Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Using Parks to Demonstrate Sustainability

People tend to emulate what they see, but many sustainable practices are invisible. Composting, raingardens, leaf corrals--these tend to be in the backyard. Buildings don't advertise their carbon footprints. Making sustainable practices visible is an important step towards more widespread adoption.

Parks can be a great place to teach both kids and adults about sustainable practices--simple things, like letting the nutrients in leaves cycle back into the soil from which they came, or separating out recyclables from trash, or utilizing water runoff to feed a raingarden. The small municipal park behind my house holds a few examples.

First is the humble bucket hooked to the trash bin that makes a handy place for park users to put their recyclables. Nothing could be simpler, or cheaper to install, yet the duct-tape on this bucket testifies to its many years of service, and the copious, clean contents testify to the visual clarity this setup provides. Many high-priced recycling/trash dual containers encountered elsewhere may look good, but provide no clear visual cues as to where to put recyclables.

Second is the mulch mowing done in the fall. As the oak trees whose shade provides a haven for birthday parties and other gatherings in the summer have grown, they've generated more leaves. Two autumns ago, I watched as a crew of five spent four hours blowing the leaves into piles and hauling them away. Why not mow the leaves back into the grass, and save lots of staff and trucking time?

The parks department agreed, and now mows the leaves back into the grass. Yes, the lawn may appear less verdant for a month or two in the fall/winter as the leaf fragments break down and return to the soil, but the extra nutrients and organic matter sustain a healthy lawn the next year.

Aesthetics is a recurring issue in sustainable practices. The consequences of nature-abusive behavior (fossil fuel use, landfills, water pollution) are not seen by most people. For anyone who can visualize those consequences, though, the park's highly functional recycling bucket, or a solar panel on a telephone pole, or a mulch-mowed lawn, or a leaf corral in the frontyard, are welcome sights.

The water faucet offers an opportunity to demonstrate how water runoff, whether from sump pumps, air conditioners, water fountains, roofs or asphalt, can be used to feed a raingarden. This park has yet to take advantage of that opportunity.

A leaf corral--this one's in my front yard--is another possibility, though it would likely need to be made out of sturdier materials to endure the (welcome) hands-on curiosity of kids.

Parks are a place where people have some time on their hands to take a look around, and where some learning can happen. Let's use them.

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