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Neighbors Stewarding Ecology

Research by the ABCD Institute has identified 7 key functions that neighborhoods play in our society. In January we started a series describing how our work contributes to the health and vitality of the 7 key functions. As the third in this series, this blog focuses on the neighborhood’s role in stewarding ecology. Pictured below are friends and neighbors from the Washington School neighborhood working on a community garden.

As Spring arrives, flowers begin to bloom, fruit grows in season, and the warmer weather invites us to enjoy the outdoors. The pleasant weather however can be quickly interrupted by thunderstorms, heat waves, and raging humidity. In what seemed to be a moment of peace and tranquility, chaos thunders in uninvited.

In many ways, nature mirrors personal life and many of our experiences over the past few years. When life seemed to be “returning to normal” with change around the corner it was quickly interrupted by isolation, political polarization, and natural disasters. When this happens, it’s easy to feel as if we are powerless – that our choices don’t make a difference in the larger trends.

However, we are finding more and more that it is exactly our small choices that make the difference. Whether that’s the courage it takes to introduce ourselves to a next door neighbor, attending local events, or even collaborating with others over a shared interest. In fact, our small decisions can also have a big impact when it comes to the environment and local ecology.

According to Cormac Russell and John McKnight, one of the primary functions of a neighborhood is stewarding ecology. While this will be different in different communities (i.e., rural, suburban, urban), such functions as energy efficiency, encouraging local vegetation, or our choice in transportation makes a real difference. When we make a small decision such as to plant a local species of flower or walk to our neighbor’s house, we are also participating in the stewardship of our neighborhood’s environment.

In Florida (where our staff member Megan is from), one of the biggest threats to the local ecosystem is the burmese python. In a state known for alligators, sharks, and mosquitos the pythons must be doing some heavy damage to be considered one of the biggest threats. And they are. Pythons are not native to Florida so they have no natural predator and the population can increase without threat. As a result, several native animal species have effectively disappeared.

So how does this relate to how we steward the environment? The important detail is that pythons aren’t native to Florida. The pythons were originally brought as pets when people moved to the state. And when they grew and got too big, they were released into the wild. The issue Florida is facing isn’t an act of nature, it’s individual choices that have happened over decades. Each choice building on one another and leading to a severe threat.

As you can see, making a small decision that nurtures the environment can have a large impact, not only for the environment, but for our neighbors and ourselves. This is not a task that can be seen as a solo mission. It takes us collaborating with others in our community while we take small steps in our daily lives.

So, what are seven ways you (and your neighbors) can steward the local ecology in your neighborhood?

  1. Grow plants in your yard that are native to your region

  2. Join with a group of neighbors to share your passion for gardening or nature

  3. Create a Pollinator Garden that attracts butterflies and bees

  4. Add birdhouses or feeders to encourage the natural wildlife

  5. If you’re in suburban or urban area, find a local restaurant within walking distance and try walking to it one day

  6. Engage youth in outdoor activities like sports or gardening

  7. And, if possible, don’t buy large predatory snakes that you plan to one day release into the wild

To learn how local neighbors are teaming up to take care of their neighborhood ecology, check out these resources:

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