City Nature Challenge—Boston and Beyond

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In recent years, cities across the country (and now the globe!) have been competing in a global biodiversity challenge to observe and identify as many species as possible. In April of 2018, Earthwatch helped spearhead the Boston Area campaign. This year our collective efforts helped to mobilize just over 1000 participants to record 1,400 species with 16,000 observations. This is four times the numbers of observations and about double the number of species from the previous year. Thank you to everyone who came out! We have an amazing team of partners that helped achieve these numbers, including many local cities and schools.

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The majority of the global population lives in cities, and increased migration to cities is projected to continue. Climate change is also impacting cities, and the people who live in them, in ways we have not yet seen in history

In response to the growing need to create healthy and sustainable cities, Earthwatch has developed a series of programs to create more resilient urban environments. Working alongside leading scientists, local municipalities, and partner organizations, Earthwatch engages community members to help collect essential environmental data related to green infrastructure, trees, water quality, temperature, and air quality, answering relevant research questions that can influence positive change.   

By engaging committed local community members, Earthwatch ensures that participants gain increased awareness and knowledge about additional ways to mitigate the impacts of climate change in their homes and communities, creating a new cohort of environmental ambassadors.

Earthwatch launched the Urban Resiliency Program in 2014 in southern California to create field research programs that engage the public and lead to more informed decisions. Working alongside our local partners, including NASA and the University of California Riverside, Earthwatch recruits citizen scientists to collect large amounts of data that are needed to improve our understanding of how to build a more resilient urban biosphere. Our newest program, Operation Healthy Air, is supported by NASA and engages participants to map and measure how differences in their environment—such as the amount of trees or pavement—affect local air quality and temperature.

Urban Resiliency—Southern California
Sustainable Cities
Green Infrastructure City Challenge 

Cities face many challenges in creating a healthy environment for all, with growing demands and threats from climate change. Building a resilient and livable city which successfully addresses threats such as flooding, extreme heat, drought, and air pollution is a common concern and priority. Investing in green infrastructure strategies (also referred to as “nature-based solutions”) such as parks, trees, green roofs, and rain gardens, among other initiatives, can help cities prepare and mitigate for the impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided. Through a combination of capital projects and changes to building ordinances, cities see opportunities to increasing urban forest cover, green roofs, green alleyways, green streets and sidewalks, and parks. However, there are major uncertainties in just how well these nature-based solutions work. And, green infrastructure requires regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure they continue to deliver the goods and services needed to create a healthy and resilient city.

To this end, Earthwatch is developing a number of projects, which engage a range of key stakeholders including local community members, scientists, corporate employees, and young people to provide the data needed while creating an engaged public that actively contributes to building urban resiliency.

Rainwater Harvesting: Boston Challenge  

To manage extreme rainfall events, cities are looking at how to capture rainfall and slow it down from entering our waterways. In Boston, Earthwatch is supporting efforts to build and assess the performance of rain gardens partnering with organizations such as ZooNewEngland, Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Boston Project Ministries, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Our goal is to answer two research questions: 1) how well do rain gardens absorb significant rain storms, and 2) are participants who engage in citizen science programs more aware and active in supporting green infrastructure on private and public lands.

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Multi-City Stormwater Challenge  

Earthwatch recently launched a “Sustainability Training Program” in partnership with HSBC bank to engage employees in assessing how green infrastructure functions in cities. Our North American programs, which include initiatives in New York, Vancouver, Buffalo, Toronto, Chicago, and San Francisco, focus on how well green stormwater infrastructure (e.g. bioswales) mitigates excess rainwater. Employees work alongside researchers to collect data on how much water is being captured and filtered by bioswales—helping to shape future investments in similar green infrastructure. Earthwatch is now recruiting additional partners, including community members and other companies. 

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