Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the National Bestseller Last Child in the Woods

Blog Posts: January 2016

THE 7 BEST STORIES AND TRENDS OF 2015: For children, families, communities, and nature, it was a very good year

In a world filled with dismal news, 2015 was a banner year for the new nature movement. Here’s a sampling of some of the inspiring trends and stories from the past year.

1. During an era when congressional gridlock is assumed, government took some surprisingly hopeful actions to connect families and communities and nature.

On Dec. 16, the 114th Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka the Every Student Succeeds Act), replacing the No Child Left Behind Act. Unlike NCLB, the new act includes provisions that support learning about the environment, conservation, and field studies. This bipartisan step in the right direction was taken after after years of effort by The No Child Left Inside Coalition, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, environmental education leader Don Baugh, Rep. John Sarbanes of Maryland, and many others.

Also in 2015, President Obama inaugurated the White House initiative, Every Kid in a Park.  As of September 1, 2015, every fourth grader in the U.S., and their families, were  able to obtain a free annual pass to all federally managed lands and waters. With an emphasis on inner-city neighborhoods, the initiative, still a work in progress, will work closely with schools, conservation groups, and other organizations. Also, the National Park Service, as part of a larger effort to attract more diverse visitors, launched its Find Your Park campaign, using the Internet to help people learn about parks near and far.

Some of the most positive steps by government, however, happened at the regional and local level, especially among mayors. As you'll see below.

2. In 2015, the idea that nature can be used for both prevention and therapy gained ground and institutional support.

More health care professionals “prescribed” Vitamin N. In Washington D.C., Dr. Robert. Zarr, continued to encourage physicians to prescribe nature, and he and his colleagues have developed a zip code search engine which rates 350 local parks. Now the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation has teamed up with doctors to get more people outside and exercising; physician  “prescriptions” are free passes to any state park.

As more research connected good health outcomes to nature time this year, a group of Massachusetts mental health advocates promoted a Right to Fresh Air bill ensuring that all patients residing in mental health facilities would have the right to reasonable, consistent access to the outdoors. The legislation passed. In Belfast, Ireland, health and environmental experts met to develop policies promoting nature experiences to improve the mental and physical health of citizens. The Irish News reported, “There is no quick-fix… but there is an increasing awareness that the environment or natural world can play a role both at a preventative and curative level.”

In April, an international group of scientists – including a Nobel Prize winner and several Nobel nominees – issued the Helsinki Alert of Biodiversity and Health, affirming the necessity of nearby nature to human health and the need for a new approach to urban planning and policies.

3. The number of nature-smart schools grew – and so did national attention to the impact of natural learning.

Thousands of conservation groups and  environmental education professionals and organizations continued their vital work to improve environmental literacy in classrooms and beyond. In addition, more school walls became permeable. For years, nature-smart schools have been popular in Germany and Scandinavian countries, but now they're gaining traction around the world.

On December 28, The New York Times reported that The Natural Start Alliance, "founded in 2013 in response to demand from a growing number of nature preschool providers," counts 92 schools that "put nature at the heart of their programs, and where children spend a significant portion of each day outside….That’s up from 20 schools in 2008.” This year, the Texas Workforce Commission announced new financial incentives and support for childcare centers with outdoor activities. In Indiana, New Jersey and West Virginia, the American Water Charitable Foundation, Building Better Communities announced a major grant to fund nature-based play.

Also in 2015, C&NN announced its Green Schoolyards for Healthy Communities Project. The initiative will work to support leaders in the Green Schoolyard movement to transform our national school grounds into nature-rich environments for children and families, and create a resource hub that offers research, information and training.

Meanwhile, in South Australia, the state government decided to jumpstart their own nature preschool movement. A $6 million program will encourage the establishment of nature preschools across the state, and establish 20 new outdoor play areas. Public-private Nature Play campaigns continue to grow in four of Australia’s seven states.

In China,a 2015 study attributed an impressive growth spurt of the nature education movement to changing attitudes among parents; more business involvement; and the emergence of environmentalism’s “social participation model”  – the belief that the future of conservation will be assured only if future generations learn to love nature through direct experience.

4. Biophilic design moved further into the mainstream of urban thinking,

The biopilia hypothesis holds that human beings are genetically wired to have an affiliation with the rest of nature, and so it’s no surprise why people tend to be more productive and healthier in houses, schools and office buildings infused with natural elements. In Singapore the Centre of Liveable Communities and the National Parks Board began drafting guidelines to help agencies develop and refine facilities to help better connect people to nature, integrating the principles of biophilic design.

Architect Mohammed Lawal, a member of C&NN's board of directors, used aspects biophilic design to help create a new home for Minnesota's Washburn Center for Children, a large facility serving children with social, emotional and behavioral challenges. Lawal also used biophilic principles in the redevelopment of Sun Ray Library in 2014,  in a lower-income St. Paul neighborhood. And in 2015, with support from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Wells Fargo, C&NN launched its Natural Library initiative at Sun Ray, as part of an effort to encourage libraries to connect families to nature through the design of facilities and programs. We hope that libraries across the country will become hubs of bioregional awareness.

5. As many of us hoped it would, 2015 turned out to be the year of the nature-rich city.

In partnership with the National League of Cities, C&NN launched a new initiative, Cities Connecting Children to Nature, an ambitious project that will offer training and technical assistance for creating nature-rich cities to municipal leaders across the U.S., with an emphasis on improving nature access for low-income communities. This year, Ralph Becker and Chris Coleman, the mayors of Salt Lake City, Utah, and St. Paul, Minnesota, kicked off the initiative by hosting leadership training for city staff members from around the country.

In 2015, some cities were well on their way to becoming national models. In Salt Lake City, Mayor Becker developed Salt Lake City Explore, which challenges local youths and their parents to spend at least 30 minutes a day outdoors for a 30-day period. It’s part of a national campaign led by U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to connect children with nature and inspire a new generation of outdoor stewards. Philadelphia pursued the goal of creating suitable green spaces within a 10-minute walk of every home in the city. Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter recently announced the expansion of the city’s Green2015 partnership, with the Trust for Public Land, to develop more green schoolyards, engaging elementary school students as design partners – and creating a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign.

A coming challenge will be to reimagine the whole city, not only the parks and school grounds, as a coming zoopolis. In the U.K., a campaign gained steam to capitalize on existing natural areas and restore and create new nearby nature, and transform the entire city of London into the world’s first National Park City.

6. Corporate, government, philanthropic and academic support for the new nature movement increased, in some surprising ways.

The North Face contributed $500,000 to 47 projects, including Latino Outdoors, that connect people to personal and societal change through nature. DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc. helped Great Outdoors Colorado hold its first-ever Outdoor Summit, announcing $35 million in grants for communities that connect kids to nature. Disney expanded its support of family nature clubs. Meanwhile, REI told us all to take a hike. REI closed its stores nationwide on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, and encouraged its employees and customers head outdoors on that day. More than 150 other companies, nonprofit organizations and agencies joined REI’s #OptOutside campaign. (The REI Foundation has been supportive of C&NN’s efforts for years.)

In addition to moral suasion, the new nature movement depends on scientific research to make the case. In 2015, we saw an upsurge in new studies about the importance of nature experience to human development, and that surge is gaining speed. We not only need more research, we need ways to get these findings into the right hands, and to make them more available to the public. This year, in partnership with the University of Minnesota, the North American Association of Environmental Education (NAAEE) and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Children & Nature Network announced the formation of the Science of Nature-Based Learning Collaborative Research Network, with funding from a three-year National Science Foundation grant.

Expanding C&NN's current collection of research and resources for education, health and movement-building into a comprehensive and powerful engine for change will be essential if the new nature movement is to continue to grow and thrive.

7. 2015 produced a wealth of new, nature-smart leaders.

Families are taking nature into their own hands, with a little help from some major organizations. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) announced the recipients of 44 Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium grants. Supported by the Disney Conservation Fund, the program is a partnership with the Children & Nature Network, building on their successful Family Nature Club initiative – an effort to encourage families to band together to get outside. In partnership with C&NN, the Canadian Wildlife Federation is building a remarkable Wild Family Nature Clubs campaign.

All of these trends and leaders were on full display in 2015 at several conferences. The Brandwein Institute, in partnership with the National Environmental Education Foundation, encouraged a new generation of leadership at a North American at a summit held in November at the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in West Virginia. In April, in partnership with Austin Families in Nature. the first C&NN national conference fully open to the public quadrupled the attendance of past C&NN gatherings.  (Here’s information on how to enroll in the next C&NN Conference, to be held May 24th – 27th, in St. Paul.) And in June, members of C&NN’s Natural Leaders network of young leaders, ages 18 to 30, gathered at NCTC, where they explored old and new ways to connect their home communities to the natural world.

Like others who were there, I came away inspired by both the C&NN Conference and the Natural Leaders training. As I wrote in July, when I arrived at NCTC, “the fields were alive with fireflies and the evening sky was lit by lightening. The scene was appropriate, for the light that these young people will spread around the world will be electric, luminescent and authentic.”

In a world of grief, prejudice, anger and violence, connecting people to nature brings people together. It’s a happy cause.

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two coversRichard Louv is chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual Age and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. His newest book, VITAMIN N, will be published in April. It offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. Follow Rich on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter

Click here to learn about one of the ways you can grow the children and nature movement.

 

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BRING DOWN THE BARRIERS: Five Causes of Nature-Deficit Disorder; Five Challenges for the New Nature Movement

In the 21st Century, our Great Work – as Thomas Berry put it – must be the creation of a new, restorative relationship with the rest of the natural world. It’s time to envision that future.

It’s time to bring down the barriers, including these — which are not only between people and nature, but also between people. Read Full Post.

EVERY TEACHER CAN BE A NATURAL TEACHER: 10 Ways You Can Add Vitamin “N” to the Classroom & Beyond

Join Rich on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RichLouv

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Want a Nature-Smart Career? 11 New Jobs for a Nature-Rich Future (and for Right Now

Want to make a decent living and a better life? Here's one way. Get a job – a nature-smart job. Or better yet, be a nature-smart entrepreneur. By that, I don't mean a career devoted only to energy efficiency. That's important, but there's a whole new category of green jobs coming. These careers and avocations will help children and adults become happier, healthier and smarter, by truly greening where people live, work, learn and play. 

Here are some exciting careers that you—and your kids— may never have considered:

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THE AUSTRALIA TOUR: Sponsored by the Australian Conservation Foundation

 

Australian Conservation Foundation

 

 

Richard Louv Australia tour

MELBOURNE, SYDNEY, BRISBANE AND ADELAIDE | Saturday, 22 February 2014 to Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Richard Louv is a journalist and the author of eight books about the connections between family, nature and community.

The value of nature as an essential aspect of our health, creativity, intelligence and wellbeing is often overlooked. Yet when nature is diminished, so are we.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, uses the term nature-deficit disorder to explain the correlation between an increase in social, mental and physical health problems with less time spent in nature in our increasingly busy and technology-driven lives. 

ACF is delighted to be hosting Connected by Nature: In conversation with Richard Louv, a series of public events in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide from February 22-26.

Richard Louv argues that by tapping into the restorative powers of nature - by getting a strong hit of 'vitamin nature' - we can boost mental agility and creativity; promote health and wellbeing; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds.

Connected by Nature: In conversation with Richard Louv will offer renewed optimism while challenging us to rethink the way we live.

For individual event details and to purchase tickets, click on each event below.

Saturday 22 Feb - Melbourne

Sunday 23 Feb - Sydney

Monday 24 Feb - Brisbane

Wednesday 26 Feb - Adelaide

 

For a list of some of the organizations building the children and nature movement in Australia, click here.

 
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WHO'S LEADING THE CHARGE IN AUSTRALIA? A Growing List of Groups Connecting People (Especially Children) to Nature

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is bringing me to several cities in Australia on Feb. 22 to Feb. 26. And Australia is hopping with folks committed to the children and nature movement.

Here's a list sent to me by Antje Dun, librarian with ACF, about some of the great organizations doing inspiring work. I'm hoping to meet folks from many of these organizations during the tour.

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GIVING THE GIFT OF HOLIDAY LOVE LISTS: An Alternative Tradition

Every year....

One December, I wrote a newspaper column about Linda Evangelist, of El Centro, California, who did not enjoy shopping. 

Linda and the members of her family decided that, rather than buying each other presents, each would write a love letter to the other family members, to be read aloud on Christmas morning. The love letters would list at least twenty-five reasons why the person receiving the letter was loved or valued.

Among the reasons her son Brad (then a teenager) gave for loving his dad: "You would bribe me to go get ice cream late at night after Mom went to bed."  Among the reasons her two sons gave for loving their mom: "You come up with weird ideas like this one." Among the reasons the brothers gave for loving each other: "You rode me on your handlebars to school when I was in junior high," and "You were considerate enough to put your banana peels under the couch." And so on

Love lists became a Christmas morning tradition in the Evangelist household—and in many other homes, as well, including those of other religious (and non-religious) persuasions. One year, in the holiday season, a talk-show host on L.A. radio station KFI read the column over the air. The idea began to spread. So I decided that my family had better get on board, too. 

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What if...?

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Imagine a World

The full text of this essay is in the paperback edition of "The Nature Principle" Read Full Post.

NEW INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION TO THE FORGOTTEN HUMAN RIGHT

When Annelies Henstra, a Dutch human rights attorney, talks about the right of children to a meaningful connection to the natural world, she calls it the “forgotten human right.” Now, at least for some, it is remembered.

In September, the World Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), meeting in Jeju, South Korea, passed a resolution declaring that children have a human right to experience the natural world. Henstra, and Cheryl Charles, who is president of the Children & Nature Network, and others made the case to the Congress -- attended by more than 10,000 people representing the governments of 150 nations and more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations.

The resolution, “the Child’s Right to Connect with Nature and to a Healthy Environment" calls on IUCN’s membership to promote the inclusion of this right within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The resolution recognizes "concern about the increasing disconnection of people and especially children from nature, and the adverse consequences for both healthy child development ('nature deficit disorder') as well as responsible stewardship for nature and the environment in the future." And it recognizes that:

"...children, since they are an inalienable part of nature, not only have the right to a healthy environment, but also to a connection with nature and to the gifts of nature for their physical and psychological health and ability to learn and create, and that until they have these rights they will not bear responsibility for nature and the environment..."

This is an important moment for anyone concerned about the future relationship between humans and the rest of nature. Read Full Post.

Advice from the Late Great Ray Bradbury: Be an "Optimalist"

Ray Bradbury died on Tuesday, June 5, 2012, at the age of 91. In 2001, I had the pleasure of interviewing him. To many in my generation he was a hero and a truth-teller, as he saw the truth. Here's to Ray.


So you don't like to be thought of as a science-fiction writer, said the reporter to the great writer. 

"No," said Ray Bradbury, who called back after the fax had rolled in. The fax machine is one of his only concessions to post-modern technology. "Have you noticed that we have all these machines but no one calls anymore?" he added.

Well, it's true, said the reporter, thinking of something his 19-year-old son had told him.

The "post-information" society, that's what his son and some of his intellectual friends call today's emerging culture. By post-information they mean: We've reached a stage in history, an evolutionary leaping-off point, when we're overwhelmed by so much information that information doesn't mean anything anymore -- and the only real meaning is found in the direct communication between two people.

"That's right," said Bradbury, approvingly. "You pick and choose. Use what you want."

This was high praise for an idea, coming from the dean -- the master -- of dark, nostalgic futurism. The author of such classic works as "Something Wicked This Way Comes," "The Martian Chronicles," "I Sing the Body Electric" and "The Illustrated Man," he is neither pessimist nor optimist.

Bradbury prefers the word "optimalist." Read Full Post.

The Treasure Chest

The old chest of drawers proved to be a treasure chest. It was a small piece of furniture, perhaps an old washstand, with three drawers. It sat in a storage unit for over a year, and when we bought a house with a garage, we moved it there, along with stacks of boxes filled with the remains of my mother's life. As everyone must do someday, my wife and I sorted out the heirlooms. But for the longest time I could not bear to disturb the chest, as if it slept.

This chest had held my mother's art supplies. She made her living as a greeting card artist. She began working in Kansas City, at age 16, for Hallmark Cards and over the years became known as one of the best free-lance greeting card artists.

I grew up watching her work. I would stand next to her art table and watch her hand move the brush expertly across the paper and then move to the right, to the chest, where she would dip it into blotches of paint or stir the brush loudly in an old fruit jar of water.

The paints and an airbrush and her heavy tape dispenser and her scissors were kept there. From time to time, the tape or the scissors would disappear, and she would call out irritated to her two boys to bring them back. But she never banned us from her desk. The squares of blotter paper she cut out were just right for our drawings, and our drawings littered the floor below the table. Read Full Post.

THE SIRENS OF TECHNOLOGY: Seven Ways Our Gadgets Drive Us Nuts

I love nature. I like high-tech. There, I’ve said it.

In 1982, I bought an IBM Displaywriter — a “word processor” as we called the first post-Selectric writing machines. The Displaywriter was the approximate size of a Chevy Vega and sounded like a garbage truck. As the years passed, I stayed on the leading edge of communications technology.

Now that I own three computers, a Kindle, an iPhone and an iPad, I just may have gone over the edge.

Understand, I recognize the benefits of technology, otherwise I wouldn’t be using the Internet or refrigerating my food. And the Internet has certainly been essential for building the children and nature movement.

But consider a few recent findings, reported here in the Twitter tradition of 140 characters, more or less: Read Full Post.

EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE — Not Just The Ones With Parents Who Appreciate Nature

Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or gender or sexual identity or set of abilities. Every child.

If a child never sees the stars, never has meaningful encounters with other species, never experiences the richness of nature, what happens to that child?
In economically challenged neighborhoods, towns and rural areas, the impact of toxic dumps is well known. The evidence makes it clear that when we poison nature, we poison ourselves. But there’s a second, related threat that is less familiar.
 
What do we know about how human beings, particularly children and their families in poor communities, are affected by the absence of nature’s intrinsic benefits? Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand. 
 
People need nature for healthy development. We know that. What we don’t know enough about is the natural capacity of different ethnic or economic communities.
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The Age of Emptiness or the Coming Creativity?

One day, while driving down a freeway, I looked up to see an empty sky where there had been mountaintops.

Dust was rising as massive earth graders rumbled across a now-blank plain. Seemingly overnight, they had sliced away the horizon. Later came rows of mini-mansions devoid of color or individuality or visual meaning, and shopping malls, one after another after another after another, with the same anchor stores, the same stucco, the same cars, the same dreamlessness.

Perhaps you’ve shared this feeling – this solastalgia, as Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht calls it: a form of human psychic distress caused by the loss of nature. Read Full Post.

You're Part of the New Nature Movement if…

And Now a Few Words About the Children & Nature Network

After “Last Child in the Woods” was published, a handful of like-minded individuals came together to form the Children & Nature Network. Our mission was simple: to help build a movement to reconnect children and their families to nature—for their physical health, cognitive development and emotional well-being, and for the good of our communities and the planet. Many groups have been committed to this issue for decades. But we believed that a new network of people and organizations could accelerate efforts to connect children and adults to the natural world.

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The Forgotten Human Right

Do children – do all of us – have a right to meaningful connection to the natural world? Annelies Henstra, a Dutch human rights attorney, thinks so. She calls it the “forgotten human right.”

In the March 2009 issue of Orion Magazine, and then in a more detailed chapter in “The Nature Principle,” I sketched out a case for that right; not as legal argument, but as moral stance. And I emphasized that this birthright is accompanied by a responsibility to protect and care for the natural world.

That idea had already begun to take root as part of the children and nature movement. In 2007, California adopted the first statewide children's outdoor bill of rights, followed by similar symbolic statements in other states, including Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, Kansas, and most recently Wisconsin. Cities and regions around the country have embraced similar declarations. 

Now the concept is spreading internationally.

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Christmas Love Letters

Every year....

One December, I wrote a newspaper column about Linda Evangelist, of El Centro, California, who did not enjoy shopping. 

Linda and the members of her family decided that, rather than buying each other presents, each would write a love letter to the other family members, to be read aloud on Christmas morning. The love letters would list at least twenty-five reasons why the person receiving the letter was loved or valued.

Among the reasons her son Brad (then a teenager) gave for loving his dad: "You would bribe me to go get ice cream late at night after Mom went to bed."  Among the reasons her two sons gave for loving their mom: "You come up with weird ideas like this one." Among the reasons the brothers gave for loving each other: "You rode me on your handlebars to school when I was in junior high," and "You were considerate enough to put your banana peels under the couch." And so on

Christmas morning love lists became a tradition in the Evangelist household—and in other homes, as well. One year, at Christmas time, a talk-show host on L.A. radio station KFI read the column over the air. The idea began to spread. So I decided that my family had better get on board, too. 

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The Little Things

On Thanksgiving

The little things. The click of your wife's makeup bottles and brushes in the bathroom in the morning, the subsurface sound of them, a kind of music. The accompaniments: the older boy's bedroom door opening and shutting in haste, a faucet running, a gust of wind in the eucalyptus, the last rain on the window. The little things are what we remember, what we know, of family life. Of life.

The large events have their place, but even the large events of a family's passage are assembled from little things. The rush to the emergency room and the way the air feels there and the brave little chin thrust up beneath the mask, the small choked cry and the sound—especially this sound—of the thread being pulled through the wound, and the way the little hand holds tight to your finger. The little things. Read Full Post.

The Cure

Took medicine for nature-deficit disorder with buddy John Johns on Wednesday.
Feeling better, thanks. 

Photo by John Johns Read Full Post.

A NEW WAY TO SHAPE YOUR COMMUNITY'S FUTURE

"Nature is not a place to visit, it is home." —Gary Snyder. 

A few months ago, at the Minnesota Arboretum, several hundred people from a variety of sectors – tourism, housing development, health care, education, and others – came together for a conference focused in part on the Nature Principle.

I was especially intrigued by the remarks of Mary Jo Kreitzer, a nursing professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. She said the state should make it a goal to become the healthiest state in the country, and that viewing the future through the prism of the Nature Principle could help Minnesota reach that goal.

She and others asked: If nature were the prism through which the future was imagined, what would it be like to live in that future? Read Full Post.

21 WAYS TO PLANT A RESTORATIVE CITY

During the first week of November, members of the American Society of Landscape Architects and their colleagues from around the country – over 5,000 strong – met at the San Diego Convention Center. Saving the world was somewhere on the agenda.

Could they be the group with the most influence on human habitat in the future, particularly when it comes to the connection between children and adults to the rest of nature?  “Because of their training, landscape architects are big thinkers, or tend to be,” says my friend, Vicki Estrada, a landscape architect, urban designer, and president of Estrada Land Planning in San Diego.

Asked to speak at the conference, I offered a starter list of suggestions for how landscape architects, and the rest of us, could truly green our cities:

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DO YOU LIVE IN A "RESTORATIVE CITY?"

 

"Nature is not a place to visit, it is home." -— Gary Snyder

Afew months ago, at the Minnesota Arboretum, several hundred people from a variety of sectors – tourism, housing development, health care, education, and others – came together for a conference focused in part on the Nature Principle.

I was especially intrigued by the remarks of Mary Jo Kreitzer, a nursing professor at the University of Minnesota and director of the university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. She said the state should make it a goal to become the healthiest state in the country, and that viewing the future through the prism of the Nature Principle could help Minnesota reach that goal. Read Full Post.

SAVING THE FIELDS OF DREAMS: Building 'Natural Cultural Capacity' to Enrich Our Parks and Cities

Despite some signs of progress, the impact of recession on public access to the natural world is a reality, and it could get worse. 

Take California, for instance. In coming months, as many as 70 parks, many of them in or near urban areas will close, according to California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman. This, she says, is the only way to absorb a $33 million parks budget cut over the next two years. “California has never closed its parks in its history, through two world wars and the Great Depression," Coleman said two weeks ago, in her keynote speech at the annual C&NN Grassroots Gathering.

Never, until now. During the Great Depression state and national parks were valued not only for the nature they preserved but for the jobs they provided and their positive economic impact on nearby private businesses. That was then, this is now. A different political climate, changing economic realities, and the widening gap between rich and poor could, literally, change the landscape.
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APOCALYPSE NO: Something large and hopeful is forming out there. You're already creating it.

The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep

Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,

‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Why is the future so often portrayed as a post-apocalyptic dystopia, filled with human brutality and stripped of nature? 

For decades, our culture has struggled with two addictions: to oil and to despair. But what if our lives were as immersed in nature as they are in technology every day? What if we not only conserved nature, but created it where we live, work, learn and play? What if something large and hopeful is already forming out there; what if we're part of it? Read Full Post.

MIDNIGHT AT GROUND ZERO

November 4, 2001

NEW YORK -- It’s midnight at ground zero. During the day, the endless funeral procession crosses the Williamsburg Bridge or comes up out of the subways or arrives on streams of yellow taxis. People cry on the way to the towers, a Haitian cab driver will tell you. Or they’re quiet, as if holding their breath.

The smell is famous by now, a new kind of celebrity. But it only comes now and then, when the wind shifts. During the day, ground zero is dominated by the familiar spine and its attachments; the teeth and skeletal fingers reaching up toward the lost bowl of the sky. But at midnight, the fingers and the teeth disappear, and you see something else. Read Full Post.

NATURE'S OWN STIMULUS PACKAGE: 7 Ways to Improve Our Lives in Tough Economic Times

For stressed-out families, spending more time in the natural world — a nature stimulus package — may be just what the doctor and the economist ordered. Here are a few of the benefits:

1. With gas prices on the rise, families are rediscovering both the joy and the cost-effectiveness of getaways in nearby nature, including regional, state or national parks. As Outside magazine puts it, "near is the new far."

2. Unless we're talking about a new bass boat or a high-tech tent, nature toys are free or cheap, and they encourage self-directed creativity. In 2008, the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y., inducted the stick, which it called not only possibly the oldest toy, but "possibly the best."

3. Green exercise is free. In the United Kingdom, and now in the United States, families are eschewing commercial indoor gyms. Groups of families form " green gyms" and meet once or twice a week to hike, garden or take some other type of exercise in the natural world. Read Full Post.

The More High-Tech Schools Become, the More They Need Nature

I

 once met an instructor who trains young people to become the pilots of cruise ships. He described the two kinds of students he encounters. One kind grew up mainly indoors, spending hours playing video games and working on computers. These students are quick to learn the ship’s electronics, a useful talent, the instructor explained. The other kind of student grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, often in nature. They, too, have a talent. “They actually know where the ship is.”

He wasn’t being cute. Recent studies of the human senses back that statement up. “We need people who have both ways of knowing the world,” he added. In “The Nature Principle,” I tell that story to describe what I call the “hybrid mind." I make the case that one goal of modern education should be to encourage such flexible thinking. Is education moving in that direction? Some schools are, but too many are putting all their eggs on one computer chip.

Almost as an article of religious faith, school districts are flooding students with computers and other Internet-connected gadgets. Yet, as The New York Times reported on Sept. 3, 2011, "to many education experts, something is not adding up." Schools are spending billions on technology "even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning."

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With the Ice Bears

In July, as an onboard lecturer with Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer,  I received, as did my wife Kathy, a great gift of nature. The kind of experience that one fully appreciates only after coming home. How many people today, by luck and privilege, are able to reach the very edge of the polar ice cap? How many in history? (We were far north of indigenous populations.) Here are a few words I posted about the trip:

Midnight snow in driving wind and intimate fog. The ship moves through a portion of Hinlopen Strait, which runs about 110 miles northwest to southeast. On the morning deck, the hardier souls look upward at one of Svalbard’s largest concentrations of nesting seabirds. Here, at Kapp Fanshawe on the high cliffs of Alkefjellet, the sheer walls of dolerite are alive. The climate is high Arctic, snow turning to sleet, ice forming on the beard of the Zodiac driver. At Torelneset we hike across gravel and tundra and the sky grows larger. The island and sky and water are so broad and grey that our eyes lose perspective. Here, giant features can seem small; the tiniest flowers, Arctic buttercups, loom large. Lindblad naturalist Elise Lockton points to the bones of whales and walruses, remnants of past lives having ridden rock upward for tens of thousands of years. The ancient past seems casually present.... 

Some photos I took during this amazing experience, with, well, my pocket camera....  Read Full Post.

Want Your Kids to Get Into Harvard? Tell 'em to Go Outside!

First of two in a series

September is back-to-school month, and the chanting begins: Drill, test, lengthen the school day, skip recess, cancel field trips, and by all means discourage free time for (gasp!) self-directed play. Is that approach working, particularly in science learning? Not so well.

A few months ago, I met with a dozen biology professors at Central North Carolina University. They were deeply concerned about the dramatic deterioration of student knowledge of what's out there: these students can tell you all about the Amazon rain forest, but nothing about the plants and animals of the neighborhoods in which they live. Read Full Post.

How to Create a Neighborhood Butterfly Zone — and a Homegrown National Park

Every December, my wife, Kathy, delivers small gifts to the neighbors on our block, usually a jar of home made jam or a little vase of dried flowers, or something like that.

Now she's come up with an idea for a different kind of gift. She announced it as we were working on our yard. “This year,” she said, “I could give seeds or little starts of butterfly-attracting plants, suggest they plant them, and then our neighborhood could become a butterfly zone!” That's a terrific idea, I thought. And, as I discovered later, it would be one way to build what Doug Tallamy suggests: a “Homegrown National Park.”

Our goal was to revive our struggling yard by planting part of it with species native to the San Diego bioregion, and support native birds, butterflies and bees (especially the California species; honeybees are, in fact, not native) and other insects essential to pollination and migration routes. These, in turn, nurture and grow wild populations of animals and plants. Tallamy, chair of the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware and author of “Bringing Nature Home,” makes the case that everyday gardeners are the key to reviving urban biodiversity - maybe global biodiversity. Read Full Post.

The Eye of the Tree: Who's Looking at You, Kid?

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oday, in a feature on Orion magazine's Web site, the editors ask this question: "Does technology merely distract us from the natural world—or can it help us gaze more intently at its varied forms? Richard Louv, author of the new book The Nature Principle, discussed this and more during Orion’s live web event in June, “Reimagining Nature Literacy.” Listen to a recording of the conversation here."  My article, answering that question, is here. In the piece, I described how, these days, I spend more time carrying a camera than a fishing rod. And I wrote:

I find that the camera makes me slow down and look more intently than I normally would. After one hike, I was sitting at my computer, reviewing photos of rock patterns and tree bark. I was suddenly startled by something I had not seen when I took the picture. Hidden in the bark was an eye, looking back at me.

When I posted the address to the Orion article on my Facebook page, one reader asked me to post the actual photograph. A wonderful conversation ensued. People posed their theories as to just who's eye that was, if it was an eye. One mother showed it to her son, and he concluded that the eye belonged to a dragon. I went with her son's theory. What do you think? Here's the photo. Read Full Post.

Enough is Enough. Time to Confront Legal Barriers to Gardens, Nature, Just Being Alive

File this under: You Can't Make This Stuff Up. In Oak Park, Mich., a woman faced a jail sentence for the plants in her front yard. "The illegal growth is tomatoes. And zucchinis, peppers and other edible and what normally be legal plants," ABC News reported. "The officials in Bass' hometown....have charged her with growing 'vegetable garden in front yard space.' If convicted, she could have spent up to 93 days in jail."  The case was been widely reported. Jason Knapfel, writing for DietsinReview.com, surmises, "Apparently the difference between a green pepper and a bush is enough to possibly land the vegetable grower in jail for three months."

The city officials enforcing the rules aren't the issue. They're usually just doing their job. The real question is why the public puts up with and even encourages such restrictions, whether they're written by public officials or private governments. Around the country, city ordinances and community association regulations have targeted children as well as adults. In April, homeowners in a Silver Springs, Fla. community, ostensibly concerned about "safety," tried to ban children from playing outdoors, and proposed fines of $100 for each transgression. When such cases (usually more nuanced than they're reported) reach the news media, they're usually dismissed, as happened with the Oak Park charges. But what about all the ones that don't get coverage?

A countertrend is building.

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The Nature Principle in Education: an Antidote to Teacher Burnout

“Connected and honored, natural teachers could inspire other teachers; they could become a galvanizingforce within their schools. In the process, they would contribute to their own psychological, physical, and spiritual health.”— The Nature Principle

Not long ago, I was speaking with a middle school principal in Austin who was sympathetic to the cause, but felt overwhelmed by all the demands that he and his colleagues already face. “Look, you want me to add this to my plate when it’s already overflowing?” he said. “I can’t do this without outside help.”

He was right. Bringing the classroom to nature and nature to the classroom is an enormous task, and educators need community and political support. Schools, businesses and outdoor organizations can work together to introduce students to nature centers and parks, and sponsor or promote overnight camping trips. Parent-teacher groups can raise financial support for field trips and nature programs; they can sponsor family nature nights at schools; they can give awards to those teachers who, year after year, get their students outside.

No doubt about it, schools need community support. But educators can lead the way, and one teacher can make a difference — especially if he or she reaches out to another.

Both THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS offer chapters on education. And in the video above, I share some thoughts about education with filmmaker Camilla Rockwell. But here are a few additional resources to get started (and keep going):

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Ten Reasons Why Children and Adults Need Vitamin N

I recall my father's dark tanned neck, creased with lines of dust, as he tilled our garden. I ran ahead of him, pulling rocks and bones and toys from his path." -- The Nature Principle 

In "Last Child in the Woods,” I focused on why children need nature. In my new book, “The Nature Principle,” I tell how the whole family – and whole communities -- can become happier, healthier and smarter through more contact with the natural world. I do hope you'll read the book to find out how, but for starters, here are 10 reasons children and adults need nature: Read Full Post.

THE MORALITY OF DOGS

For years, I have secretly believed that the dog I grew up with was something of a moral teacher in our family. Admitting this belief, I invite all sorts of critiques from those who, for religious or scientific reasons, object to attributing humanlike behavior to nonhuman animals. So be it. I'll bet you had such a special friend, too.

Not long ago, I asked an animal behavioralist if dogs can be moral teachers to children. (I suppose they can be moral teachers to adults, too, but children and dogs, like Elwood P. Dowd and Harvey, can be especially attuned.) This particular animal behaviorist also earned a doctorate in the psychology of human behavior, and he is an expert on pet therapy for children.

Pets, he said, are often moral teachers, though that is not their intent. For example, pets teach children about death. "The death of a dog or cat can be the single most profound loss a human being can experience. Some people don't want to accept the fact that an animal can mean as much, or more, to a human being as another member of the family. But it can. Children learn about dying; they can afford this price more than they can the loss of a parent."

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SEVEN REASONS FOR A NEW NATURE MOVEMENT

Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, by word and example, that any movement — any culture —will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world that people will want to go to. As others have said, his speech was not called “I Have a Nightmare.”

For decades, our culture has struggled with two addictions, to oil and to despair. It’s pretty clear by now that we can’t kick one of those habits without kicking the other. Yet, for many Americans, perhaps most of us, thinking about the future conjures up images of “Blade Runner,” “Mad Max” or Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”: a post-apocalyptic dystopia stripped of nature. We seem drawn to that flame.

It’s a dangerous fixation. Think how children and young people must feel today, growing up in a time when so many adults seem to accept, with a shrug, only darkness ahead. The key question here is: How do we change our vision of the future? Where do we start? Here’s one suggestion: reconceive environmentalism and sustainability – help them evolve into a larger movement that can touch every part of society. 

Here are seven reasons for a New Nature Movement.

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GETTING NATURE SMART: How to Build Your Brain

One day after a talk in Seattle, a woman literally grabbed my lapels and said, "Listen to me: adults have nature-deficit disorder, too." She was right, of course. As a species, we are most animated when our days and nights are touched by the natural world. While individuals can find immeasurable joy in a great work of art, or by falling in love, all of life is rooted in nature, and a separation from it desensitizes and diminishes us. That truth seems obvious to some of us, though it has yet to take root in the wider culture.

However, in recent years an emerging body of research has begun to describe the restorative power of time spent in the natural world. Even in small doses, we are learning, exposure to nature can measurably improve our psychological and physical health. While the study of the relationship between mental acuity, creativity, and time spent outdoors is still a frontier for science, new data suggests that exposure to the living world can even enhance intelligence.

At least two factors are involved: first, our senses and sensibilities can be improved by spending time in nature; second, the natural environment seems to stimulate our ability to pay attention, think clearly, and be more creative....

Read more of this excerpt from THE NATURE PRINCIPLE in the Outside Magazine excerpt. Read Full Post.

Place Blindness: Searching for Authenticity and Identity

You can’t know who you are until you know where you are.
—Wendell Berry

 

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y wife, Kathy, was raised in San Diego. I moved here from Kansas in 1971, just out of college. She had spent little time exploring the natural habitats of this region, and I viewed it as a resort city, beautiful in its way, but I missed the green woods and plains of the Midwest. So when I looked for nature here, I saw less than met the eye.

For years, we were restless. We bored our friends with all our talk of moving, of finding our one true place. We even bored ourselves. One day Kathy said, “Our tombstones are going to say, ‘We’re moving.’”

Today, I feel differently. I may never bond to this region as I did to the woods behind my boyhood home, and who knows, we may yet move. But I no longer have quite the same reaction when people ask me where I am from.  Read Full Post.

The Nature Principle in your neighborhood: Is there a Button Park in your future?

Remember the special place in nature that you had as a child—that wooded lot at the end of the cul de sac, that ravine behind your housing tract? What if adults had cared just as much about that special place as you did, when you were a child? Here’s an idea (described in my new book, THE NATURE PRINCIPLE), whose time may be coming: the creation of "nearby-nature trusts.” Land trust organizations could develop and distribute tool kits, and perhaps offer consulting services, to show how neighborhood residents could band together to protect those small green parcels of nearby nature. What might these little parcels be called? How about ” button parks?” Read Full Post.

The Reality of Nature
in Difficult Times

For the past couple of days, my younger son and I have been trying to cure our nature-deficit disorder. Right now, I’m sitting in bed in a Bishop, California motel that, well, isn’t the Ritz. Matthew, who is 23, is still asleep, and deeply. A few hours ago we staggered across the clumped grass and mud along the Owens River, struggled to keep our balance as 40 mph gusts tangled our fly lines. We froze and sweated in the sleet as the snow line crept lower on the Sierra. Fishing was terrible, we were miserably cold, and perfectly happy. Read Full Post.

How Libraries Can Connect Children and Adults to Nature, and Build Support for Libraries

Can libraries connect children to nature? You bet. “Today, via a library’s outdoor learning space, librarians are participating in the growing movement to connect children with the environment,” write Tracy Delgado-LaStella and Sandra Feinberg in this month’s issue of American Libraries magazine. The excellent piece describes the efforts of Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, New York, which has created The Nature Explorium.

girl reading

In collaboration with the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and Long Island Nature Collaborative for Kids (LINCK), the library converted an adjacent 5000-square foot area into a outdoor learning environment, “including a climbing/crawling area, messy materials area, building area, nature art area, music and performance area, planting area, gathering/conversation place, reading area, and water feature.” Read Full Post.

Grow Outside! Keynote Address to the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference

Adapted excerpts from Richard Louv's plenary keynote address to the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference, Oct. 2, 2010 in San Francisco. On Oct. 1, Louv made similar remarks at the UCSF Conference, Children First: Promoting Ecological Health for the Whole Child.

More than three decades ago, when Dr. Mary Brown’s children were growing up in Bend, Oregon (she describes it as a city at the base of the Cascade Mountains with a world class fly-fishing river running through it and where the sun shines over 300 days a year), it never occurred to her that much of her practice as a pediatrician would one day be so focused on childhood obesity and depression. Read Full Post.