PARKS: Soundproofing Our Future

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According to an old proverb, the eyes are the windows of the soul.

As the world’s population continues growing at record speed with most of this growth concentrated in urban areas, parks are the windows to the soul of the city. While this growth brings promise and opportunity to our cities, it also puts enormous pressures on our natural resources and brings about more extremes. Sea level rise, mega-storms, record temperatures and severe droughts are becoming the new normal.

Naturally, cities are looking at watersheds, wetlands and forests as assets that can help us withstand more extreme and crowded conditions.

A park is a space where the community comes together to relax and enjoy cultural and recreational activities. Trees of our parks filter and absorb the carbon emissions we create. They serve as giant lungs. It is somewhat difficult to imagine giant lungs in the middle of the city — but here we are — acres and acres of green lungs help Every City USA generate clean air.

From the 1,000-plus acre urban Golden Gate Park in San Francisco boasting attractions including the Japanese Tea Gardens to New York’s Central Park where it is so easy to get lost in the urban forest, city parks in America are a cherished treasure and lungs of the city.

Nowhere is the care for parks as evident as in Scandinavia. During my recent visit to Denmark, I made a point to enjoy the abundant public parks. Under the flowering chestnut trees, Danes were strolling, bicycling, sunbathing and reading. Copenhagen is famous for the historic and colorful Tivoli Garden, in its resplendent glory, but it also teems with pocket parks — former parking lots or small parcels of land that are now budding pocket parks. Did you know that it is official 2015 Copenhagen city policy that all citizens must be able to reach a park or beach on foot in less than 15 minutes?

How does Houston stack up? Houston parks date back to 1916 and the City of Houston stewards and maintains 366 developed parks and over 200 green spaces. Amongst the traditional parks, there are dog parks, fitness centers, hike and bike trails, skate parks and playgrounds.

Did you know that there is a large statue of Mahatma Gandhi, Great Confucius, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Benito Juarez in Houston’s Hermann Park? The park is nestled between the Museum District, the Texas Medical Center and Rice University. Many have seen an outdoor performance at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, played a round of golf on the Hermann Park Golf Course or made a spring visit to the Japanese Garden or the Houston Garden Center.

It’s all part of the Art in Parks program by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.The City established an ordinance back in 1999, mandating that 1.75% of qualified Capital Improvement Project monies be set aside for civic art. The Houston Arts Alliance was formed shortly thereafter to fund and promote the public arts in Houston. As of today, there are 91 pieces of municipal art in 24 parks around the city. Why not make it a great summer family activity and find all 91? (http://www.houstontx.gov/parks/artinparks/)

So many of us experience high levels of stress and fatigue these days — mental or physical — sitting in front of the computer, working on reports, keeping up with time zone differences and working until wee hours of the night. When can you “work in” nature, you ask? And where? Just take a walk in the park. Walking in nature, surrounded by plants and fresh air is good for our brains in more ways than one. Studies show that spending time in nature helps to conquer mental fatigue and boost our cognitive functioning. And work up a sweat too, which is great for our bodies.

Right in the heart of downtown Houston, Discovery Green Park is a welcome respite from the bustling city center in all seasons. In the summer, the dog-friendly park is a popular family destination. Visitors cool off by the water fountains and enjoy food, music, festivals and outdoor movie screenings. In winter, many are headed to Discovery Green for ice-skating and a hot tea or coffee.

Houston has a giving and collaborative spirit benefiting — among others — Houston’s urban forests. Through collaborations with forward-thinking organizations, the Houston Parks Board, Inc. creates and maintains Houston’s green spaces. For example, the Parks Board’s partnership with the Hermann Park and Memorial Park Conservancy groups have raised millions of dollars for specific park projects that benefit Houston today and invests in Houston’s green future.

How can you participate in keeping Houston’s parks alive for generations to come? Join or support one of the following partner organizations: Buffalo Bayou Partnership, Bayou City Outdoors, Houston Arboretum & Nature Center, Keep Houston Beautiful, Memorial Park Conservancy, Hermann Park Conservancy, The Heritage Society or Houston Parks Board.

If eyes are the windows of the soul, then Houston is a vibrant and generous city. We should count our blessings because Houston’s parks are not only the eyes of Houston’s soul but also its amazing green lungs, filtering our air and soundproofing our future in light of rapid growth.

 BY TAJANA MESIC

As President of GGG Sustainability Solutions, Tajana Mesic is a conservationist, speaker and a writer. By delving deep into best practices of sustainable solutions globally, she leverages them for her clients locally. 

When not working, Tajana can be found knee deep in her garden or involved in her small community as a Parks Commissioner. You can reach Tajana at tajanamesic@greengrovegroup.com.

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