By Todd Burley
At Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR), we define a healthy environment as a thriving ecosystem where everyone has equitable use of, and responsibility for, public spaces. It is a healthy urban forest that cleans the air and soil and serves as a natural sanctuary for people and wildlife. It is a healthy ocean and marine environment that contributes to the health of the Seattle and Pacific Northwest ecosystem. And it is green infrastructure that builds resiliency by adapting to shifting weather patterns and sea level rise.
In 2021 we were happy to join more than 280 cities by signing on to the Trust for Public Lands’ 10-Minute Walk to a Park Campaign, committing to equitable access to parks and green spaces. With 97% of households living within that “walkshed,” Seattle is currently the 9th in the nation for park access. Last year we acquired two new properties, all in underserved areas of our city, to become future parks.
As we seek to improve habitat in our parks, SPR has continued to restore our urban forests by removing invasives, planting native species, and improving access through our trail system. The Green Seattle Partnership added 59 new acres of urban forest in restoration and almost 54,000 native plants in 2021, including over 10,000 trees. We are also looking at our turf areas more ecologically and converting some to pollinator habitat. And as part of our recognition of the value of nature to mitigate the impacts of climate change in our city, Seattle has signed on to the C40 Urban Nature Declaration with other cities from around the world.
A healthy environment also looks at our impact on the larger community and world through making our operations have a lighter ecological footprint. In 2021 we transitioned to the use of primarily battery-powered leaf blowers in our downtown parks and created a long-term strategy to prioritize use of these carbon-neutral tools for all our parks. We also neared completion of the solar micro-grid on Miller Community Center, creating an independent alternative energy source for use in emergency situations. We conducted a waste audit of athletic fields to inform a waste management plan currently in development and are piloting new recycling and waste bins in some parks to improve waste diversion.
A healthy environment is infused in our recreation programs. In 2021 we were glad to bring back in-person environmental education programming in our parks and green spaces, providing over 100 outdoor Environmental Education programs with our partners. SPR’s Youth Engaged in Service (YES!) team and Environmental Education staff have been providing job training and mentoring to 11 youth (16-20 years old) in outdoor recreation professions. We also hosted a celebration of Earth Week for virtual and physical visitors.
These impacts and more are described in our annual Healthy Environment Report. Read it HERE.
We will continue this work in 2022 by diving deeper into such issues as waste management, climate resiliency, and best management practices. We look forward to sharing more stories and updates throughout the year and hearing from you how we can support a Healthy Environment. Send a note to our Sustainability Advisor Todd Burley (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your ideas.