Create Your Own Green

On May 29, I was honored, along with Danny Swan, Glenn Elliott and Brad Chambers, to be a part of the “The Big Ideas” event in Wheeling by the citizen group Downtown Wheeling. The four of us offered our thoughts for a better, greener Wheeling and surrounding communities in a “TED Talk” format filmed by West Liberty University. The following is a synopsis of my talk along with 25 ideas that YOU can do to make Wheeling a better, greener place.

A significant volume of empirical research has been done in the last 15 years showing the mental, physical and societal benefits of public green spaces. These include but are not limited to: increases property values; attracts businesses, events and residents; facilitates healthier lifestyles; reduces crime rates if properly designed; improves function of persons with ADHD; combats nature deficit disorder in children; improves recovery times from illnesses; provides a calming effect (think Liza’s Place hospice memorial garden); increases cognition in older adults; improves air quality (U.S. urban trees remove 783,000 tons of pollution per year at a value to society of $5.6 billion); decreases the community investment into storm water sewer infrastructure.

All of these increase the wealth of a community, which provides the community capital to create and maintain green space.

So, if you agree that green space is important to your community, here are 25 seed ideas consider. Pick one. It’s up to you!

1. Become a Tree City USA community.

2. Create a shade tree commission and landscape ordinances.

3. Work to establish more bike trails and preserved natural areas. In Ohio, I serve with Natural Resources Assistance Council District 18, which does not get enough grant applications to give away the $2 million it has available to distribute.

4. Try guerilla gardening, which is gardening property that you do not own. (I ask for permission first.)

5. Elect public officials who have a track record of supporting sustainable public green spaces, or get elected yourself. Also, hold elected officials accountable for green space maintenance.

6. Organize temporary dumpster gardens and parking space gardens.

7. Initiate a pocket park on neglected urban lands.

8. Start a small public garden or an urban arboretum.

9. Adopt or create a neighborhood park.

10. Start a “friends of” group, such as the Mount Wood Cemetery group that is working to restore the grounds.

11. Advocate for tree islands in parking lots. West Virginia Northern Community College has done a great job “greening” the corner of 16th and Market streets.

12. Coordinate a program with the National Recreation and Parks Association to have an ideas-exchange lunch with the many schools that they sponsor at Oglebay Resort. There is a wealth of knowledge coming through the Ohio Valley.

13. Seek to create diversity in new and existing parks throughout your community for a myriad of experiences and environmental benefits.

14. Create a system of corridors and nodes of green space.

15. Green the places where people are: work places, shopping centers, schools, etc.

16. Find ways to make daily commutes active and green.

17. Find sponsors of green space, i.e. banks or civic clubs.

18. Identify neighborhoods that are deficient in green spaces and make a difference.

19. Organize activities and events in green spaces.

20. Create outdoor classrooms.

21. Ask Mother Earth News publisher and editorial director Bryan Welch to speak to interested citizens and future green community leaders about innovative sustainable approaches. when he visits Wheeling.

22. Advocate for neighborhood parks that are well lit.

23. Provide children a safe place to play in a stream, harvest food or climb a tree.

24. Create a learning process with fellow citizens that let the general public understand the health benefits of connecting with nature.

25. Advocate for the reduction of deer populations and controlling invasive species.

It really is up to you to write your community’s life story. Best wishes on your individual missions to make a difference!

Gabe Hays owns the consulting firm of Hays Landscape Architecture Studio in St. Clairsville.

He has provided design and construction documents in 12 states, for site development projects including native landscapes, private gardens, historic properties, botanic gardens, resorts and parks.