Schoolyards, backyards, vacant plots and parks can be restored or turned into green spaces. These green spaces can be managed to provide benefits to people, wildlife and the environment.
There are a variety of actions people can take to make an outdoor space more environmentally friendly and support the community. (1) Stop or limit pesticide and herbicide use to protect pollinators and reduce the amount of chemical contaminants entering waterways. (2) Use rain barrels to conserve water, save on water bills, and replenish the groundwater. (3) Plant with native plants and install gardens to support wildlife, cutdown on maintenance, clean runoff and promote outdoor learning. (4) Plant trees to provide habitat and clean the air and water. (5) Support wildlife year-round by planting a diversity of plants to ensure food and shelter are available every season. These are only some examples! There are many steps people can take to create an outdoor space that benefits the environment.
Working on these green spaces within a community also benefits people. Green spaces near people can benefit their mental, social, and physical health by reducing stress, cleaning the air, providing relief from heat islands, reducing crime, and boosting overall health. Unfortunately there isn’t equal access to green spaces and these benefits. According to the Trust for Public Land, in the United States, people of color “have access to an average of 44 percent less park acreage than predominantly white neighborhoods, and similar park space inequalities exist in low-income neighborhoods.”
Connecting to Issue Investigation
Working on green spaces within the community can come in many forms so can serve as a solution to a variety of investigations. Investigations assessing the water quality, air quality, and local habitat can provide evidence to reduce chemical use on land, clean runoff and install more native plants. Investigations looking at green space access and their human health benefits can support a solution of increasing access.
For those working towards green school awards, this action can reduce a school’s environmental impact if the action takes place on school grounds and can improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff by adding more green spaces to enjoy.
Facilitating Student Action
Students should continue to have opportunities to share ideas and opinions throughout the process of identifying, planning, and implementing action. Listed here are just a few ways students can stay engaged while working on this solution—but there are many more! The complexity of each activity/task can be adjusted for each grade level.
Restore - before creating a new green space, students should survey the community for places that need to be revitalized. Students can advocate for a green space renewal, speak with community members to learn why it is in a state of needed restoration, and conduct interviews to learn how to make it better serve the community’s needs.
Create - students can create new green spaces within the community. Using the results from their investigations, students can suggest actions to take to benefit the community and surrounding environment.
Educate - students can educate the community on actions they can take in their own outdoor spaces or what to advocate for in their local parks to benefit the environment and their community. This education campaign can take many forms to flyers, posters, emails or presentations at parent nights.
Advocate - students can advocate for more or restored green spaces in their community. Students can submit letters or present to community leaders or the town council on the human health and environmental benefits.
Share and Celebrate - students can share their work with the broader community by giving tours of local green spaces, giving presentations, creating displays, or writing and delivering morning announcements. Students can also write articles, press releases or invite reporters from the school paper and the local newspaper.
Green Spaces for the Environment Resources
The Green Pattern Book: Using Vacant Land to Create Greener Neighborhoods in Baltimore has a wealth of information on green parking to neighborhood parks. The guide includes some Baltimore-specific information on funding and permits but the majority of the resource can be used by anyone in a built environment because it includes information on selecting, designing, and maintaining a site.
Green Schoolyards America offers schoolyard planning resources that focus on designing green spaces for inclusive learning and play while adding ecological benefits. Check out their start-up toolkit for how to reimagine using and improving your schoolyard. The toolkit can be used in community green spaces as well.
The Trust for Public Lands created a ParkScore index. Use this tool to explore park access in the 100 largest US cities.
Project Learning Tree gathered some innovative ways to create more urban green spaces to get your thinking!