Thursday, September 14, 2017
Ted Hartsig, Environmental
Those trees in your yard are saving you anywhere from 15 to 25 percent on your cooling and heating bills each year. That doesn’t include the 15 percent or more they add to the value of your property. Or the savings they provide in upkeep and repairs by catching rainfall and allowing it to infiltrate the soil, protecting your home and nearby properties from erosion and flooding. Trees, shrubs, and grasses reduce runoff volumes, thereby regulating stream flow and reducing the potential for flooding; and they clean the air of dust and many pollutants. Just as important, well-planned green streets and parks that include native vegetation improve commerce and attract customers and visitors. Numerous studies demonstrate that owners and tenants stay longer in green communities, and more people want to visit these inviting, stress-reducing areas.
The benefits that can be derived from urban tree cover and other urban natural resources don’t just happen. We have to work with nature to receive the value and economic benefits of these natural resources. It’s much more than just planting a seed and hoping it grows; the vegetation that protects our properties is also critically dependent on healthy soil and clean water, which are our other abundant natural resources.
We see the beauty of the trees and other vegetation in our urban environment every day. Water is always on our minds: often we have either too much of it, or too little. Soil, on the other hand, is the often forgotten and mismanaged resource that is the fundamental foundation for maintaining a healthy urban environment. In most cities, topsoil is often compacted, pulverized, and often stripped away, with the expectation that planting trees and placing sod – along with copious amounts of water and fertilizer – will restore the landscape. Not so! Soil is a complex composite of organic matter and living organisms combined with the mineral sand, silt, and clay that are not only vital to vegetation and water movement and storage, but also serve an important role in regulating our environment and creating green spaces of value. Without good, living soil, vegetation will struggle to survive and water will rapidly move off the landscape.
Kansas City has a good record of investing in the protection of natural resources. Recognizing the importance that the proper balance of plants, soil, and water play in stormwater management, Kansas City will invest more than $68 million in green infrastructure projects over the next few years. The first of these projects has been completed within Kansas City’s historic Marlborough neighborhood. Lenexa’s Rain to Recreation program focuses on preserving Lenexa’s natural resources as a way of more cost-effectively managing stormwater and enhancing the quality of life for Lenexa residents. As a result, in 2011, Money magazine named the city one of the best places to live in the U.S. Lenexa has become a role model for other communities that are interested in the benefits of green infrastructure and good natural resource management. Citywide, the Metrogreen and other local trail systems include more than 1,000 miles of trails, scattered in various communities around the metro, plus a growing number of bike lanes, most of which connect more than 90,000 acres of stream corridors that have been conserved by 14 metro communities.
Maximizing Kansas City’s natural resources requires deliberate actions if we are to benefit from their services, including:
Kansas City’s natural resources have been mapped to understand how and where these resources can contribute to the growth and prosperity of our region. This information is available at http://www.marc.org/Environment/Natural-Resources/Natural-Resources-Inventory/Natural-Resource-Inventory.
Kansas City is in the right spot for having great natural resources. When you’re out walking around your neighborhood, remember that the green spaces you see are more than just trees. The balance of plants, soil, and water is a subtle but strong economic boon.
(Ted Hartsig is a senior scientist in Olsson's Overland Park, Kansas office. This article was prepared for a special supplement in the Kansas City Business Journal.)