08 Apr Benefits of Green Spaces In Building Communities
Photo: St. Vincent Greenway. Source: Great Rivers Greenway.
“My role is in public engagement. How do you get a community to adopt an active lifestyle? How do you get a culture to develop that really appreciates green space?”
–Greg Brumitt, Director of Conservation and Community Service at Great Rivers Greenway
Great Rivers Greenway on creating a clean, green, and connected region
Great Rivers Greenway has been enhancing the well-being of the St. Louis region through landscape design of public green spaces for 15 years. The organization has found that having green space has huge positive impacts on communities in terms of health, perceptions of the community by its members, and on perceptions from outside of the community, by people deciding where to live and by businesses choosing where to establish themselves.
Director of Conservation and Community Service Greg Brumitt weighs in on how the organization interacts with the public, to fulfill needs and facilitate connecting with nature on a day-to-day basis.
Planning stage: involving the community
In the planning stages, Great Rivers Greenway is a very collaborative organization, with jurisdiction over more than one hundred municipalities. When in the course of building greenway quarters, they not only work with municipal institutions, counties, and the city, but also work with the community the greenway will serve.
“There is a lot of consideration as to current use by the community, and what could be possible in the future… wework with the communities involved, with the public; we have a series of meetings, to really engage the community and try to have them understand what a greenway can mean for them,” states Brumitt. He goes on to clarify that each community can be different, and that citizens are given the ability to voice their unique needs; for example, urban audiences may differ in their use of green space from how suburban areas might, and areas with many senior citizens may have different needs than areas with many young families.
“It’s not just us telling them, it’s us working with them to develop a facility.”
Layout of the green space
There are also environmental concerns to address with each project, such as effects on streams and the local habitat. The choice of plants is site-contextual, but native plants are given preference as much as possible. “Overall we’re really striving for more native, sustainable habitats. We’re really starting to look at the sites and take initiative with conservation in mind when we plant our greenways,” says Brumitt.
“Comfort is a big part of being in the outdoors, particularly if you’re not used to it. So we do things to make the space more inviting,” Brumitt explains. Good wayfinding, signage, and making the trailhead or entrance inviting are important factors. The goal is to create a space that is understandable and entices people forward, but maintains an air of safety and public activity. Things like water, restrooms, and wide view sheds, and places to stop and rest enhance perceptions of a safe public environment. Many green spaces are constructed along moving water so people can interface with the movement of the water along the path. “In urban design all over the world, some of the great spaces tend to be lakeside, and riverfront, or along a stream,” adds Brumitt.
“We approach awareness as a classical marketing problem, to let people know that the space is out there. Take a hypothetical person: busy in their career, works in an office, may not be active to the ideal level; they may not have a great awareness of the outdoors or of nature.”
The first introduction for such a person may come in the form of a marketing piece, via social media, or through an event. “I’ve been a serial founder of special events because we’ve observed great results from creating that one day opportunity where people can come out and get involved, and get a chance to have an experience in the outdoors ,” states Brumitt. Programming that provides these experiences- such as taking a walk with a naturalist, riding a bike through the space, kayaking for the first time, or planting your first plant- serves this important function.
“Whatever it might be, wherever the interest is, you have to turbocharge that interest and enable it further, so they can begin to take those next steps. Once you peak their interest like that, it is a catalyst for the person to incorporate green space into their everyday life.”