Groups work to address need for change in Cincinnati greenspace preservation

In the coming years, Greater Cincinnati’s hillside communities could face more than just a little rain runoff if our region’s current greenspace preservation outlook does not improve.

Application of the city’s 15-year property tax abatement program, which allowed for the redevelopment of “eyesore” properties, has resulted in the significant reduction of trees and overall greenspace. Nonporous cement surfaces have also increased, causing historic flooding and runoff in hillside communities.

The question arises: What do residents and local groups know about these environmental issues, and what are they planning to do about it?

According to the Greater Cincinnati Foundation’s Environmental Theory of Change, environmental stewardship is a key prerequisite to preserving our planet for future generations, and loss of the city’s greenspaces is an issue that demands full attention. As stated in its Community Impact Report on Environmental Stewardship, GCF is able to impact these long-term challenges through a collection of investments, grant-writing assistance and partnering with other funders.

“Effective change doesn’t happen overnight,” the report states. “But the Greater Cincinnati area is making great strides.”

Local groups plant trees, sow seeds of awareness

Cincinnati Zoo horticulturalist Scott Beuerlein believes that planting trees to replace those lost is a great place to start an environmental legacy, since trees provide both environmental and health benefits.

Beuerlein also chairs the steering committee for Taking Root, a local organization with a broad-based plan to address Cincinnati’s disappearing greenspace by planting trees, better managing local forests and bringing about awareness of environmental stewardship. The group’s executive director, Matt Stenger, believes education is another step we can take in reevaluating how we approach environmentally sensitive rehabbing.

Taking Root will plant some two million trees in Greater Cincinnati by 2020 — one tree for each of the area’s two million residents.

“The Taking Root campaign works with its organizational partners to address the current historic loss of our tree canopy and is committed to addressing this crisis through 2020 and beyond,” Stenger says. “The campaign’s success depends on a collaborative effort in which individual citizens, members of the public and private sectors, community and business leaders, government agencies and nonprofit organizations throughout the region all take new initiatives that will serve to retain more of the trees we have and plant new ones to offset or even reverse recent and ongoing losses.”

In spreading the word about the benefits of tree replacement, Taking Root is aggressive in its approach, presenting research and statistics to engage the community. That research includes a number of studies claiming that trees raise property value and improve public health. Studies also show that the presence of trees reduces asthma, cardiovascular diseases and stress, while also promoting more active lifestyles, social interaction and better school performance. While reducing energy use, trees can also prevent soil erosion, storm water runoff and water and air pollutants.

OKI takes greenspace preservation to national level

The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments is made up of local government leaders, businesses and community groups that are committed to developing strategies to improve the quality of life and economic vitality in the region.

“When it comes to environmental stewardship, we may not always have jurisdiction on a local level, but we do what we can on a national level,” says Travis Miller, OKI's regional planning manager. “We provide education and have come up with a regional plan to learn about the possible devastating effects (of redevelopment and lack of environmental maintenance) heading toward our area.”

In full support of programs like Taking Root, OKI takes similar action to curb the spread of diminishing greenspace in the Greater Cincinnati area by connecting diverse community groups. Their strategic Regional Policy Plan contains recommendations for conserving natural systems and factoring environmental considerations into transportation planning and development/rehabilitation processes.

My Community’s Water is one tool that OKI uses to assess storm water runoff and overall water quality by jurisdiction throughout David Rutter, OKI
Greater Cincinnati. According to OKI senior planner David Rutter, it was introduced so that engineers, planners and local leaders can analyze various relationships between land use and water.

“We always do our best to engage engineers, planners, stakeholders and organizations in the process of conservation on the local and national level,” Rutter says.

OKI also partnered with the National Association of Regional Councils and environmental specialists from the horticulture program at Virginia Tech to develop a tool called Trees and Storm Water to help manage local environmental measurements.

“Set to launch in late spring, the tool is designed for public staff at the local level to manage and customize their search for resolutions to storm water runoff,” Miller says. “It can be customized for local community’s best practices that are most suitable for their individual soil types, climate, street design and more.”

In the effort to preserve greenspaces and manage stormwater runoff, the team formed an advisory committee to assess the practicality and feasibility of local organization’s practices.

While Cincinnati’s tree population may be affected by disease and insects like the Emerald Ash Borer, leaders must reassess the plan to rehabilitate and further develop the region’s existing greenspace, in order to maintain best practices. For experts like Miller and Rutter, Cincinnati’s past serves as a model, marked by a transition from 90 percent deforestation in the 1880s to one of the nation’s greenest cities today, with wooded hillsides and stream corridors, parks, tree-lined streets and 39 percent canopy coverage.

With the rapid growth of redevelopment projects, however, the city is in danger of facing an environmental decline in the years to come.

Stenger believes that conservation efforts and reforestation projects can help better maintain the green canopy that is prominent in the area. “To address the tree crisis, it’s imperative to raise awareness and understanding of its effects and of the urgent need and the means to address it,” he says.

Read more articles by Erin Pierce.

Erin Pierce is a contributing writer for Soapbox, and a recent graduate of Northern Kentucky University.
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