Safe Harbors Green: Summary of Mapping Ecosystem Services
Written by Elise Chessman
One Nature works to design sustainable landscapes that put ecology at the forefront. They hoped to explore mapping as a way of communicating the ecological contribution of their sites. Their redesign of the Safe Harbors Green in Newburgh, NY was used as a trial for this approach. Ecosystem service mapping is often done at the macro level, displaying entire towns or counties, up to even the national level. However, ecosystems are complex and varied, and a lot can be improved at the site-level, and even zoomed in at small sections of the park. Mapping, as a visual comprehension tool, is incredibly helpful at the site-specific level. Yet this theme is not discussed in geographic or ecological literature. Within the applied and professional sphere of working with ecosystem services, this style of mapping could prove very valuable as a communication tool to understand the necessity of more ecologically minded landscape and urban design.
The Safe Harbors Green is a park that One Nature designed, which has many ecological, human, and economic benefits. The site had formerly been a compacted lawn, but One Nature redesigned the space as an ecologically minded park with native plantings, green stormwater infrastructure, and non-compacted clover lawn spaces. Using ArcGIS, individual grid cells were assigned a value. With 0 being a neutral “business as usual” scenario, the park was assessed based on carbon sequestration, habitat creation, and hydrological benefit, thinking on the medium term (25 year) scale. Within the site, it became clear that the planting beds, trees and shrubs were the most ecologically significant, especially compared to the surrounding streets and sidewalk.
This mapping could even be done at a finer scale, zooming into individual cells to examine the ecology within a specific section of the park. Small sections can facilitate varied and complex ecological processes, and the site as a whole can be understood as the compounded effects of all of these small ecosystems. If only a segment of one of the planting beds were mapped, for example, it would reveal that there is microbial activity and generally healthier soil, allowing for carbon sequestration and water retention, and habitat for various species that would not have survived on a compacted lawn, through tall grasses and plants, healthy soils, and potential pollination sources. It serves as a network for all of these cells to connect and further improve, even if the surrounding area may not do the same. So while a macroecological map might make Safe Harbors Green look insignificant, applying this multi-layered, fine scale approach reveals the importance of this site’s ecology.
These maps hopefully can act as a precedent for similar mapping in the future. This process provides useful and communicative maps for the Safe Harbors Green space, and could be replicated with similar projects by One Nature in the future.
About the author: Elise Chessman is an intern at One Nature for the fall 2017 semester. She is currently a senior at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY, studying Geography with a minor in Urban Studies. She is originally from Evergreen, CO. She is interested in sustainable urban planning and design as well as social justice and equity in urban environments.