Getting outside has always been one of the healthiest choices you can make, but not everyone can easily access green space. Thankfully, many cities are catching on, adding nature back into urban settings.
Richmond recently launched a new initiative to increase urban parks and green space in the city. Baltimore residents have created hundreds of green spaces on vacant lots. Norfolk released plans for downtown redevelopment that includes ample green space to manage stormwater and adapt to rising tides. And city streets protected by rain gardens are a central part of Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s green infrastructure plans.
In Maryland, under a stay-at-home order to fight the coronavirus pandemic, most parks are still open. My neighborhood offers access to a park with woods and views of Spa Creek, a tributary of the Severn River that flows through Annapolis and feeds the Chesapeake Bay. I’ve been using my park for exercise, taking my camera on walks almost daily. It’s allowed me to enjoy nature and say hello to my neighbors while social distancing.
During late March and early April, many species of plants and animals are emerging from winter, and things start to move quickly. Hiking the same path offers new discoveries at every outing—native bees nesting, spring ephemeral wildflowers blooming, and birds and mammals taking advantage of the new growth.
Despite visiting the park for years, I witnessed for the first time a bright yellow carpet of trout lily blooms, which last only a few days. I also discovered a patch of invasive garlic mustard looming over the native flowers, threatening to crowd them out, and I began tentatively removing the aggressive plant.
Increasing connections to green spaces also can inspire better increases stewardship—the mix of personal actions, volunteering and advocating that leads to healthier environments for people to live, work and play. In the Chesapeake Bay Program’s first stewardship index, roughly two-thirds of respondents agreed that pollution directly affects them, and an even greater number agreed that they want to do more to improve the health of watersheds.
For my part, I can’t think of a better time to get outdoors. And I hope to leave my green space better than I found it.