Current Issue: Vol.34, Num. 2 May 2020
Arbor Day was established in 1872, about the same time the profession of landscape archi-tecture began. Its purpose is to help communities develop an appreciation for trees, and help refor-estation efforts on a grand scale. Earth Day established only 50 years ago, was initiated as a re-sponse to overpopulation and its degrading effect on nature and resources, which are now a world-wide problem. The causes of environmental degradation are well known and have been addressed with legislation, which is not easily implemented. Mitigations have been slow in coming and/or not extensive enough to radically lessen population damaging activities and their consequences.
Earth Day is an idealistic movement to promote political awareness and activate legislation to protect our threatened environment. However, after more than half a century working with envi-ronmental issues in the field of site planning, human isolation as a means to fight a deadly virus nev-er entered into the professional equation as a possibility to curtail environmental pollution. Never-the-less that effect is here, and more unpredictable consequences are possible in the future. In the following sections we will present an overview of how the response to Covid-19 has impacted air, water, earth, and fire.
We hope to hear from our IN SITU, Information Bulletin readers and friends for additional is-sues and expectations to improve the natural environment.
Beatriz de Winthuysen Coffin, FASLA
AIR QUALITY: Air pollution has been, and continues to be, an important issue. Among the cul-prits is the carbon dioxide produced by the daily use of automobiles as mean of transportation. When governments ordered citizens to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, fifty percent of the automobile traffic was effectively eliminated from highways, roads and neighborhood streets, and with them went the dreaded pollutants. For the first time cities look clean and bright, skies are not as hazy, and the air we breathe is healthier. No doubt about it, for the first time there are fewer vehicles on the roads all over the world and it is helping to curtail pollution. How long will this im-provement last?
The cleaner air which has resulted from the unintended experiment should motivate Washingtonians to seek more significant and sustainable air-quality improvements, said Susan Anenberg, a profes-sor at GWU’s Milken Institute School of Public Health. “The fact that our air pollution levels are not dropping even lower right now shows that to protect the air we breath, we need to clean up emissions from trucks, industrial sources and power plants in ad-dition to passenger cars”. (The Washington Post, Metro Section, April 24, 2020. Pollution levels fall to a 25-year low, by Jason Samenow). This seems to tell us that there is a need to revise and control - far above the presently imposed restrictions transportation methods - how we travel from place to place.
Another unintended consequence is that people are walking more. With no other activities and cars unavailable, people are taking walks. Since it is a beautiful spring, a walk to exercise is a healthy, unexpected pleasure. Pedestrian//bicycle paths along the Potomac River are now heavily used and in Manhattan seven miles of streets (about 10 kilometers) have been closed to automobile traffic to allow New Yorkers to walk while keeping a required six-foot distance among themselves, a big change from the usual crowded pedestrian traffic along the popular Fifth Avenue.
Here is what we read in Potomac Riverkeeper Network, April 22, 2020: “As we celebrate this year’s historic 50th Earth Day, let’s reflect on how we as citizens of the world can reaffirm this commitment to the environment and, in particular to President Johnson’s vision of a Swimmable Potomac. President Johnson didn’t live to see his vision, but you and I (and our children and grandchildren) can if we make it happen. That’s the promise of Earth Day that only we have the power to harness.” Nancy Stoner, President
Ms. Stoner is very positive, but although fish life has already reappeared in the Potomac River, and sewer treatment has and continues to improve considerably, swimming in the urban section of the Potomac River is still way off, but let’s keep trying.
Urban public facilities have never been as clean as they are now because of efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Imagine the old Manhattan subway stations without trash and sparkling clean!
So what does that prove? Trees help to purify the air and the water, that is if they are not burned. It comes back to the same arguments over again. But now we have an invisible virus to force humanity to take care of itself, let us include taking care of our trees.