Green Heart Louisville: A Prescription for Greening
by Dr. Marvin N. Miller
February 18, 2019

Green Heart Louisville: A Prescription for Greening By Dr. Marvin N. Miller

A few weeks ago, I had the honor of being the keynote speaker for the educational program at the Kentucky Nursery and Landscape Association’s Winter Educational Outing & Expo.

On the program with me was Chris Chandler from the Louisville office of The Nature Conservancy. Chris spoke about a research project he is very involved with called Green Heart Louisville. This is a $16 million research effort involving the University of Louisville’s medical school, the National Institutes of Health, and several other universities and organizations.

Whereas we have many, many research papers which talk about the power of plants to help solve environmental, economic and health and well-being challenges, this study endeavors to plot a specific response curve, as one might formulate for a new prescription drug. However, here the drug is nature!

Working in four neighborhoods on Louisville’s south side, the study will aim to discover the best way to plant trees, shrubs and other plant materials specifically to ameliorate the ills in their surroundings. The City of Louisville sits in what has been termed a coronary valley, in part because the air quality is among the worst in the nation and the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and other ills is among the highest in the country.

The five-year study began last year, with volunteer households enrolling for landscape services and for medical monitoring. This fall, Green Heart Louisville will begin planting 8,000 trees and other plant material along the roads in these neighborhoods and even in people’s yards. And the residents’ health statistics will be monitored for several more years as the landscapes become established and the plants begin to “work their magic.”

This is truly a very exciting project. As a pilot study to prove the concept, the project began by adding plants to the landscape around a school. In just its first month after the landscape enhancements were added, the health scores of students and staff at the school were dramatically improved. We know that plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of photosynthesis, but plants also filter particulates from the air. And plants also can help to stabilize the soil, helping to reduce soil erosion and dust particles in the air. It is obvious that the trees planted between the roadway and the school building were “doing their thing” when it came to air quality. These plants also helped to muffle the noise from the road and will ultimately create a nice visual screen as well. And now we know, these plants will also likely improve the overall health of those working and studying in the school.

Stay tuned, as this will be a great project to follow.

Author info: Dr. Marvin N. Miller is Market Research Manager for Ball Horticultural Company, West Chicago, Illinois. He is a past president of America in Bloom and currently serves on the Board of Directors and as the organization’s Treasurer.

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