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.

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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
Rainwater Harvesting City Challenge—U.S. and Canada

Flooding from extreme rainfall is one of the biggest and most expensive challenges facing cities. Flooding endangers human lives, but also overwhelms stormwater management systems, such as sewers, which leads to contaminated lakes, rivers, and beaches. To manage these extreme rainfall events, cities are looking at how to capture rainfall and slow it down from entering our waterways. This includes investing in building more green space such as raingardens, bioswales, and retention ponds. While significant investment is being made, several challenges are emerging which include uncertainties on how well the built systems are working and the need to maintain them to ensure these green systems function as intended. To address these needs, Earthwatch is partnering with leading scientists and cities to better understand how well these rainwater harvesting systems are working and to develop enhanced capacity to maintain them. 

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 (aka 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 place-based projects, which engage a range of key stakeholders including local community members, scientists, corporate employees, youth to provide the data needed, and, create an engaged public that actively contributes in building urban resiliency.  

Multi-city bioswales HSBC challenge  

Starting in 2018, Earthwatch is working with HSBC on a global program to assess the functioning of green infrastructure. Programs in North American will focus on how well specific kinds of green infrastructure (bioswales) can help retain rainwater working in 6 North American cities (New York, Vancouver, Buffalo, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco). The research will be led by Dr. Brianne Smith and her colleagues from Brooklyn College and Arizona State University. Employees from HSBC bank will help collect needed data on just how much water is being ‘captured” and filtered by bioswales—helping to provide important data back to local partners that will help shape future investments in similar green infrastructure. We are expand this program to include engagement by other local community members interested in doing real science and learning about how to invest in nature-based solutions and build urban resiliency.

The first teams of HSBC employees started fielding in May in New York, and have fielded in Buffalo, Toronto and Vancouver to date.  

Rainwater harvesting: Boston Challenge  

In Boston, Earthwatch is partnering with local and national organizations to build and assess the performance of rain gardens partnering with local partners such as ZooNewEngland, Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Boston Project Ministries, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Cornell Lab of Ornithology to. Our goal is to answer two kinds of research questions. The first is to better understand how well rain gardens can help absorb significant rain storms; the second is to assess whether participants in citizen science programs have a more impactful experience leading them to become more aware and active in supporting green infrastructure—on private and public lands. We are seeking to partner with local organizations such as ZooNewEngland in Franklin Park as well as the Codman Square Ecodistrict in Dorchester—both underserved communities in Boston.

We are launching this program in September 2018 with funding for the infrastructure development to come from TNC.