Thursday, December 17, 2009

Urban Green Spaces Improve Health

A recent Dutch study has concluded that people living within one kilometer of green space had improved health in 15 out of 24 conditions, even after researchers adjusted for other health factors. Respiratory and depression/anxiety disorders were particularly affected, suggesting that the physical factor of cleaner air and the emotional benefit of being near nature both contributed. The study looked at people within a 3 kilometer radius of parks, and the benefit was greatest for those withing 1 kilometer, which makes sense to me, because the thing I prize most about my neighborhood is that I'm only three blocks from Overton Park. However, anxiety symptoms, infectious diseases of the digestive system and medically unexplained symptoms were relieved even with green spaces that were farther from the home.

The healthy influence was greatest for children and least for the elderly, who as a group do not get out of their homes as easily as other demographics. Children were 21% less likely to suffer from depression if they lived near green areas.

Dr Jolanda Maas of the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, said: "It clearly shows that green spaces are not just a luxury but they relate directly to diseases and the way people feel in their living environments. Most of the diseases which are related to green spaces are diseases which are highly prevalent and costly to treat so policy makers need to realize that this is something they may be able to diminish with green spaces."

Memphis, near the bottom of the nation for city land devoted to parks, needs to treasure and maintain the parkland we have while looking for opportunities to expand it. I would also argue that we need to stop using the green spaces we do have as overflow parking lots, a sporadic problem at several parks and an ongoing problem in Overton Park with zoo parking on the one big meadow every nice weekend. Brian Carter from the zoo told Park Friends last night that the zoo is diligently seeking a solution that will replace the system of depriving Overton Park of its peaceful meadow during every beautiful weekend day of the year (and a good many other days besides). I hope they can come up with this solution quickly. This situation has gone on too long already and is only getting worse as the zoo's popularity builds.

Read more about this study here and here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Civic Welcome

CA photo by Mark Weber
I drove over to West Memphis Friday evening, coincidentally on the same day that the CA ran an article about the new gateway of light that welcomes visitors to their fair city. I noticed first the light making a beautiful and changing space underneath the Missouri Street overpass, and then I drove past a park with an abundant, creative array of holiday lights. It's the sort of display that both the zoo and Shelby Farms charge money to see, but in West Memphis, it's simply out for civic enjoyment. The whole effect was deeply welcoming.

This civic welcome mat put out by West Memphis reminded me of the delight I felt on arriving in St. Louis for the first time in years and seeing plantings, hanging baskets, beautifully manicured parks, and public art everywhere. If a city presents itself as beautiful, well kept, and creative to both visitors and its own citizens, people are far more likely to value the city and work to maintain it as beautiful, well kept, and creative. Frederick Law Olmstead understood this when he designed parks connected to parkways that stretched through the heart of a city, tying the city to beauty and vice versa.

Memphis has beautiful bones -- a parkway system of our own, lovely parks, great potential in areas like the fairgrounds and Overton Square, and a magnificent river. Let's work on our welcome mat. Let's beautify our city with well kept civic spaces, well manicured parks, and creative public art projects that all add up to make people want to live, work, and play in Memphis.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Overton Park Art

I've been doing a lot of landscapes in Overton Park lately, including my newest woodcut (above). It's the park nearest my home and one of my special places, and I walk and look and paint on a regular basis. My husband Elmore's work is also linked closely to the park. He picks up sections of fallen trees all around Midtown and makes windsor chairs, tables, bowls, and other things from them. He picks up occasional wood in the park and is also just inspired by the amazing array of hardwood that grows so richly in this region. The Old Forest is Memphis's finest example of our heritage in that regard.

Elmore and I will be having our Holiday Open House this weekend, Saturday and Sunday from 12-5 both days, at 1780 Autumn (the northwest corner of Autumn and Hawthorne). We'd love for you to drop in, see our latest park inspired work, and have cider and cookies with us. Come by and say hi!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cargill stepping up again

I keep seeing Cargill in the news lately doing wonderful, civic-minded sorts of things. The latest is that they're sponsoring a clean-up, along with Living Lands and Waters, of the Wolf River Harbor downtown this Saturday, Dec. 5th, 8am to noon. Bundle up and be ready to get in a john boat and clean up from the water. Since they're providing boats (and lunch!), they need to have a head count ahead of time, so call Matt McLeane at 634-3234 to volunteer. More information at Friends for our Riverfront's website.

Our waterfront definitely needs more tlc, esp. since the city and the the RDC have dragged their heels for years on putting up screens on the storm drains into the harbor. Every time it rains, all the litter on the streets is washed right into the river. We need to be more responsible about what we dump into the Mississippi. If Elmore and I weren't giving our open house this weekend, we'd be right down there in our kayaks to help out.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Lick Creek Update

Mary Cashiola's article in the Flyer was a good overview, but I thought I'd add some photos and a little more detail about the two possible dams on the zoo end.

The main plan of widening the box culvert under Poplar and widening a couple of bridges just downstream of Poplar in the park (the golf course area) seems to be set, but all that widening lets in a lot more water at once, in order to relieve the flooding in Belleair Circle. The trouble at the zoo end is that all that water would smash into the zoo, which is already having flooding issues.

The original plan submitted by the engineers had a dam running along the fence between the zoo and its parking lot, beginning just to the right of the entrance plaza (photo above). There's already a fence here, and just a line of scrub hollies (photo below), so it makes sense as a place to put a wall, that would need to be five or so feet high.

However, the zoo has recently requested that the wall be pushed to the very fringe of their parking lot and run around the edge of the Greensward, either on top or just outside the line of maturing oaks that are growing there as a screen (photo below).
These oaks (below) that jut out into the line of the parking lot might be lost all together, even if the engineers save the ones inside the small fence around the existing culvert (above).
Pushing this concrete wall/dam to the edge of the Greensward moves the dam to lower ground, meaning that a textured concrete wall will rise to be 6-8 feet high in most places instead of the lower height that would be necessary where a fence already exists along the front of the zoo. It will be an intrusive visual barrier to those using the Greensward and may well destroy many of the trees around the edge of the Greensward, either through cutting them down or damage during construction or a higher amount of standing water around their roots.

The zoo wants to keep every square inch of its parking lot out of the flood plain, even though that small, far corner of its lot is in the flood plain under existing conditions, as are many roads and parking areas in other parts of Midtown. The zoo, unlike these other roads and lots, has daily parking attendants who could cone the area off on days when rain is predicted (and the entire lot is never needed on rainy days), and they also have a loudspeaker system that could announce possible flooding if heavy rains come and warn people to move their cars.

The Lick Creek Coalition, excepting only the zoo's representative, voted to urge the city to stay with its original plan. Since the zoo is benefitting from the flood control, they should be willing to have some small part of the necessary construction in their part of the park instead of pushing it all out to the Greensward and golf course. The zoo is looking at further options and will be meeting again this month with the neighborhood and park groups that comprise the Lick Creek Coalition to see if they can come up with a plan that doesn't intrude so strongly on the Greensward. We look forward to hearing their ideas.

Cargill Cotton Fixes Park Playgrounds

Photo by Mike Maple of the CA.

There's a great article in today's paper about the employees at Cargill teaming up to renovate playgrounds and three city parks. The park budget has been cut more severely than other city services, and it's beginning to show in the amount of maintenance and even just grass-cutting that the DPS is able to do with the money they get. Good for Cargill for stepping in to make a difference to city kids. Maybe some other companies with the resources and manpower can do park projects as well. I'm self employed, but if anyone works for these good citizen kind of companies, please suggest our parks as a worthy beneficiary of some volunteer resources.

Our parks and public spaces are one of the most visible ways Memphis shows how it values itself to visitors from elsewhere, including owners of companies who might be interested in moving here. If we don't value ourselves, how can we expect others to do so?