Nature in the City

Our 21st century is proving to be an era of rapid change. Thresholds are being crossed at lightning speeds and are having significant impacts on our world. One example, is that for the first time in history, more people are living in urban areas (nationally and globally) than in rural places. We don’t know the consequences of this yet, but as Richard Louv points out, people are more disconnected from nature than ever before. While many of us fondly remember building tree houses in local woodlots, catching fireflies, or roaming the grasslands; a surprising number of children no longer have access to these areas. As a result, having natural places in urban areas may be more important than we realize. To answer this call natural play areas in schools and parks have grown in popularity. Nature play, as opposed to constructed swings and play equipment, incorporates natural elements for recreational use. Climbing on logs, playing in streams and mud puddles, and digging in sand—while these are seemingly simple acts—connect children back to nature. Yes, there is more risk with natural play elements than conventional play equipment– because you can fall from a log, get a splinter in a finger, or (heaven forbid) get your clothes dirty; this type of ‘safe risk’ teaches children about being careful. It also promotes creativity and help to develop problem solving skills. Natural play areas in urban environments also provides for a better social equity. Lower income families are often unable to travel to state or federal parks for recreation, and free admission for places close to home are key. We do need safe play equipment in our schools and parks, but let’s not forget to leave a small wild area for unstructured play. For more information on nature play or how to create one, see the National Wildlife Federation’s website at

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