New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the nation and, according to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, more crowded than either Japan or India. Given the high-rise apartments rapidly being built New Jersey's urban area, we are only going to grow more tightly packed.
From a policy perspective this is good — more brownfield development adjacent to mass transit and less tearing apart of New Jersey’s remaining greens spaces. It also matches the live work and play expectations of millennials.
But building higher density housing in cities doesn’t overlook the need for smart landscape design that preserves water, provides shade to keep city temperatures down and also creates streetscapes to admire — adding to the value of these properties.
While a recent Department of Environmental Protection report projects that New Jersey has enough water resources to meet state needs into the foreseeable future a severe drought could impact that in a hurry. Irrigated lawns around apartment buildings and in townhouse communities use hundreds of gallons of water, virtually all of it potable. In a drought, that’s just not acceptable.
We should know by now that lawns of green grass aren’t so “green.” Besides wasting water, we use too many pesticides and herbicides, which can kill beneficial insects likes bees as well as the fish we eat, and the water we drink.
What’s more, we know our water table is dropping in many locations, and rivers and streams go dry for long stretches in various seasons as water is siphoned off for agriculture, industry, and individual residences. And, according to NASA, all along the Atlantic seaboard from Florida to New York, saltwater is flowing into formerly freshwater aquifers and wells because we are pumping freshwater out faster than nature can put it back. Especially along the Hudson “Gold Coast” that’s a concern.
So it’s time for multifamily developments to become smarter about their properties. Use less fertilizer than the instructions recommend and make it organic rather than water-soluble types and avoid the use of pesticides. Re-seeding should be done fescue varieties. They are hardy, easy to maintain and don’t need heavy watering to thrive.
At the same time, tree management plans should be developed. Trees and plants help cool the environment, making vegetation a simple and effective way to reduce urban heat islands. Certainly we know the value of even pocket parks in cities as a welcome respite of shade, but just as important are the plantings around residential and commercial buildings.
It’s no exaggeration to say that trees are nature’s air conditioners. Think about the relief you get on even the hottest day when you duck into the shade provide by trees.
But it’s more than just shade. Trees and vegetation lower surface and air temperatures by shade and through evapotranspiration (the process by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by transpiration from plants). Shaded surfaces, for example, may be 20–45°F cooler than the peak temperatures of unshaded sidewalks, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
As our cities grow, we must be smarter about how we “cultivate” them. We’ll all benefit from more careful water use, more trees and a healthier environment. It’s also a good business approach.
Steven Jomides is CEO of Lawns By Yorkshire in Westwood.