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Twin Cities Focus of New Urban Nature Study

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Minneapolis is well known for its waterways and parks. But environmental researchers are taking a closer look at some underlying issues tied to urban nature in the region. (Adobe Stock)
Minneapolis is well known for its waterways and parks. But environmental researchers are taking a closer look at some underlying issues tied to urban nature in the region. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN - Producer, Contact
March 24, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS - Just like Greater Minnesota, Minneapolis and St. Paul have plenty of lakes and open spaces. But researchers say the metro area faces climate-related threats and racial gaps in accessing urban nature. A new study will examine those issues.

The Twin Cities area has been chosen for a research project funded by the National Science Foundation. Several institutions and organizations will take part, including the University of Minnesota, where Sarah Hobbie, a professor in its College of Biological Sciences, said the benefits of urban nature, such as city parks, have been prominent during the pandemic. Now, researchers want to know more about the stress being placed on these resources.

"We're particularly interested in how urban nature might be managed to be more resilient to the stressors," she said, "so pollutants, and pests and pathogens, and climate change."

In light of George Floyd's killing, she said they also want to build on research into environmental injustice. That includes mapping out historical decisions that led to certain communities having barriers to cleaner air and water and lacking protections from extreme heat. The $7 million grant will cover six years of research.

Marya McIntosh, conservation specialist for The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, said her organization is lending support and data to the effort. She noted that while these issues have been studied locally, this effort is a game-changer because it can bring the broader picture into focus.

"Urban nature's a complex system," she said, "and so we'd like to understand that complex system better to preserve those benefits."

She echoed the sentiments of other project partners in wanting to highlight the uneven distribution of urban nature and how it affects marginalized communities.

Although the Twin Cities area is the primary focus, Hobbie said, the findings should be helpful to other large cities, in Minnesota and around the world.

"Those stressors are experienced in other cities, as well, so we hope what we learn here will be informative to other cities," she said.

McIntosh cited the importance of this project including community voices that may have been overlooked in the past.

"We're all on a very big learning journey here," she said, "and where we can start in this project is incorporating those important observations about inequity."

Other partners in the research project include the University of St. Thomas, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Water Bar in Minneapolis.

Disclosure: The Nature Conservancy in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Environment, Sustainable Agriculture, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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