behavior · community · creativity · environment · play

When is Whimsy Not Wanted? Or Harmful?

When does public art and playfulness interfere with the health and well being of other living things? That can be up for debate… more often than we think.

The war between whimsy and responsibility is an ancient one, and it is raging in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Someone, and you’d be hard pressed to find who,  has put a tiny door on a tree in the park. Officials took it away, saying it was hurting the tree. But people freaked out, so they are putting it back.

via A big battle over a tiny door in a San Francisco tree | Grist (caution, original article has swearing).

While the Grist article favors the tree and park officials, I honestly feel like the door did no more damage than a bird feeder attached to a tree, probably less.

I also like seed bombs, however the seeds contained in those are sometimes invasive, so you do have to be aware.

What are your feelings about adding on to or embellishing living things in order to create public art and whimsy? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

community · environment · happiness · health · psychology

What trees mean to communities: more than you may think | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

Tree - leaf canopy
Street view of a tree (Photo credit: blmiers2)

This is such a great commentary from Kaid Benfield’s Blog about the importance of trees for urban health and well-being that I just had to share:

…[recently] I was approached by someone from an initiative called San Diego County Trees.  The initiative is the urban forestry project of the Energy Center, and they have all sorts of information extolling the benefits of urban trees along with a crowdsourced inventory of street trees in San Diego.

I just spent time on the website, where the coolest feature is an interactive map of the whole county showing very specific tree locations and information, including quantified benefits to the region stemming (pun unintended but acknowledged) from its trees.  As you can see in the image, these include carbon sequestration, water retention, energy saved, and air pollutants reduced.

You can even click on a specific tree and get detailed information on its species, size, and annual economic benefit to the community.  San Diego County Trees invites its readers to add to the inventory with information on additional trees not presently counted.

If you’re interested in the subject of the community benefits of trees, you can get additional information from the websites of the National Arbor Day Foundation and the US Forest Service.  Among the tidbits I learned on one or the other of those two sites are these:

  • The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.
  • If you plant a tree today on the west side of your home, in 5 years your energy bills should be 3 percent less. In 15 years the savings will be nearly 12 percent.
  • One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen.
  • A number of studies have shown that real estate agents and home buyers assign between 10 and 23 percent of the value of a residence to the trees on the property.
  • Surgery patients who could see a grove of deciduous trees recuperated faster and required less pain-killing medicine than matched patients who viewed only brick walls.
  • In one study, stands of trees reduced particulates by 9 to 13 percent, and the amount of dust reaching the ground was 27 to 42 percent less under a stand of trees than in an open area.

Several years ago, walkability guru Dan Burden wrote a detailed monograph titled 22 Benefits of Urban Street Trees.  Among other things, he calculated that “for a planting cost of $250-600 (includes first 3 years of maintenance) a single street tree returns over $90,000 of direct benefits (not including aesthetic, social and natural) in the lifetime of the tree.”  Burden cites data finding that street trees create slower and more appropriate urban traffic speeds, increase customer traffic to businesses, and obviate increments of costly drainage infrastructure.  In at least one recent study (reported after Burden’s analysis), trees were even found to be associated with reduced crime.

I think some of the most important benefits, though, are felt emotionally…

Read all of: What trees mean to communities: more than you may think | Kaid Benfield’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC.

I am a huge proponent of urban trees for all of the reasons stated above, as well as the emotional and psychological benefits that Benfield goes into, but also including the creative and playful benefits of having trees around to swing on, climb, watch animals in, or just sit and ponder under.

Benfield also goes into how trees are often controversial in urban environments because they drop leaves and sticks, and potentially branches, on streets and houses. But to me that is part of living connected to one’s environment, even if it means raking some leaves out of places you’d rather they not be (it’s not like the tree is intentionally dropping them on your lawn).

What are your feelings about urban trees? Have you planted a tree or shrub in your neighborhood? What did you like, or not like, about the results? Let me know in the comments below.

behavior · environment · Nature

Movement study using Parkour athletes reveals orangutans’ climbing secrets

English: dave 59 took it myself at the Orang r...
Orangutan at the Orang rehabilitation centre, Buket Lawang ,Sumatra. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My M.A. thesis was on parkour, and how traceurs’ movement compared similarly to other primate movement behaviors, particularly the great apes. Now, a researcher in the U.K. has used traceurs to demonstrated how orangutans can move efficiently and effectively through the trees. Never would have thought of that, awesome!

From Io9:

Orangutans spend their lives swinging in trees and eating fruit… a fruit-based diet like the one orangutans prefer won’t provide much raw energy, while choosing to live up in the trees instead of padding about on the ground really should require a lot of it. To solve this apparent paradox, Dr. Lewis Halsey and his team at the University of Roehampton enlisted some expert practitioners of parkour to simulate orangutan movements in a controlled environment.

…According to the researchers, the orangutans’ secret is to use the natural moment of the trees to keep their own energy costs down. Here the primates’ extra mass is actually a benefit, allowing them to make their tree sway back and forth until it’s close enough to the next tree to move on. It’s not necessarily going to be the quickest way to move about, but it is energy-efficient, saving about 90% of the energy it would take to climb down one tree and up the next one.

It’s also considerably safer than going to the ground — as the researchers point out, the orangutans of Sumatra share their environment with tigers, which means any time spent out of the trees is time spent courting death.

From the BBC:

The results could help explain how orangutans are likely to be affected as their forest environment is cut down.

“We wanted to measure the energy expenditure as they moved through the trees,” he told BBC Nature, “so we put a mask on [the athletes] to measure their oxygen consumption.”

For one particularly precarious-looking test, the team designed a tall pole that mimicked the flexibility of a tree. The participants then used this to recreate a “tree-sway manoeuvre”.

“This is something the orangutans use to cross gaps,” said Dr Coward. “They sway [the tree] backwards and forwards until they’re able to get across.”

The team found that this method of moving from tree-to-tree used just one tenth of the energy that it cost to climb down and back up.

“As their environment is affected by humans cutting down trees, they are coming across more gaps and those gaps are bigger and more expensive.”

Dr Coward added that, for Sumatran orangutans, climbing down was not an option.

What a great study that not only demonstrates how a sport based on play can help researchers understand other primate behaviors, but it also helps promote conversation for orangutans. 🙂