The Case for Conservation Work in Cities

by Chris Chandler, Director of Urban Conservation in Louisville

Moving back to Louisville after a few years away was an easy decision. Louisville is a wonderful place to live, learn, work and play.  Louisville is home, and I want my three children to know the place that I love. But recently, my seven-year-old daughter has developed allergies that she might never have developed if we lived somewhere with cleaner air.  Air quality was no longer an abstract or vague concern; it was very real and personal.  One recent study found that living in Louisville year-round is equivalent to sharing a home with a smoker for four months. Another comparative study reveals that Louisville ranks 17th out of 17 peer cities for air quality. Louisville, like much of the Ohio Valley, has long felt the health consequences of living in America’s industrial core – an area known as “the coronary valley” where smog stalls over Louisville due to geographical and weather characteristics.

The health effects from lingering pollution result in increased asthma, allergies and heart disease. The healthcare price tag in Louisville for cardiovascular disease alone exceeds $600 million annually.

Louisville’s air quality compounded with high asthma rates may keep the city from reaching its full potential.  Do other young families want to put down roots in an unhealthy city?  Will businesses invest and nurture innovation in a place where they’ll struggle to attract employees?

The good news is this issue has local leadership banding together to consider the role nature plays in improving air quality, and thus, improving the health and quality of life for all who call this city home.

For example, I’m proud to be an advisory board member for the AIR Louisville project – an innovative collaboration that’s tracking asthma incidence with GPS-enabled “smart inhalers.”  We’re beginning to learn that a lack of nature is one of the drivers for asthma.

Another exciting project will study whether strategic “re-greening” of neighborhoods can measurably reduce dirty air, thus decreasing the risk and incidence of cardiovascular disease.

More nature in cities can improve people’s health and quality of life, making cities more livable, flourishing places. That’s a future for cities we could all celebrate.

To learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work in Louisville, visit our Urban Conservation page.  To support our work in Kentucky, donate today.