The suburban impact of nature in modern cities


Laurier Science Building

I don’t claim to be an urban planner and my knowledge on this topic does not extend beyond my own research coupled with my binge-watching of Parks and Recreation., but as a life-long citizen of suburbia, I feel that my personal experience resonates with others. At which point did we go from parks that supported natural enrichment to parks that support sanitized ecosystems, redacted
of nearly all native species and harmony?

Beyond the aesthetic and organism-based benefits, climate shifts require us to adjust our surroundings. Cities are required to include green spaces. From canopy covers to infrastructure that encourages pedestrian traffic, yet often the case is that actual use of natural density is an afterthought — second to prop- ping up a couple of trees amidst levelled, manicured lawns.

In my opinion, this approach to a complex of natural elements leads to a disconnect from the well-being benefits nature provides and supports a bleak suburban experience. Although there are protected green spaces within Waterloo, such areas often satisfy the park’s criteria by having large areas of land which comprise of Kentucky blue-grass. Small parkettes and inner city patches host only the occasional bundle of bushes and seasonal plants that are restricted to designated spaces. On one hand, encouraging nature to refresh cemented city areas may encourage more animals and insects to wander closer to our brick and mortar establishments, but that is not nearly as large of an issue when we are able to control what foliage attracts certain species. The mindful planting of native flora overall helps elevate public spaces and encourages local gath- erings, photography and interactions with nature.

“Heat gaps” in cities demonstrate the differences between low and high income areas, as the number of trees and greenery substantially reduce heat by several degrees Celsius in certain areas within cities. Native plants are native for a reason – their evolution has adapted accordingly to the region’s climate fluctuations and these species have demonstrated their use within the ecosystem. On one end of the extreme, in 2022 the Nevada State Legislature outlawed non-functional turf lawns by the end of 2026 as part of their water conservation efforts. Their goal is to reduce water usage while promoting sustainable landscaping practices.

The ban applies to streetscapes, median strips, parking lots, traffic circles and other areas where foliage is utilized for aesthetics.

Instead, resident businesses are mandated to replace non-functional turf with drought-tolerant landscaping. This initiative is a large step in the right direction, which should encourage proactive approaches across more densely populated areas to promote water conservation, heat reduction and mindful landscaping amid ongoing concerns.

By constantly prioritizing saving money, building for the now and saving details for later, we deny ourselves the experience to stop and smell the flowers. With the week of June 17 making headlines for generating a heat wave near record highs in southern Ontario, staying cool is on everyone’s mind. We can (and would) benefit from better green space planning.

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