By Claire Salinas
Baton Rouge has seen plenty of new development over the past few years, and with each new building, green space in the city is diminished. Concerns of the rise of a concrete jungle in Baton Rouge have re-focused the efforts of city officials and local organizations to prevent this imbalance of nature and urban sprawl.
To accomplish this balance, the city is implementing a comprehensive plan known as Future East Baton Rouge, which outlines goals for the responsible treatment of the environment in Baton Rouge. But according to Planning Director Frank Duke, the plan alone is not enough.
“Can I point to any one thing as a dramatic success story? No,” said Duke. “A plan in and of itself does not do anything. You implement a plan by actions and a number of ordinances, but actions and ordinances don’t have a huge effect on the environment by themselves, they have an incremental effect. We try to look at not just, ‘Did we add this ordinance or plant 25 trees?’ But, ‘Is it having meaningful impact on the environment and on achieving our goals?’”
The plan addresses and sets goals for a variety of areas, from land use and transportation to housing and infrastructure. One area at which the plan has recently been taking aim is planting trees for shade in parking lots to help cut down what’s called the Urban Heat Island Effect and lower development costs by providing natural soil reinforcement and water drainage.
“The single biggest factor contributing to the Urban Heat Island effect is reflective energy off of asphalt and concrete parking lots,” Duke said. “If you provide shade within parking lots you are cutting down on reflective energy and providing for some levels of storm water.”
While the city of Baton Rouge routinely taps its limited resources, there are others working to make Baton Rouge a greener, cleaner place to live. Baton Rouge Green is a 28-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to the enhancement of Baton Rouge trees and green spaces. The organization also runs a NeighborWoods program, in which they combat urban blight and increase species diversity in environmentally-challenged neighborhoods, as well as their Living Roadways and City Citrus Program.
Diane Lovasio, Executive Director of Baton Rouge Green says the organization is probably most well known for their Living Roadways Program, “because they have seen our sponsor recognition signs along the entrance ramps and exit ramps of I-10 and I-12. What they may not know is that Baton Rouge Green provides on-going maintenance for over 4800 trees along those roads.”
Lovasio explained the organization also runs The City Citrus program which creates open source citrus.
“Provides local sources of public fruit by planting citrus trees on maintained but underused urban spaces,” she said. “City Citrus is local, sustainable and open source. It beautifies the urban environment and adds to the diminishing local tree scape. This is a grassroots program, if people want to participate, they have a place to plant, and they promise to take care of the trees once they are planted, then Baton Rouge Green will help them get it in the ground.”
Lovasio says the program also requires that any fruit the trees produce must remain an open source for anyone to share.
“We also host a one-day Pick Event in December, where our volunteers pick the excess ripe citrus from mature trees around the city, and all the fruit is donated to the Food Bank,” Lovasio said. “If you have citrus trees in your yard and can’t possibly use all the fruit, you can sign up to be one of our host sites.”
There are so many aspects to balancing development with a healthy environment, but Program Director Robert Seemann says that planting more trees is usually a safe bet.
“What the public should pay attention to is the quality of the green space and plantings included with new or old development. An open lawn, or ground cover does not do the environmental heavy lifting that trees do when it comes to scrubbing our air and cooling our city. Quality green space is multi-storied, and provides enough space (above and below grade) for woody native species to flourish. When healthy, mature trees are given the same priority as hardscape, and other built infrastructure in the planning phase, nature can coexist with the built environment.”
For those looking to lend a hand to improving the environment in the city, Baton Rouge Green needs volunteers to help occasionally with tree plantings, tree sales, and the Living Roadways Program, but the simplest way to help is to support the organization. through sponsorships and its membership program. Membership starts at $25 a year and members get discounts around town as well as an invitation to Baton Rouge Green’s annual Green Paradise party.