Suburbs unlike cities as well as houses, unlike apartment buildings, have a greater ability and ease to be reimagined for sustainability. Each yard can contribute to a larger vision for sustainability. When you implement green infrastructure to your landscape, the impact is gigantic. It’s gigantic because, 1. You directly help the environment in multiple ways and 2. You show others that its both easy, affordable and beautiful.
If you own a home, you have a huge opportunity to create a landscape that can help the planet and express a vision for the future better for people by rethinking how stormwater flows off your property. It’s important for those that live in suburbs to see themselves at the threshold making big change. Year after year, suburban areas all across the United States are growing faster than their urban counterparts. According to the Pew Research Center, suburbs have grown about 3% faster than core cities since 2000 both in population and diversity. In fact, suburbs saw a population growth 7 times as much as cities from 2000 to 2014. The reasons people chose suburbs over cities vary greatly, but cost of living, price of homes and quality of life are three big factors.
This is no secret if you live in the New York City Metro area. The cost of living coupled with the expense of housing in the five boroughs has initiated masses of young families into surrounding towns throughout northern New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island and Connecticut. This migration has ignited record numbers of people buying homes, and wanting to live the principles they believe it. However, standard attitudes about residential landscape design neglect sustainability. In many cases, new homeowners aren’t even sure how to ask for it.
We should talk about how to each dwelling can be a shining light of hope for the environment. Plus, doing right by nature can also mean having awesome and super cool exterior spaces that express individuality and style.
Where could Nature use a helping Hand?
There’s tons of sustainable ways to improve your landscapes, but it’s always worth asking where does nature need the most help right now. Hands down, the greatest challenge nature is facing in suburbia are things like rivers, beaches, forests, swamps, meadows, wildlife and habitat. The biggest challenge for these iconic images for nature is stormwater due to weather patterns altered because of climate change. Climate change isn’t 100 years away, it’s already hitting suburban areas through rainfall. We are getting less days of rain, however when it does rain, more of it falls over a shorter period of time. These changes are causing massive flooding throughout communities and will likely get worse overtime. This doesn’t include huge monster storms like Hurricane Sandy that hit the northeast in 2012. They are within a class of their own. Smaller, seemingly less frightening rainstorms wreak havoc multiple times a year…and sometimes multiple times a month.
The current approach for rainwater is to get it off our houses and out of our yards as fast as we possibly can. This means hundreds and thousands (or millions) of gallons of water pouring into storm drains every time it rains. All of that water rushes through pipes and is dumped into local creeks, streams and rivers all at once. The sudden explosion of water into these tributaries is the ideal recipe for damaging wildlife and flooding homes, bridges and roads. The alternative is to slow down the outflow of water from your property by using green infrastructure. You can slow down runoff with things like bioswales and rain gardens. We have several blog posts about both these items so links to the posts are at the bottom of this entry. You can also add green roofs to your house, use permable pavers and rain harvesting. All of these things need a blog or explanation of their own, because they aren’t really well known yet. But the point is that there’s lots of ways to use green infrastructure to do your part.
We don’t just want to be do-gooders. We want things to improve the quality of our lives and the curb appeal of our homes. This is exactly way green infrastructure is so ripe for suburban areas. It can do both. You can use native perennials, grasses and trees as part of the solution while making your yard more fun for kids + be a way to invite birds and butterflies to your space. You could have an entire backyard full of purple, red and yellow flowers along with beautiful trees that look amazing and serve a greater good. You can have a new patio or deck that is jaw-dropping beautiful AND have stormwater features that make it super sustainable too. Every time a suburban home choices green infrastructure, it means that more and more people will do the same thing. And because much of suburban land is used for yards, a huge potential for the positive impacts is generated. Imagine, you move out of Brooklyn or Queens or Manhattan, and your new home is the first and best option for being a friend to the environment. You will literally be showing the world that suburbs aren’t a tumor. They are a chance at healing. For every gallon slowed down from going straight into the storm drains is one less chance for flooding downstream, less wildlife harms and more reason to believe our future has hope.