After I return to my dorm after a stressful day of classes and schoolwork, I retreat to a place that is always there for me to de-stress: the Arboretum. From my vantage point, I watch the sky go from blue to orange to purple as I visit the highest point of the Arb around dinner time. It truly works wonders for my mental health, at least on a day-to-day basis. Even so, I often wonder about the real advantages these green spaces have for us and if they improve the quality of our response to climate change.
Experiencing the benefits of green space first hand truly feels like a blessing. Our psychological connections with nature are some of the most habitual and necessary ones that we make, so it makes sense why our brains are tailored to essentially feel revived by plant life. Since the establishment of the Arb in 1907, the University of Michigan has been able to shape this green space into a place for many uses, including exercising, leisure and studying the local ecosystem.
Various directors have led incremental initiatives to expand the property of the Arb and utilize it for its topography and biodiversity. Among many initiatives, a few of the most important strategies span from maintaining the natural beauty of the topographical features and vegetation since 1916 to creating multicultural and intersectional art installations in 2000. As a result, it’s clear our green spaces in Ann Arbor, such as the Arb and the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, have been developed in such a way that we are able to establish an important emotional connection with our local landscapes. While there are personal benefits to creating a meaningful relationship with nature, it’s easy to think that experiencing the natural environment without tampering with it benefits the green space as well.
On a broader scale, I’m curious to explore if the devastation that our world faces today is a result of the human population maintaining and creating less green space. At the same time, I believe there is a possibility that large green spaces, whether they be natural or urban, may not necessarily be a counteracting force against climate change. Essentially, the largest contributor to rising temperatures causing climate change is the emission of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon, from industrialized areas. Since cities are the most concentrated industrialized areas of our modern society, initiatives attempt to reduce the urban heat island effect and make large metropolitan areas less of a hot spot.
Even so, at the deliberate rate that the greening of cities is occurring, these initiatives are not enough to completely offset the level of heating that occurs with the emission of greenhouse gases at street level. This large-scale struggle is expanded on by Franco Montalto, a civil engineering professor at Drexel University, discussing the Javits Center in New York City: “Green infrastructure can help to mitigate the heat island effect, but local factors will determine by how much, and widespread greening of the city is going to be required to generate significant improvements at the urban scale.”
Though many of us, myself included, relish in the personal benefits of having accessibility to a massive green space like the Arb, we have to consider the fact that more should be done to improve the quality of the environment and public health. In other words, it’s not enough for the University to provide this green space as both a conservation of nature and a method of self-rehabilitation: We should be doing more to restore the quality of our environment and mend public health in the process.
Providing a cleaner, more regulated environment by creating green infrastructure in addition to green spaces should be the method that this city and the University uses to improve the quality of life of its inhabitants. As we have seen, there is a strong correlation between poor public health, both mental and physical, and the urgency of a changing climate. Furthermore, I urge the University to invest in methods that mitigate the negative consequences that Ann Arbor’s industry puts upon us and ultimately commit to complete carbon neutrality. We are grateful for these large green spaces that you make available to us, but we are dreaming of something more. I want us to have this mentality: Why can’t we have a permanent, far-reaching green space all around us instead of one that is only available for some escape? I believe that the strongest barrier we face in terms of avoiding climate change is action, and we need the total implementation of green spaces, green technology and green habits to propagate a series of actions that will eventually sustain a green lifestyle.
Kianna Marquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.