A Little Soil for the Soul

Gardens have inspired artists and comforted many a soul abound with beauty and benefits to local wildlife and the environment. New York’s Central park reflects the positive effects of nature in urban settings offering a place for people to relax and reconnect with the outdoors. The relevance of which has not escaped the attention of scientists now highlighting vacant lots as perfect places to create community gardens.

In an article entitled Finding the Potential in Vacant Lots for the New York Times this prospect is further explored.

Transforming eye-sores into ecological playgrounds profits the environment and engages community in conservation. The study reflects the volume of unused land indicating the city of Cleveland as having 20,000 more or less vacant lots a number which grows by 1,000 each year. Moreover, the vegetation can comprise of heirloom species the remnants of a previous landscaping or fertilised from seeds deposited by birds who perch on overhead power lines. Biomass that can be preserved represents possibilities to cultivate diverse gardens that add colour to a neighbourhood and a place for local wildlife prosper.

The article points out that one abandoned yard is a mess but 20,000 abandoned yards is an ecosystem. “At this scale, Cleveland’s vacant land begins to look less like a sign of neglect and more like an ecological experiment spread over some 3,600 acres”.

As such a team of local scientists have designated this accidental landscape an Urban Long-Term Research Area — that is, Ultra. And having won a $272,000 exploratory award from the National Science Foundation, the researchers call their project Ultra-Ex. Ultra-Ex scientists are studying bird and insect populations, watershed systems, soil nematodes and urban farms.

Along with its sci-fi name, Ultra-Ex advances a forward-looking mission: to document the ecological benefits that vacant lots might provide and to redefine the land, from neighborhood blight to community asset.

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Inga Yandell
Explorer and photo-journalist, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide educational resources and a platform for science exploration.
Inga Yandell

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