Richard Louv

Recipient of the Audubon Medal

Author of the International Bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

From the Blog

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?”

When the Trust for Public Land (TPL), working with the Colorado Health Foundation, brought together groups concerned about the disconnect of children from nature, TPL leaders and I brainstormed on the future of land trusts in tough economic times. Considering this approach, one of TPL’s leaders suggested that neighborhood leaders might also identify abandoned houses, buy them, raze them, and turn them into natural parkland or community gardens. ” We really do have to think about creating nature, not just preserving it,” he said.

As with family nature clubs and other ways to restore our lives, the central organizing principle of nearby-nature trusts would be: do it yourself, do it now —- with a little help and information from friends who know about land trusts. A larger pattern could emerge: As neighborhoods work to preserve or create parcels of nearby nature, they could symbolically join these special places to similar ones throughout a city; such an effort could be a new way to build parkland across an urban region — a kind of decentral park.

Why call these nearby-nature trusts "button parks"? “Pocket park” is the term for small parks created by governments or developers; button parks — well, people can sew those on themselves. What if people had access to free tool kits which helped people create their own ” button parks” connected to the threads of a region's trail system? These button parks wouldn’t need to be literally connected to the trail, but would serve as small extensions.

Barriers would exist, among them the fear of liability. But precedents do exist around the country. When I spoke in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the director of ACRES Land Trust suggested one approach. ACRES has protected natural habitats throughout northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and northwest Ohio. Jason Kissel, executive director of ACRES, suggested that button parks could be created by neighborhood associations, and that, at least in Indiana, public use of private land left in its natural state poses less danger of future litigation than land that has been ” improved.”

By going through the process of creating button parks, people would learn about the growing importance of the land trust movement. Potentially, figuring this out could dramatically increase the amount of protected nearby nature. The residents of neighborhoods would be able to take pride in their protection of those little special places, places too small for government or large conservancies to protect, but large in the hearts of children and their families.

For more on button parks and other ways to restore our lives through nature, please read The Nature Principle.

A version of this blog was originally published on the Children & Nature Network website. Richard Louv is  founding director of C&NN.

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