I have always had a love/hate relationship with Star Trek’s “holodeck.” This is a fully immersive, computer-generated environment. Though it could create anything anywhere often it created a quiet place where nature was simulated for space-weary travelers. There were tall trees and babbling brooks. Now oftentimes that turned from peaceful to not so peaceful, or an alarm went off and everyone had to leave the peaceful surroundings. I loved it because our Star Trek world can actually explore anywhere, and anytime, so it opened all kinds of story plot possibilities; however, there was something terribly sad about it as well.

The make-believe forest was a type of shore leave where, before the hologram, the Enterprise crew would take a break on a Federation planet that featured actual nature. Having immersive nature replace real nature was a concept that has been around sci-fi for a long time; however, now it is actually something that my grandkids, even my kids, are able to experience as something common.

Virtual reality (VR) games have been around for a long time and VR technology is improving all the time. Now VR can be used in positive ways to educate. For example, VR can be used to help people understand the real challenges of climate change. Users can walk through a simulated forest of today and see what various futures may hold for the trees, according to an article, “Virtual reality forests could help understanding of climate change,” from Penn State published Nov. 11, 2020.

The idea is to bring into view the possible consequences of climate change and what those consequences look like if we continue in the direction we are now going. Those outcomes will hopefully generate some emotional connection as users view forests turn from green to brown due to severe drought, or see trees topple, or see more frequent fires.

I think this would be a great way to use VR, and future holodecks; however, I also worry that we no longer just go outside. I think at times we are all guilty of looking at our phones to check the current weather rather than just stepping outside our door.

I have walked the path in Mountain Oaks that runs along Crescenta Valley Park since I moved here over 30 years ago. Within the past few years I can easily see the effects of climate change. Trees are toppling due to drought. Another effect is severe rains. No matter how advanced VR or holodeck-type technology gets, it can never replace an old fashioned walk in the woods.

Open space and the need for it is something that has always been debated in the U.S. We seem to vacillate among “tear it all down and build cities” to “leave a little space” to “leave it all.” The fact is many city dwellers do not have a park – open space – near them.

In 2020 a study was conducted in 2020 for California’s Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Plan.

“[The study found] 61% of Californians live in Census Tracts with less than three acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, 8.3 million people. And 21% of Californians have no park within a half mile of their homes,” according to the report from Parks for All Californians.

There is no doubt that Californians need more housing but it is important to keep in mind that open space needs to be part of any equation when looking into what to build and how to build.

“Regular use of green spaces is correlated to lower blood pressure and cholesterol,” according to the National Governors Association. “Public health and community are intrinsically connected … Due to decades of discriminatory policies, Black, Hispanic, Latino and American Indian or Alaska Native people more often reside in neighborhoods with limited access to critical resources and higher rates of pollution. This culminates into increased likelihood of experiencing poor health outcomes – creating a cycle of inequity.”

Green space – parks – is vital to positive human development, well-being and mental health, according to the report.

“Each day, an estimated 6,000 acres of open space are converted to other uses. Expanding urban and suburban areas often result in a loss of forests, grasslands and other natural areas. This loss is significant, as open spaces provide many benefits and ecosystem services. From clean water and natural flood control to wildlife habitat and biodiversity to recreation opportunities, there are many diverse benefits derived from open space that we must consider and manage sustainably,” according to Forest Service/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, in 2007 forests covered 751 million acres of land in the U.S. More than half of the forests are privately owned; federal, state and local government have stewardship responsibilities for the other 44%. More than 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas. Between 2010 and 2060, total urban and developed land area is projected to increase by 39 to 69 million acres.

So not only have green spaces been associated with the reduction of several chronic diseases and associated symptoms, including anxiety, obesity and cardiovascular disease, it also helps the environment. Green spaces contribute to improved air quality and reduce the likelihood of flooding. Green spaces also help mitigate and improve resilience to climate change and its impacts, according to the National Library of Medicine/National Center for Biotechnology Information.

So although housing issues are way above my pay grade, I hope to see a more reasonable thought process in our response to housing issues. I understand, believe me, California needs more housing – but it took us a long time to get to this crisis point. Like doctors are now looking at treating the entire person – mental health as well as physical health – our leaders need to treat the entire housing crisis, which includes the inclusion of green spaces.

We are going to have more rain in our future. Starting tonight into Friday we will see a small amount of rain in the area, nothing like Saturday’s storm that brought 1.5 inches of rain to Burbank and about 2.5 inches of rain to the areas of La Cañada Flintridge and Crescenta Valley.

The storm tonight will be much colder with highs in the mid 50s. We could see snow down to the 2,500 to 3,000 foot level.

“Any accumulation will be at 3,500 feet,” said Robbie Munroe, NOAA meteorologist.