By Community Stewardship Program Coordinator, Conor Michaud
Massachusetts is the 15th most populated state in the nation and as growth trends continue, the communities within the Commonwealth face increasing environmental concerns, intensified by the burgeoning state. Climate change has recently catalyzed some of the most creative solutions to population growth and fading grey infrastructure. As Massachusetts grows, particularly in the Boston metro area, concerns around stormwater runoff, rising temperatures, and compromised air quality in urban landscapes will need to be addressed through innovation and community commitment.
For nearly half a century, Wildlands has been helping to stave off the local effects of climate change through the implementation and conservation of green infrastructure (GI). The Environmental Protection Agency defines GI as “…a cost-effective, resilient approach to managing wet weather impacts that provides many community benefits…green infrastructure reduces and treats stormwater at its source while delivering environmental, social, and economic benefits.” GI is not a new idea but it has become an essential lens in which urban redevelopment is viewed.
Using the GI lens, impermeable surfaces are redesigned to allow for water passage and stormwater filtration. Street trees and rain gardens are some examples of nature-inspired adaptations which not only facilitate storm water management but help to purify the air, cool our cities, and benefit urban agriculture, all while playing an important role in the mental and physical health of city residents.
Conservation of open space is one of the most significant types of GI. Land conservation in proximity to urban areas greatly reduces localized climate effects while providing city residents with essential exposure to the natural world. Since 1973 Wildland has been working to protect Massachusetts’ natural spaces and promote open space as an opportunity to connect with nature. Helping to sustain the health of Southeastern Massachusetts has long been Wildlands’ mission and within the last ten years, Wildlands has been able to bring its expertise to the city of Brockton.
Wildlands acquired the Brockton Audubon Preserve in 2012 and began working with the city to reestablish the adjacent Stone Farm Conservation Area over the last two years. Together, these preserves comprise over 200 acres of protected woodland and wetland habitat, which help to regulate temperatures in surrounding neighborhoods, filter stormwater runoff, and sequester carbon. All of this occurring only 3 miles from the city center.
Like other Gateway Cities, Brockton is in the midst of redeveloping a formerly robust urban landscape to promote economic growth while creating a safe and attractive home for its residents. A city’s vitality, especially in consideration of a growing population, is now critically linked to GI. In an urban landscape where there is often limited space, making land conservation near impossible, other solutions must be thought of.
Over the last two years Wildlands has partnered with Brockton and the Department of Conservation and Recreation to increase the urban tree canopy through the Greening the Gateway Cities Program (GGCP). Through this free tree program the partnership will help to decrease the heating and cooling demand on residential properties while raising the real-estate value within these neighborhoods. Numerous other cities across the nation have implemented similar tree programs to effectively reduce the impacts of climate change while empowering their communities through increased property values and the natural beautification of trees.
The GI revolution affects society in a number of ways aside from the environmental and health benefits. The economic impact goes beyond saving on energy costs; the widespread implementation of GI is now beginning to have an effect on the local workforce and the future of the job market. With an increase in the urban tree canopy comes an increased demand for skilled labor and urban foresters. Investing in GI will require an investment in the green technology workforce and the citizens who inhabit these rapidly redeveloping cities. Organizations are already beginning to see this trend and are developing training and internship programs to provide new skills for those interested in joining the field.
Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MACEC), for example, helps match aspiring clean energy employees with green technology companies within the Commonwealth. Organizations like MACEC are helping to keep the Massachusetts workforce in place by providing potential employees with an opportunity to expand their skill set while working for a cause that will sustain their community. While green job training and environmental education is becoming more prevalent there are some organizations taking the green technology and GI workforce one step further.
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is pushing the boundary on innovation and commitment to a sustainable future with the development of the Sustainability Accelerator. The accelerator is designed to fast track green innovations by providing a space for incubation and connecting entrepreneurs with potential funding sources. Efforts to sustain the GI and green technology revolution are essential to preserving our cities and providing a home for future generations. Equally important, is working with the communities most impacted by climate change to discuss and implement GI and discover opportunities for career advancement and workplace innovation.
While groups like TNC and MACEC are working directly with the work force, Wildlands is taking a different approach to the redesign of our urban landscapes, focusing on environmental education and public exposure to natural spaces. The long established partnership with Brockton High School has allowed Wildlands to aid in student’s education and demonstrate the possibilities for environmental and community based work through Envirothon. Community outreach in the Greening the Gateway Cities Program goes beyond helping put trees in the ground; weekly one-on-one canvassing interactions with Brockton residents are opportunities to discuss the importance of GI and ask each resident to take a step forward in helping to protect their environment.
The goal of developing healthy and environmentally conscious communities across Massachusetts is not lofty. Wildlands realizes that these efforts must start from the ground up through land conservation, community outreach, and environmental education. The commitment to the protection of open space in perpetuity is a commitment to the communities within these spaces and a commitment to help build a more healthy and equitable planet.