Thursday, October 09, 2014

Green between the tracks: An urban nature park

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Southwest Michigan's Second Wave Media
October 9, 2014

Photos by Susan Andress

Turning brownfield to green space is the point behind the Urban Nature Park now being created in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. 

In the minds of the leadership at Kalamazoo Nature Center, there is no wrong side of the tracks. There’s just the green side.

Freight trains once moved across railroad tracks through the four-acre parcel in downtown Kalamazoo where now the beginnings of an urban nature park is taking root. The parcel was once a train yard, later a coal dump. Along Portage Creek at East Michigan Avenue and Pitcher Street, adjacent to the Arcus Depot and across from Food Dance Café, the parcel of land still sports tall weeds and patches of bare dirt, but to the knowing eye, great changes are evident.

An urban nature park is a natural space found in the city, designed to provide green space to urban residents. Traditionally, this kind of green space is found in rural conservation spaces. 

The idea for the Urban Nature Park project, says Sarah Reding, vice president for conservation stewardship at Kalamazoo Nature Center (KNC), began with William Rose, president and CEO at KNC. 

"The idea came about sometime in 2005, from Bill and other colleagues," says Reding. "Bill wanted to provide green space for the inner city. Nature is, after all, for people everywhere. This particular parcel had long been an industrial space, a railroad yard."

The area qualified for brownfield development. Brownfield, Reding explains, refers to an area that has been contaminated. 

"People often think of brownfield development as cleaning up an area and then putting a new building on it," says Reding. "But in this case, we wanted to create green space, and we wanted to help revitalize the Portage Creek and Kalamazoo River areas. I’ve so often heard people tell me that they haven’t thought about the rivers in this area. Our rivers have so long been thought of as contaminated, unusable, and people have almost forgotten that they are there."

Working with nonprofits as well as for-profits, KNC created a master plan to restore the brownfield site and show the positive effects an urban nature park can have on surrounding property values, urban redevelopment, and quality of life. The railroad agreed to lease the land for the project.

"It’s a movement around the country, not just here," says Reding. "We are starting to realize—and research backs this up—that nature is good for us, that we need green spaces. Even 10 minutes outside has been shown to calm people. Hospitals are incorporating nature into the healing process; research shows nature helps people heal faster. Kids do better in life when they have access to ...


No comments:

Post a Comment