Jun Tang is committed to making the Twin Cities and beyond more habitable for some of our smallest denizens: pollinators. A regional planner for Metro Blooms, Tang has developed a comprehensive mapping system to achieve this goal. His system creates highly-detailed maps of pollinator habitat and then identifies “sweet spots” where the money spent to improve habitat brings the greatest benefit.
“Creating pollinator habitat can be expensive,” says Tang. “It is imperative that new habitat is situated in locations that yield the greatest return on investment.”
His system will help guide agencies, governments and other groups in making decisions on what actions to take, and where. He recently finished mapping the city of Minneapolis for the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board. Separately, he has also been advising landscape architecture students on a similar project at the University of Minnesota, his alma mater.
Tang feels a sense of urgency. Every year, he says, there are declines among the more than 400 wild pollinator species in Minnesota. The situation in parts of China, where he was raised, is even more serious, where bees have become extinct and humans have taken on the role of pollinating some agricultural products.
Tang is originally from the city of Chongqing in southwest China. He came to the US as a teenager for high school, to improve his English. Shortly after arriving, he began to see differences in the way cities were laid out between China and the US, noticing, for example, that rivers in his hometown were less protected from sewage issues than here. This planted the seeds of his interest in urban planning and environmental issues. After high school he went to the University of Minnesota (UMN) to study urban planning.
After graduating in 2012, he briefly returned to Chongqing to work for an American engineering company. It was during this time that he realized he wanted to focus his energies on learning more organic and natural ways to solve environmental problems.
“One thing I learned in college was how much the impermeable surfaces that we add to the ground damage the circulation of water, nutrients, organic matter, and inorganic matter,” Tang says. “No one handles environmental problems better than nature itself. If we cannot create an artificial system that is better than nature, we need to give back the resiliency that nature used to have.”
He returned to the UMN for a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, in land use design. He became inspired to focus on pollinator issues when he took classes in landscape restoration with professors Dave Pitt and Dan Shaw. His capstone project, and the beginning of the work he is doing now, was mapping pollinator habitat and identifying areas suitable for improvement in Washington County, a pilot project in the state.
Tang sees a motivational aspect to his work too. He once analyzed a Metro Blooms neighborhood survey on yard management practices. He created a density map showing areas where homeowners didn’t think their individual actions could have an impact. But the map showed otherwise, and maybe this kind of information could inspire people to act in their own yards.
— by Aleli Balagtas, Metro Blooms Reporter, firstname.lastname@example.org