backyard garden is a place of beauty, an attraction for birds, insects, and wildlife, and a personalized market for the most local produce imaginable, but did you know that your garden can also tune up your immune system, ward off depression, and even make you smarter? It’s been nearly 25 years since Dr. David Strachan first proposed the Hygiene Hypothesis, linking skyrocketing incidences of immune system disorders like allergies and asthma to the hyper-clean environments that people in the developed world inhabited in the second half of the 20th century.

Community Wisdom + Expert Knowledge = Good Community Design
Have you ever been at a meeting about a community issue and heard the statement, “We don’t need some outsider coming in and telling us what to do?” I know I have. This phrase points to a common challenge I see when working in rural communities balancing the value of community input with expert knowledge in community design. So, how do we move off of this dynamic towards a more effective model? By recognizing the best of what both sides bring to the equation and designing a process that leverages both strengths.

Why a Strong City Takes More than Clean Silverware
Last week I had the pleasure of being in the presence of more than 300 Placemakers at the inaugural meeting of the Placemaking Leadership Council in Detroit. I was excited to attend, not least because of the energy and great ideas of everyone there. But, more selfishly, I’d also been nursing a conundrum for a while, and was glad to have a forum in which to hash it out. The argument went something like this: The South and West Sides of Chicago are experiencing record-high homicides. Schools are closing left and right. Demand for affordable housing is far outstripping supply. Why spend money on optional efforts like riverwalks in an already booming downtown district in the face of these basic needs?

Urban Parks v. Rural Parks
Rural parks departments don’t have the large tax base large city parks departments have, so playground equipment may be rusty, due for repairs, or completely unusable due to safety concerns. Deferred maintenance, or waiting to maintain something until the next budget period or longer, is a typical practice for all municipalities throughout all departments to keep budgets low. It’s a short-term fix for a long-term problem. A little bit of skimping on a small problem now usually turns into a big issue totaling much more than the maintenance ever would have cost. Urban parks are in much more densely populated areas and have many more visitors each day. Due to this larger tax base, parks departments in cities can afford to offer unique amenities. Flower gardens, innovative and inclusive playgrounds, and duck ponds are some popular choices for those city parks departments that have wiggle room in their budget.

Madison’s Reality Distortion Field, Or A Look at the Farmers Market by Chuck Banas
Madison, Wisconsin is an incredible place. I mean that in both the literal and figurative senses of the word. The city has tangibly more vitality than say, Denver, at about one-sixth the size. That’s the thing that immediately struck me, how few people it takes to create a vibrant, energetic city. At least in this country, that is. Madison is in complete defiance of the way that the vast majority of U.S. cities and towns have developed, with their ubiquitously dead downtowns and placeless, mind-numbing, soul-sucking, vitality-sapping, automobile-based sprawl. In this sense, the city has much more in common with Europe than North America.

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