Concordia’s Finding Urban Nature outreach project promotes the value of Montreal’s informal green spaces
This summer, Concordia researchers Lindsay Doyle and Ashley Spanier-Levasseur teamed up with biology professor Emma Despland to help youth in day camps discover Montreal’s informal urban green spaces.
The goal was twofold: to help the children access a resource that is all around them in the city but often goes unnoticed, and to promote the environmental benefits of protecting and expanding such spaces. “This has been a coming together of multiple initiatives,” Despland says.
“Two years ago, we partnered with urbaNature Education, an NGO that does education about nature in the city. This year we’ve taken it up a notch and we’ve really created our own unique thing, melding a research project into community outreach and hiring a number of interns from both Concordia and McGill.”
She adds that they’re conducting research but also teaching science and nature connectedness to kids in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (NDG) neighbourhood who are often cut off from nature.
“We’re asking, ‘What resources does the university have that are relevant to you?’”
Promoting the benefits of nature connectedness
“Often, people don’t realize how close they are to nature in the city — especially if the areas aren’t official parks,” Doyle says.
Throughout the summer, Doyle and Spanier-Levasseur’s Finding Urban Nature (F.U.N.) group partnered with various community organizations such as Sauvons la Falaise and Les Amis du Champ des Possibles to promote the high social and cultural value of four particular informal Montreal green spaces: the Falaise Saint-Jacques between NDG and Highway 20, Mile End’s Champs des Possibles, the Parc-Nature Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and the Technoparc in Dorval.
Throughout the summer they brought more than 200 children from NDG community day camps to spend time at the Falaise Saint-Jacques, organizing various activities such as nature walks and insect and fauna observations.
“A lot of these kids had never been in nature before and didn’t realize it was so close to them,” says Karen Fisher Favret, a science educator also working with the project.
When not with the day camps, the researchers spent time compiling data such as temperature, humidity and pollution levels with their very own Concordia-made prototype sensors.
“So far we’ve been observing populations of bats, bees, butterflies and fireflies,” Spanier-Levasseur shares.
Empowering citizens and attaining sustainable development goals
“An informal urban green space is an area that was historically of human use but has been left behind and is now covered in spontaneous vegetation,” Doyle explains. She adds that a lot of their work is to help empower citizens to show the value of protecting these spaces.
“People don’t realize how important these green spaces are, especially in proximity to urban spaces. They help with temperature regulation, the urban heat-island effect; they absorb water during floods as well as pollution, acting as a sponge, and biodiversity helps pollinators and food security.”
“And the social component is about fostering a conservation ethic in young people,” Despland notes. “Kids have had enough of sitting in classrooms listening to adults tell them what to do. They need to get out into nature.”
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