Reaping the Social Benefits of Nature

I decided to devote my career to the environment more than 20 years ago, so I don’t need to be convinced that nature is good for me. But while working on the City of Hudson’s Open Space and Natural Resource Inventory last year, my passion was reignited as I read study after study about the benefits of nature in the city. 

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Not only do urban vegetation and natural areas provide habitat, reduce polluted runoff, clean the air, and cool the air, they also make our lives better. More plants and singing birds in your neighborhood are linked to a less depression, anxiety, and stress.[1] There are fewer emergency asthma attacks in polluted urban areas with more trees and greenery.[2] Open spaces and natural areas give urban residents places to encounter plants and animals as well as experience solitude.[3] Crime and violence are lower and people feel safer in areas with well-maintained vegetation.[4]

My first reaction while writing the summary was to walk the two blocks to the nearest city park. But it’s not just about me. Nature is not just for the plants and animals. Planting gardens and street trees is not a just nice thing to do or pretty to look at. Urban green spaces benefit everyone in the community. So who should invest in them?

The park near my house is well-maintained and my neighborhood has lots of street trees greenery because my city invests in them. That isn’t true in all communities, nor, sadly, for all neighborhoods in my city. Those with higher poverty rates tend to have fewer investments. Everyone benefits from these investments and everyone deserves to be part of the conversation about how greening their neighborhoods might help. How can we invite more people (and funders) to the table?

For more stories about how nature is good for society, listen to this Hidden Brain podcast and this NPR story about the benefit of greening urban lots. If you want help taking stock of natural resources in your community, let me know.

References:

[1]Cox, D. T. C., Shanahan, D. F., Hudson, H. L., Plummer, K. E., Siriwardena, G. M., Fuller, R. A., and Gaston, K. J. 2017. Doses of neighborhood nature: The benefits for mental health of living with nature. BioScience, 67(2), 147–155. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biw173

[2]Alcock, I, M. White, M. Cherrie, B. Wheeler, J. Taylor, R. McInnes, E. Otte im Kampe, S. Vardoulakis, C. Sarran, I.Soyiri, L. Fleming. 2017. Land cover and air pollution are associated with asthma hospitalisations: A cross-sectional study. Environment International109: 29 DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2017.08.009

[3]Dunn, R. R., Gavin, M. C., Sanchez, M. C., & Solomon, J. N. (2006). The pigeon paradox: Dependence of global conservation on urban nature. Conservation Biology, 20(6), 1814–1816. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00533.x

[4]Kuo, F. E., & Sullivan, W. C. (2001). ENVIRONMENT AND CRIME IN THE INNER CITY Does Vegetation Reduce Crime? 33(3), 343–367.

[5]Burroughs, J. 1908. The Writings of John Burroughs Volume 15: Leaf and Tendril. Originally published by Houghton Mifflin,  New York.

Why Outcomes?

I named my business Strong Outcomes because I believe that focusing on what you want to achieve will lead to more effective presentations, programs, and organizations. 

When I was on my local comprehensive plan committee and we were seeking public input on the draft, I had volunteered to gather comments. I was assigned to a local supermarket the weekend before Thanksgiving.

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You can imagine what happened when we asked busy shoppers if they'd heard of Albany 2030. After an hour of people avoiding eye contact, I decided my partner and I needed a new approach. I realized it didn't matter if anyone knew what Albany 2030 was. What we really wanted to know was what they thought about Albany. So that's what we started asking, and everything changed. Many more people came to talk to us, and even those that didn't smiled instead of scowled.  

That's outcome-based thinking. Instead of focusing on what our job was (tell about Albany 2030), we thought about how busy Thanksgiving shoppers might respond. And once we told people what we wanted them to do in a way that resonated with them, they were eager to share their opinions. 

Outcomes are the changes you want to see in the world as a result of your work, and they are important for directing program resources effectively, evaluating success, and communicating your results with your stakeholders. Focusing on outcomes rather than activities keeps you focused on what you are trying to accomplish rather than what you want to do.

I use outcome-based thinking to keep myself on track---I even used it to rewrite this blog post. I'd love to talk with you about how outcomes could help your organization focus your work and use resources more effectively.