Climate Corner: Good news for everyone

May 11, 2024

Rebecca Phillips

Spring is a good time for some good news, given how surrounded we are by bad news so much of the time. The good news is even better when it pertains to a favorite spring activity: gardening.

Most of us are aware that cities tend to be hotter than rural areas and that parking lots are pretty miserable places to be on hot days. Concrete both absorbs and releases heat, increasing temperatures in adjacent areas by as much as 20 degrees, according to the EPA. With the longer, hotter summers predicted for much of the world, and with more than half the human population living in urbanized areas, this is bad news.

But I promised good news, and here it is. Cities and towns are exploring ways to mitigate or reduce the worst climate change effects: retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient, thereby increasing comfort and emitting less CO2; installing permeable paving to reduce stormwater runoff; improving public transit to make it more attractive; and making sidewalks and trails safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. More and more cities are expanding and improving their green spaces, with a particular focus on tree cover. As anyone who has spent any time walking knows, shady streets are much cooler than their unshaded counterparts.

And it’s not just trees that have this effect. A recent study completed by the University of Surrey in the UK found that botanical, or mixed, gardens lowered the temperature of adjacent streets by as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit, more than any other form of planting. Yes, planting the flowers that so many of us love along with trees and shrubs can actually make our towns more comfortable places to live, especially during heat waves.

Greening our towns has benefits beyond temperature reduction. Planted areas absorb stormwater and filter runoff, keeping more chemicals out of our groundwater and helping to prevent flooding. Access to green spaces has been shown to improve human mental health, important to all in these high-stress times. Perhaps even more important, mixed plantings are highly biodiverse, providing habitat for a variety of creatures, including the bees, birds, and butterflies whose populations have been declining in recent decades. Planting a mix of species, particularly those native to the area, in our yards and lawn strips creates wildlife corridors, allowing other lives to flourish alongside our own.

And the really good news is that anyone can turn their property into this kind of wildlife oasis; large spaces are not necessary. A Chicago gardener with a property the size of a standard downtown Marietta lot has documented over 100 species of birds in her yard. I have noted more than a dozen butterfly species in my 15×20-foot pollinator garden, and cardinals, chickadees, and wrens are nesting in the trees in our block’s lawn strip. Folks with only patios and porches can create potted oases that attract pollinating insects and hummingbirds. Imagine our towns with every street a garden park.

We in the MOV have a number of opportunities in the near future to help create these spaces that benefit everyone. For the next four Saturdays, we can take advantage of local plant sales, three of them featuring exclusively plants native to our region.

* May 18, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. 232 Third St., Marietta. The annual garden plant sale sponsored by the First Unitarian Universalist Society. The sale offers non-natives as well, but such local species as spiderwort, coreopsis, and monarda will be available.

Over the next three weekends, native-only plant sales will be held in Athens, Marietta, and Parkersburg, featuring plants grown by Natives in Harmony, LLC, of Mineral Wells and Rural Action of Athens. These sales are sponsored by the Broughton Nature and Wildlife Education Area, the West Virginia Master Naturalists, the Friends of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and the OSU Extension. Here are the times and locations.

* May 25, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. 751 W. Union St., Athens

* June 1, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.. Marietta Farmers Market, Third and Butler in downtown Marietta

* June 8, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Visit Greater Parkersburg, 113 Ann St., Parkersburg.

Just think, we can cool our towns, attract wildlife, and beautify our neighborhoods all at the same time. Let’s make every street a park.


Rebecca Phillips is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action and the coordinating committee of the Fort Street Pollinator Habit