Park-goers enjoy the view at Governors Island in the New York Harbor.
Manhattan Skyline Governors Island in New York Harbor © Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

Newsletter

Creating Great Green Cities

A healthy ecosystem is a diverse ecosystem. Every plant, every animal is woven into a  delicate web of interdependence. This natural order is true everywhere on Earth—including  in cities.

“As the world’s urban population grows and the impacts of climate change intensify, increasing people’s access to nature and stewarding nature in cities will become ever more important,” says LaTresse Snead, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Build Healthy Cities program. “The climate crisis is already influencing people’s quality of life.”

One strategy that  can be applied in virtually every city is to increase the quantity and quality of trees and plants in priority areas. Species that can adapt and survive in harsh environments clean and cool the air, filter and slow stormwater, and attract pollinators. “Nature can help solve the problems facing cities today and the challenges on the horizon,” says LaTresse.

As the world’s urban population grows and the impacts of climate change intensify, increasing people’s access to nature and stewarding nature in cities will become ever more important.

Director, Build Healthy Cities

Discover three projects where nature is making a difference in cities.


Bringing Shade to Phoenix // ARIZONA

Phoenix is one of the hottest cities in the United States, and it’s only getting hotter. The temperature difference between wealthier neighborhoods with more shade from tree cover and communities that haven’t received as much investment in trees can be as much as 13°F. Planting the right tree in the right place can substantially reduce heat, lowering energy costs and heat-related health issues; globally, tens of thousands of people die due to heat each year. “We are engaging community members to inform and implement Heat Action Plans,” says Diana Bermudez, TNC’s special projects director in Arizona. “And along with volunteers and partners, we are getting our hands dirty, planting native trees where they are needed the most.”

Volunteers plant trees to help lower temperatures in Phoenix.
Phoenix Volunteers plant trees to help lower temperatures in Phoenix. © Ivan Martinez

Inspiring Charming Rooftops in Shenzhen // CHINA


In crowded Shenzhen, there is little room for new green space. That’s why TNC looked up—literally. “We have collaborated to create gardens on rooftops, but we need more people to try it out,” says Fish Yu, TNC’s urban conservation director in Shenzhen. A photography contest was designed to generate pride for green roofs. “Residents were inspired to  photograph their ‘charming rooftops,’” says Fish. “We received 220 photos in a few weeks, and we are using them to develop a map and to share the beauty of green roofs with others.” Green roofs offer people access to the benefits of nature and gardening while capturing stormwater.

Shenzhen
Shenzhen A rooftop garden in Shenzhen, China helps capture stormwater. © Xu Yang
Sponge City
Sponge City TNC is collaborating with city officials to transform Shenzhen into an innovative, cost-effective “sponge city.” © Yang Xu
Shenzhen A rooftop garden in Shenzhen, China helps capture stormwater. © Xu Yang
Sponge City TNC is collaborating with city officials to transform Shenzhen into an innovative, cost-effective “sponge city.” © Yang Xu

Trading Asphalt for Food in Kent // WASHINGTON

Stormwater is the fastest growing source of water pollution in the U.S. Most of the toxic chemicals entering Puget Sound, where whales and salmon live, come from stormwater that runs off hard urban surfaces. With support from TNC, the Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden project—led by partner organization World Relief Seattle—is reclaiming an unused church parking lot to reduce stormwater pollution and increase access to food for immigrants and refugees newly resettled in the area. “More than 700 volunteers removed 20,000 square feed of asphalt, replacing it with 50 garden plots and five rain gardens,” says Hannah Kett, TNC’s cities program manager in Washington. “Today, people from 18 different countries grow food here.”