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Archive: Richard Louv

Toward a Nature-Rich Urban Future: Five Ways Houston (or insert your city here) Could Lead the Way

Richard Louv / Sep 07 2013

For Release Saturday, September 7, 2013

Richard LouvHouston is well situated to become a leading city – perhaps the leading city — to envision its future through the prism of the natural world. Given the city’s reputation (no zoning, all business), that may sound counterintuitive. And as one Houstonian said to me recently, “If you were to say that around here, people would say you’re not from around here.” So why do I single out Houston?

Before speaking there a few months ago, I had learned that Houston’s leaders were considering rebranding the city. Usually a city rebranding will focus on economic competition. But what if Houston (or insert your city’s name here) were to reimagine its future by looking through the prism of nature?

What would its health care and education systems, shopping areas and residential developments be like? What about its economic health, its ability to market itself to the most creative people and businesses around the world? What would the future look like?

Here are five ways Houston – or your city – could create a nature-rich urban future.

1. Incubate future entrepreneurs through the nurture of nature. Houston is known as a city of business, of independent thinkers. New research suggests that more time spent in natural environments can reduce the symptoms of attention-deficit disorder, encourage creativity, improve learning and nurture executive function. Executive function is the ability developed in early childhood — and primarily through imaginative independent play — to be your own boss. Yet many U.S. school districts have cut recess and discouraged independent play.
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Forward to Nature: New Nature Movement Isn’t About ‘Going Back’ to Nature

Richard Louv / Jan 03 2013

For Release Thursday, January 3, 2013

Richard LouvFor many people, thinking about the future conjures images from movies like Blade Runner or Mad Max: a post-apocalyptic dystopia stripped of nature and human kindness. We seem drawn to that flame, but it’s a dangerous fixation.

There are many reasons for the attraction – global threats to the environment, economic hard times, decades of disconnection between children and nature – but there’s a fundamental problem with it. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us that any movement – any culture – will fail if it cannot paint a picture of a world people will want to go to.

Despite undeniable successes, environmentalism is in trouble: Many recent polls describe a public with diminishing regard for environmental concerns. What we need now is a new nature movement, one that includes but goes beyond the good practices of traditional environmentalism and sustainability, and paints a compelling, inspiring portrait of a society better than the one we live in – not just a survivable world, but a nature-rich world in which our children and grandchildren thrive.
This new nature movement, inchoate and self-organizing, is already emerging.

It revives old concepts in health and urban planning (Frederick Law Olmsted, Teddy Roosevelt, and John Muir come to mind). It also adds new ones, based on research showing the power of nearby wilderness and natural areas to improve our psychological and physical health, cognitive functioning and economic and social well-being. Colorado University professor Louise Chawla describes the basis of the movement as “the idea that as humans we can not only make our ecological footprints as light as possible, but we can actually leave places better than when we came to them, making them places of delight.”
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Grow Outside!

Richard Louv / Jul 01 2011

For Release Friday, July 1, 2011

Richard LouvIn 2009, Janet Ady of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stood before a crowd of grassroots leaders gathered by the Children & Nature Network. She held up an outsized pharmacy bottle. Within the bottle was a physician’s prescription — one that would be as appropriate for adults as it would be for children.

The contents of the medicine bottle included a variety of information, including a Web address to National Wildlife Refuges, a guide to animal tracks, Leave No Trace tips, a link to information on planting native vegetation to help bring back butterfly and bird migration routes, a Power Bar, and other items — including a temporary tattoo of migratory birds.

The label read: Directions: Use daily, outdoors in nature. Go on a nature walk, watch birds, and observe trees. Practice respectful outdoor behavior in solitude or take with friends and family. Refill: Unlimited. Expires: Never.

Here’s a cost-effective way to improve the health of children and adults.
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A “Button Park” in Your Future?

Richard Louv / Nov 21 2009

For Release Saturday, November 21, 2009

Richard LouvRemember 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?

In the spirit of the Do it Yourself, Do it Now philosophy of the Children & Nature Network, here’s an idea 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?”

More about my suggested term later, but first let me tell you about the Carolina Thread Trail. Read More »

Near is the New Far

Richard Louv / Sep 04 2009

For Release Friday, September 4, 2009

Richard LouvLast month CBS’ “The Early Show” recognized the danger of what we’re now informally calling “nature-deficit disorder.” The show featured the 25 best cities in America for raising kids so they live healthy young lives that are connected to–not cut off–from the natural world. As coiner of the “nature deficit disorder” phrase (an informal, not medical term), I couldn’t have been more pleased. But more important, the media recognition underscores how critically important it is to help kids connect to nature, designing our communities to make it more possible.

The top three cities were announced by Backpacker magazine editor-in-chief Jonathan Don. Selected by his editors, they were Boulder, Colo., Jackson, Wyo., and Durango, Colo. Boulder was the magazine’s first choice, Dorn said, because it not only offers easy access to wilderness, but also to hundreds of miles of networked bike and running trails. After snowstorms, the city plows its bike paths before plowing the roads. It should be noted that most of the top cities on this list are destination locations–small, scenic, and relatively wealthy.

What about the rest of us, who aren’t able or willing to relocate? Read More »

Cuba and the Invasion of the Big-Box Stores

Richard Louv / Jan 08 2009

For Release January 11, 2009

Richard Louv President-elect Barack Obama is reportedly considering a new American relationship with Cuba. That’s long-overdue good news. But the new administration should consider this cautionary note: “An invasion of one Madonna is equal to ten Marine divisions,” according to Miguel Coyula, a noted city planner in Havana.

When Coyula made this observation in 2001, he didn’t think that either brand of invasion–cultural or military–was a good idea. At the time, Coyula, concerned about the future of Havana’s unique architectural heritage, was speaking to members of the Citistates Group, a collection of U.S. city planners, professors, and journalists looking into Havana’s architecture and urban planning. The visit took place before the Bush administration severely limited the ability of delegations of American professionals to visit Cuba.

That day, Coyula, one of the first of many officials and private citizens that we interviewed, led us on a tour of his kingdom, the vast “Maqueta de la Habana,” a warehouse-sized scale model of every building, street and tree in Cuba’s largest city. The low-tech but impressive planning tool was made of scraps of recycled cigar boxes. The miniature buildings were color-coded–dark brown for the Spanish colonial period, yellow for the 1900-1958 period, and white for those few buildings built since the revolution. Read More »