I just finished “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. It’s on a lot of “must read” book lists and has generated a lot of enthusiasm for getting kids outdoors, while also creating some controversy. The basic concept is that kids need exposure to nature in order to be physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy but our society has made it really difficult. Some of the major obstacles are lack of open spaces, excessively busy schedules, fear of letting children explore outdoor areas, and concern of potential liability when kids do activities where they might get hurt like (gasp) climbing trees.
Most of the book was information I had heard before and parts of it were a bit dry but I enjoyed the way he wove it all together and came up with suggested solutions that attack the issue from multiple levels – getting our own children outdoors, exploring ways to bring environmental learning into our schools, and lobbying to have more nature-friendly city design.
I was most excited about reading his descriptions of Green Towns and other nature-friendly urban planning concepts. I have toyed with the idea of being an urban planner for many years because I feel we could create really amazing places to live if we put some effort into it. Sometimes I think the biggest challenge is convincing people to let go of the status quo. People seem to worry a lot that switching to more eco-friendly designs will decrease their quality of life but I don’t think it’s true. Wouldn’t we all enjoy living in towns were we could walk to the store or to work and where we had beautiful natural spaces to enjoy? I think we just need to let go of the idea that life is incomplete without wide roads and 100% climate control.
In the end, I have not entered the realm of urban planning because redesigning cities is a very slow process that involves years of patient negotiation with a wide variety of stakeholders – community members who have various needs and desires, governments that are interested in maximizing property tax income while minimizing infrastructure costs, developers who want to stay in business, preservationists who want to save various historical sites and buildings, transportation networks, and oh, so many more. It is not a battle I’m ready to take on. Not yet, anyway. But I do believe one of the best things any community can do is to develop a vision of what they *might* look like if everything worked out right. Not a utopia. Not some dream of perfection. But a semi-realistic concept of a town that integrated into the ecological landscape, that supported the needs of all living beings in the area. Humans are definitely important but I think the way for us to protect ourselves is to do a better job protecting everything else.