Why Should We Restore Urban Streams?
Riparian (streamside) habitats are California's most endangered ecosystem type.
California has retained a higher percentage of its old-growth redwood forest than it has of its riparian habitats. And yet those habitats are the most critical of all for biological diversity.
Well over half of all native California plants and animals are dependent on riparian habitats for all or part of their life-cycles. Some have argued that patches of riparian habitat in urban areas are too small to be ecologically important, but historical evidence indicates that riparian habitats in the Bay Area were always small, patchy, and ephemeral. They evolved in an environment in which they would periodically be damaged or leveled entirely by a flood or fire, only to spring up again.
In many cases, this means that restored urban riparian habitats can provide a good deal of the habitat benefits that our native plants and animals require to survive. This makes restoring small areas of riparian habitat in our urban areas a compelling and certainly worthwhile endeavor.
Do Riparian Habitats Improve
Some local water resource experts have argued that restored riparian habitats can provide most of the services of expensive stormwater treatment facilities, and at a fraction of the cost. While the numbers are based on models rather than on actual measurements, this argument warrants further examination- especially when you add water quality benefits to the host of other benefits that restored riparian habitats provide.
What About Our Kids?
Almost everyone has a story about their own childhood creek or forest. And everyone remembers how integral that area was to their understanding of the world, and how important it was as a child to have a “secret place” that was only theirs, where they could go when they were scared, worried, or just needed a break from the stress of everyday life.
Increasingly, children are being denied that chance to experience nature as our creeks are culverted, paved over, or channelized. The only playtime many of today’s children know consists of video games and concrete.
There's a growing body of literature focusing on the importance of the natural world in the lives of every person, especially those who live in urban areas. This literature suggests that people, especially children, need contact with nature in order to be happy and healthy. This is not primarily an "exercise outdoors" idea, nor is it a suggestion that everyone needs weeklong backpacking trips in the Sierras.
Authors and naturalists, such as Richard Louv ( Last Child in the Woods), are finding that people need “unstructured time” in “unstructured environments” - but those environments need not be remote, or even wild. The key, Louv and others suggest, is that they be "information-rich" - i.e. more complex than the highly-simplified structures and flat, turfed areas of parks and playgrounds. One of the best - and in many places perhaps the only - place to find such environments in the urban core is in our remaining unculverted stream corridors.
UCC is focusing on an approach to re-integrate urban creeks into communities that will provide opportunities for urban dwellers to experience nature right at their doorsteps. For many children, urban streams may provide the only meaningful contact they have with our natural world.