Sunday, November 14, 2010

Six amazing things city dwellers miss out on - Yahoo! News

smoggy city
(Photo: keepwaddling1 / Flickr)

Life in the big city is never lacking for good food, things to do, new art, or scores of people to meet. The hustle and bustle, edgy attitudes, and blissful anonymity do the trick for many an urbanite.

But sometimes, the cramped apartments and hustle and bustle leave city folk wishing for more frequent journeys toward open skies and expanses of green.

The following are six amazing things city dwellers miss out on.

light pollution scale
(Photo: Stellarium.org)

Stars

Inner-city night skies often look like an empty, hazy void, because light pollution easily drowns out the universe's twinkling mass of stars, planets, and meteorites. Throw in the reflective effects of air pollution, and urban star-gazing can be almost impossible, leaving many city dwellers oblivious to the cosmic kaleidoscope overhead. For star chasers who venture beyond this blinding glow, however, the sky is no longer the limit. On clear nights, rural and some suburban skies reveal a dazzling display of star power, much like what our ancestors saw before the rise of artificial lighting.

Try visiting some truly unlit "dark-sky sites" for the best views — such as Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the Great Basin Desert in Nevada, or the Adirondack Public Observatory in New York — but don't completely ignore the heavens back home.

Even big cities may have darker areas that allow for decent views on moonless nights, and if all else fails, you can always just turn your telescope on the moon itself. Let's see light pollution block that.

blue sky and hot air balloons
(Photo: jesse.millan / Flickr)

Fresh air

Most of us prefer the smell of fresh-cut grass to the belch of diesel fumes. But experts say dense urban environments really do have higher levels of air pollution than their less populated, suburban counterparts.

On the American Lung Association’s most polluted list in 2010: Cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix, where researchers found high levels of ozone (smog) and particle (soot) pollution. As for the locales with the cleanest air? Try Bismark, ND, and Cheyenne, WY.

Not surprisingly, Los Angeles received an "F" grade from researchers measuring pollution levels and associated risks, like asthma and other chronic lung ailments. But towns like Duluth, MN, scored an easy "A," no doubt letting residents breathe a little easier.

peaceful autumn lake
(Photo: moonjazz / Flickr)

Peace and quiet

New Yorkers boast of a city that never sleeps, but one of the coolest places on earth can also be one of the noisiest. The average noise level in Times Square is a whopping 80 decibels. For comparison’s sake, a whisper is measured at 20 decibels and normal conversation is around 65.

Other cities are equally noisy: Las Vegas’ Strip averages 68 decibels and San Francisco’s Union Square is 65. A quiet suburb is far quieter (50) and rural areas, by comparison, are practically silent (30) — unless there’s a vacuum cleaner running, which can ratchet noise levels back to 70 decibels. But even that doesn’t compare to the city subways, with a noise level of 102 decibels.

After a while, that noise takes a toll, leading to hearing loss, stress and hypertension.

lush greenery
(Photo: Laura Padgett / Flickr)

Greenery

In the world’s biggest cities, tall skyscrapers sprout more frequently than fresh tree saplings — but that doesn’t mean urban dwellers don’t know what they are missing.

Seattle, a city that values its trees, recently fined a judge $500,000 for cutting down 120 cherry and maple trees. Urban jungles like New York and Los Angeles have launched ambitious campaigns to plant 1 million trees.

It’s no wonder that city dwellers have their eye on the emerald prize, as a number of studies show that greenery boosts our health. Just five minutes of exercise a day in an outdoor setting can improve your mental state.

Healthy children and leafy suburbs also go together, according to asthma researchers. In a New York City-based study, asthma rates among children fell by a quarter for every 340 trees per square kilometer.

In all, the U.S. Forest Service maintains 193 million acres of national forest and grassland nationwide — meaning ours is a pretty green country.

cicada
(Photo: tlindenbaum / Flickr)

Sounds of nature

During the summer months, suburbanites often hear these singing insects before they see them. With their spirited acoustics, cicadas are hard to miss.

The inch-long bug's distinctive buzzing, humming, and clicking are produced by males at astounding volumes. (Some of the loudest cicada songs reach 120 decibels, which translates to a pretty loud mating, courting, or distress call.)

Seemingly pervasive in some climates, a cicada's adult live is brief. Juveniles, or nymphs, live underground most of their lives and emerge for two to six weeks in the heat of the summer.

But they don’t tread lightly. Tens of thousands have been known to blanket an acre of land in Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Though there are thousands of species, the most common species emerge every 13 or 17 years. So if you missed the great cicada concerts of 2004, get ready for 2011.

cat hiding in bushes
(Photo: mararie / Flickr)

Animals and wildlife

Cities certainly aren't devoid of wildlife -- from pigeons and crows to opossums and coyotes, plenty of animals eke out a living on the streets.

But while many species have adapted well to city life, they rarely match the size, numbers, or diversity of animals in natural habitats. Old-growth ecosystems teem with flora and fauna, and they have a lot to offer people who can read their signs.

Early humans used animals' clues to help them find prey, for example. Even if hunting isn't on the agenda, modern-day nature lovers can still use the same tactics to track wildlife, whether for photography or just for fun.

Look for animal tracks in soft ground like mud or snow, but check how fresh they are -- dead plants in the tracks probably means they're old. Look for signs of feeding, too, like stripped bark or scattered berries, and don't be afraid to study a little dung. The size of droppings can tell you how big an animal is, what it eats, and how close it is.

Other nature-savvy tricks can have even more practical uses, like Native Americans' various ways of predicting winter -- bears' hibernation spots were said to reveal how cold it would be, while the width and furriness of snowshoe hares' feet helped with snowfall forecasts. Ancient Europeans similarly looked to furry rodents for wintry hints, later bringing the practice to America, where it evolved into Groundhog Day.

And animals can even tip off natural disasters, such as pressure-sensing fish that dive deeper to avoid hurricanes or Italian toads that flee earthquakes days in advance.

by E.B. Solomont Mother Nature Network November 11, 2010



Six amazing things city dwellers miss out on - Yahoo! News

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