Greenways and Climate Change Resilience: A Call to Action at the Ecology & Restoration PPN Meeting

by Ingrid Morken, ASLA, and Sohyun Park, ASLA

Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, speaking at the Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) meeting during the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in San Diego. / image: Sohyun Park

Greenways to “Gene-ways”

Designing and planning for climate change resilience occurs at many scales, and at the 2019 ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture, the Ecology & Restoration Professional Practice Network (PPN) meeting focused on how greenways can provide both ecological and recreational benefits at a landscape, regional, and even national scale.

Vaughn Rinner, FASLA, Director of VRLA, Chuck Flink, FASLA, founder of Greenways, Inc., and Keith Bowers, FASLA, President of Biohabitats, gave a presentation titled “Greenways to Gene-ways: A Call to Action” at the PPN meeting, building off their education session on the topic. The three speakers addressed the historical context of greenways and the increasingly important ecological role they play in the context of climate change. Greenways function as “gene-ways” by providing a connected landscape network to support the movement and migration of plants and animals to places where they can continue to evolve and adapt to new conditions. Given this important ecological function, the presenters put out a “call to action” to landscape architecture practitioners to implement design strategies and support policy initiatives that promote the protection and expansion of greenway networks throughout the nation.

Greenways as an Ecological Imperative

In her introduction, Ms. Rinner emphasized the urgency of responding to climate change due to impacts to biological communities and ecological functioning. Given the influential role of human activities on the planet, we may be entering an unprecedented Anthropocene era, a time when animals and plants are struggling to adapt to accelerated changes in temperature. Changes in phenological events like the timing of flowering and animal migration are among the most sensitive biological responses to climate change. Phenology refers to the timing of seasonal biological events, such as when trees flower in the spring, when a robin builds its nest, or when leaves turn color in the fall. Across the world, many spring events are occurring earlier and fall events are happening later than they did in the past. However, not all species are changing at the same rate or direction, leading to mismatches. By facilitating movement of plant and animal species across the landscape, greenway corridors can increase their resilience to a changing climate and changing phenologies.

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