Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why Does Charlotte Still Contain So Much Greenery? An Update

In 2010, the Office of Research Communication had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Ross Meentemeyer, UNC Charlotte professor of Geography and Earth Sciences and Executive Director of UNC Charlotte’s Center for Applied Geographic Information Science, about a project just getting underway. The project was funded under a environmental study program from the National Science Foundation called ULTRA-EX and was specifically aimed at answering an interesting urban development mystery: Why does Charlotte have so much greenery?

According to the law of economics, the value of forests should be greatly out weighed by the price and use of land within a city. Yet, to any one with the free time to do so, driving around the Queen City seems to yield the proof that economics is wrong. So why are working lands coexisting with forests? "Under this doctirine of economics, it's a winner take all kind of thing."  said Douglas Shoemaker, UNC Charlotte Center for Applied GIScience Director of Research, who works under Dr. Meentemeyer."None the less, we still do see that there are forests within the inner city and uptown, and certainly here [by campus]. So what's going on?"

A collage of the field work for collecting data on the areas green space

Back in 2010, research was just getting started. However, today, a lot of hard work has led to the creation of new data to utilize. Last fall, the team released a field survey to over 5000 participants, asking 45 questions detailing the monetary and intrinsic values of the participant's lands. Utilizing the results, the team has come up with over 400 variables as to why people value their land and why. "Almost all of the surveys were returned, which was amazing itself," says Shoemaker, though he does admit that there was a little bit of survey bias. With the results, the team will be able to go to the land and asses the biodiversity, health and value of timber of all the land to compare with the results of this survey.

"Having all of this survey data leads to other stories." said Shoemaker. There are tax incentives for all who want to find ways to keep their land. "The problem is that most don't take advantage of them," comments Shoemaker. The biggest issue is that these tax incentives are aimed towards larger lands, at least 20 acres. The definition of an urban forest requires that the land be under 20 acres, which completely bypasses most people surveyed, leaving them with a much harder time protecting their land.

 However, urban forests are different than nationwide forests and can therefore have special privileges, such as being able to divide the rights to the land for development reduction. These conservation easements are a great way for land owners to protect their land.

A graphic depicting the study areas and the characteristics of the areas

Looking ahead, the group is working on a Stated Preference Survey to be sent out. This survey will take the data describing the participants' plots of land along with a few other variables, which will be used to create a  computer generated model to determine what features about their land are seen as most important. The survey will also work to gather data on whether or not the land owners would consider switching these small lands to farming different crops to help push towards biofuels, and what it would take to switch to such a fuel ecology. Even with this survey underway, the team still wishes to answer even more questions. Do land markets trump intrinsic value? There's also the problem of the 'not my backyard' effect, in which individuals ignore any problems with land that does not effect them.

With the new survey underway and ready to be pushed out soon, there is a lot of exciting information heading our way through Dr. Meentemeyer and Shoemaker, it will be exciting to see what the team will produce. We will check back in with the group at a later date for another update.


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