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11/25/2006: "Investing in Real Life"
I must recommend this excellent article from last month's National Geographic: Paris Parks. It's more about parks than Paris, but it certainly brought back wonderful memories of my half-year in the City of Light, a rich, dense, busy city where one can truly feel good about being alive. A few snippets from the text:
Parisians in fact will seize just about any spot in their city for park or garden: tiny balcony, abandoned auto plant, bankrupt parking garage, derelict railway, even the giant curved facade of a new museum. They will sacrifice broad boulevards for the sake of bike paths with leafy canopies. They will argue for community gardens over apartments or media centers. They will relinquish a busy city expressway along the Seine for a temporary beach park, and will see in every shabby lot a prospective cathedral of green.

A growing body of research suggests that spaces filled with leafy vegetation filter pollution and trap tiny particles of dirt and soot: Street trees can reduce airborne particulates from car and bus exhaust. Large groves of trees may have an even more profound green-lung effect for cities, cleansing the air of dangerous chemicals.

In one of its more startling findings, the team upended the common belief that barren spaces are safer than green ones. A study of violent crime in a housing project of 98 apartment buildings showed that in and around buildings near vegetation that didn't hamper visibility there were only half as many crimes as in areas near no vegetation. The greener the surroundings, says Kuo, the lower the crime rate against people and property.
There is much more in Jennifer Ackerman's beautifully-written article, and it leads us naturally to the question of why we are so stingy with parkland in the US. If Paris--a capital city and world commercial center with twice the population density of New York--can find room for parks, gardens, bikepaths, squares, and other real public spaces where individuals can find themselves and find their place in their community, and succeed as a commercial center--why can't US cities?

Commerce, technology, all the rest are just support mechanisms. After all, it's the minutes of our lives that are the real bottom line.

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