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Social Resilience, Health, and the Future of Environmental Stewardship:

The Importance of Nature Play for Sustainable Cities Graduate Portfolio Program in Sustainability: Research Presentation

Annie Palone

April 26, 2013

The power to read, tell, and design landscape is one of the greatest human talents; it enabled our ancestors to spread from warm savannas to cool, shady forests and even to cold, open tundra. But, now, the ability to transform landscape beyond the capacity to comprehend it threatens human existence. Having altered virtually every spot on the planet, humans have triggered perturbations that threaten to change it irrevocably and dangerously‌ Some speak of the end of nature, but it is nature as we know it that is threatened, not the planet itself, not the universe. Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape, 1998: 25

Sustainability What is it anyway?

Sustainability What is it anyway?

The Brundtland Report defined sustainable development in 1987 as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs...�

Sustainable Cities Component Systems



Have we been forgetting about them?

Future Generations

Landscape Infrastructure

Sustainable Cities

Energy Production

Food Production

Water Management

Waste Management

“…green spaces are crucial to solving hypertension, anxiety, depression, diabetes — “the diseases of indoor living.” The more [time] someone spends outdoors, the less likely they are to suffer from mental or physical disorders.” (ASLA Dirt 2012)

“...most American children no longer enjoy regular nature play. In fact, one study found that our

children now spend an average of just 30 minutes per week in unstructured outdoor play.� (greenheartsinc.org)

So, if future generations are sometimes forgotten in sustainable city design, and spending time outdoors is critical to (everyone’s) good health, it stands to reason that getting that first future generation – today’s kids – out of doors and engaged with “nature” should probably be pretty high on our list of priorities. In other words, maybe it’s time

to start paying more attention to the first of those future generations now.

Why kids need nature, and vice versa

As designers, we have an opportunity to provide fun, challenging, stimulating, multivalent outdoor spaces for

children. This opportunity to increase children’s ability to play outdoors in “nature� is critical for their

well-being, and for the future of environmentalism.

Why kids need nature, and vice versa

The general trends toward childhood obesity, lack of physical activity, attention deficit disorders, and

hours spent watching television (and/or in front of computer monitors), have all lead to a generation of children around the globe with a totally unprecedented lack of connection to nature.

Why kids need nature, and vice versa

The Center for Disease Control found that “the amount of TV that children watch directly correlates with

measures of their body fat� (Louv 2008, 47). Mental, social, and behavioral problems are also linked to decreased time spent outdoors. Spending time surrounded by trees and plants decreases stress and anxiety, and helps

children to refresh their immune systems and mental capacities, allowing them to learn, complete tasks, and develop motor and mental skills more successfully.

Why kids need nature, and vice versa

Contemporary children’s lack of connection with nature poses a massive risk for future generations, not only in terms of individuals’ health, but for the future of environmental stewardship.

Why kids need nature

“A growing research literature (including results of research conducted by the Natural Learning Initiative) suggests that exposure to the natural environment is linked to positive behavioral outcomes. Attributes of outdoor natural environments (gardens) have been associated positively with physical activity, attention functioning, cognitive development, self-esteem, academic performance, and motor development. Scientific evidence supporting the therapeutic effects of contact with nature continues to grow. Most of the research has been conducted with adults – because it is easier to navigate university protocols. As research findings identify restorative effects on cognitive functioning triggered by the perceptual process of interaction with nature, it is reasonable to assume that the effects are at least as relevant to children as to adults� (Cosco and Moore 2009, 168).

Why kids need nature To nurture their resilience

“That natural instinct [of parents to protect their children] is bred into our parental bone marrow, probably going back scores of generations in our genetic makeup. But realistically it is impossible and probably not all that wise when carried to the extreme. Why? Because kids aren’t as fragile as we tend to think. They are born with strengths and abilities to cope with adversity, learn from their mistakes, and mature into responsible, competent adults. Yet they cannot develop and energize their inner resources unless we allow them opportunities to do so.�

Ingredients of Resilience: Seven Crucial Cs 1. Competence 2. Confidence 3. Connection 4. Character 5. Contribution 6. Coping 7. Control

Kenneth Ginsburg, Building Resilience in Children and Teens, 2nd Ed., 2011: 21; 25-29

Why kids need nature

Which kids look more healthy? More resilient? More likely to become environmental stewards?

Understanding Sustainability and Resiliency

Sustainability = Environment + Economy + Society






Or does this give us more agency as change-makers?

Sustainability = Environment + Economy + Society + Worldview

Society Worldview

Sustainability Economy Environment

Reconnecting with Nature Designers as Change-Makers

“Designers are storytellers. Design is a way of imagining and telling new stories and reviving old ones, a process of spinning out visions of landscapes that posit alternatives from which to choose, describing the shape of a possible future. The products of design – gardens, homes, road and water systems, neighborhoods, and cities – are settings for living that convey meaning, express a society’s values. We extend these meanings further through processes of construction and cultivation, use and neglect, as we dwell in what began as dreams.” Anne Whiston Spirn, The Language of Landscape, 1998: 267

An alternative model for sustainable design at the scale of communities, and ecovillages, from Gaia Education and the Global Ecovillage Network:


Building Community & Embracing Diversity Leadership and Empowerment Communication Skills and Decision Making Art, Ritual, and Social Transformation

Holistic Worldview


Reconnecting with Nature Transformation of Consciousness Personal & Planetary Health Socially Engaged Spirituality

Education, Social Networks, and Activism .

Shifting the Global Economy towards Sustainability Right Livelihood Community Banks and Currencies Local Economics Legal & Financial Issues


Green Building and RetroďŹ tting Local Food, Nutrient Cycles Infrastructure, Water, and Energy Nature & Urban Regeneration, Disaster Recovery Whole System Approach to Design


And one of the most critical components for the future of environmental stewardship:


Building Community & Embracing Diversity Leadership and Empowerment Communication Skills and Decision Making Art, Ritual, and Social Transformation

Holistic Worldview


Reconnecting with Nature Transformation of Consciousness Personal & Planetary Health Socially Engaged Spirituality

Education, Social Networks, and Activism .

Shifting the Global Economy towards Sustainability Right Livelihood Community Banks and Currencies Local Economics Legal & Financial Issues


Green Building and RetroďŹ tting Local Food, Nutrient Cycles Infrastructure, Water, and Energy Nature & Urban Regeneration, Disaster Recovery Whole System Approach to Design


Reconnecting with Nature Why it matters

“Nature play has been found to be the most common influence on the development of adult conservation values. Now it is fading away. Without the lasting impacts of nature play, what will guide future generations into cherishing the natural world? “Many people believe that increased amounts of formal environmental education might lead to more wise conservation behavior in our society. Unfortunately, research shows that the lasting conservation impacts of school-based environmental education are limited, at best. In fact, broader research finds that learning is not a prime determinant of most human behavior. Instead, many other factors drive our behavior, with our emotions and immediate needs often being the most powerful ones.� greenheartsinc.org

Nature-Deficit Disorder “...as the young spend less and less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, physiologically and psychologically, and this reduces the richness of human experience. “Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature – in positive ways. Several of these studies suggest that thoughtful exposure of youngsters to nature can even be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other maladies. As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature.” Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, 2008: 3

The Third Frontier Five Trends

1. A severance of the public and private mind from our food’s origins; 2. A disappearing line between machines, humans, and other animals; 3. An increasingly intellectual understanding of our relationship with other animals; 4. The invasion of our cities by wild animals (even as urban/suburban designers replace wildness with synthetic nature); 5. The rise of a new kind of suburban form. Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, 2008: 3

Defining the Need Why nature play is necessary for children

1. Physical Health (Obesity and motor development)

Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. “Climbing over a boulder-strewn river or balancing on a log in the woods are all experiences that engage young and old alike. Research has shown that walking on more natural surfaces and environments, as opposed to paved walkways and sidewalks, helps develop a better sense of balance and coordination, especially if this nature experience occurs in childhood” (Calkins, Sustainable Sites Handbook 2012, 460). “…children’s immune systems may be adapted to deal effectively with the cognitive demands they face in their daily lives… Specifically, young children have difficulty keeping extraneous information from entering short-term memory store. As a result, their working memories are often cluttered with irrelevant information, leaving less mental capacity for task-relevant information or for the execution of cognitive strategies. Younger children may require a greater change in activity or stimulus materials before they experience a release from interference; hence, a shorter attention span in childhood, and an inclination to play, may have adaptive value (Pellegrini and Smith 1998, 585-6).

Not available <10% 10-14% 15-19%

Obese High School Students 2011



“The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2010. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 18% over the same period. 2007

In 2010, more than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese.


Overweight is defined as having excess body weight for a particular height from fat, muscle, bone, water, or a combination of these factors. Obesity is defined as having excess body fat. Overweight and obesity are the result of “caloric imbalance”– too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed – and are affected by various genetic, behavioral, and environmental factors.



Percent of Obese High School Students

Defining the Need Why nature play is necessary for children

2. Mental Health (Attention Deficit Disorders and psychological resiliency) As the nature deficit grows, another emerging body of scientific evidence indicates that direct exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. For example, new studies suggest that exposure to nature may reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and that it can improve all childrenâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression (Louv 2008, 35). Regarding attention deficit disorders, â&#x20AC;&#x153;the greener the setting, the more the reliefâ&#x20AC;? (Ibid., 106). Between 1990 and 1995, the use of prescribed stimulants to control Attention Deficit Disorders rose by 600 percent, and continues to rise, especially among younger children. These drugs are overprescribed, perhaps by as much as 10 to 40 percent (Louv 2008, 101).

5.6% - 7.9% 8.0% - 9.5% 9.6% - 10.9% 11.0% - 13.9% 14.0% - 15.9%

ADHD Prevalence 2007


VT 43.5%

NY 46.0%

OH IN 49.4% 67.1%

CO 52.0%

OK 35.8%

DE 43.9%

WV 31.7% NC 62.5%

AR 32.3%

LA 37.9%

Prevalence signiďŹ cantly increased (% change shown) Prevalence remained statistically equivalent

States with Significant Increases in ADHD Prevalence (ever diagnosed): 2003-2007 http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsadhd/


Visser et al., 2010

Visser et al., 2005 Wolraich et al., 2012 Neuman et al., 2005 Wolraich et al., 2012

Akinbami et al., 2011 Loe et al., 2008

Schneider and Eisenberg, 2006 Akinbami et al., 2011 Bird et al., 2006 Bird et al., 2006 Froehilch et al., 2007

Rowland et al., 2003

Akinbami et al., 2011


Franklin Ebaugh: (1923) evidence that ADHD could arise from brain injury

Burd et al., 2003


Leibson et al., 2001

Leibson et al., 2001


Nolan et al., 2001 Rowland et al., 2001 Gadow et al., 2002 Canino et al., 2004

Costello et al., 2003

Wolraich et al., 1996 Wolraich et al., 1996

Shaffer et al., 1996

Newcorn et al., 1994 Newcorn et al., 1994 Tiet et al., 2001

Scahill et al., 1999

August and Gar nkel, 1989

Cohen et al., 1993

Shekim et al., 1985


Miller et al., 1973


Lambert et al., 1978


Peterson et al., 2001


King and Young, 1982

Sir George Still: (1902) First to describe ADHD

Barbaresi et al., 2002


1967 Federal government funds(National Institute of Mental Health) first used for studying effect of stimulants on children with hyperactivity

Akinbami et al., 2011

Legend: survey data National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Other surveys






1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013


1940s 1950s

Benzedrine Desoxyn


Cylert Ritalin



Ritalin SR

Metadate ER Concerta, Methylin ER

Dextrostat, Dexadrine




Ritalin LA, Strattera, Methylin Focalin XR Focalin, Adderall XR, Metadate CD


Kapvay Intuniv



“Minimal Brain Dysfunction”


“Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood”


“ADD with or without hyperactivity”


“ADHD, undifferentiated ADD”


“ADHD: IA, HI, and combined subtypes”

DSM-5 Coming 5/2013

According to the CDC: “The first national survey that asked parents about ADHD was completed in 1999. Since that time, there

has been a clear upward trend in national estimates of parent-reported ADHD diagnoses. It is not possible to tell whether this increase represents a change in the number of children who have ADHD, or a change in the number of children who were diagnosed. Perhaps relatedly, the number of FDA-approved ADHD medications increased noticeably since the 1990s, after the introduction of long-acting formulations.” The CDC does not recognize “Nature-deficit disorder” as a cause of ADHD. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/timeline.html

Defining the Need Why nature play is necessary for children 3. Emotional Health (Stress response and relaxation) “Even in a rural setting with a relative abundance of green landscape, more [nature] appears to be better when it comes to bolstering children’s resilience against stress or adversity” (Wells and Evans in Louv 2008, 51). “...nature has the power to shape the psyche, and... can play a significant role in helping traumatized children” (Louv 2008, 53). “life’s stressful events appear not to cause as much psychological distress in children who live in highnature conditions compared with children who live in low-nature conditions. And the protective impact of nearby nature is strongest for the most vulnerable children – those experiencing the highest levels of stressful life events” (Ibid., 50-51). Workers with, “a window view of trees, bushes, or large lawns experience significantly less frustration and more work enthusiasm than those employees without such views. Like similar studies on stress reduction, this study demonstrated that a person does not have to live in the wilderness to reap nature’s psychological benefits – including the ability to work better and think more clearly.” Stephen and Rachel Kaplan cited in Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, 2008: 104

Defining the Need Why nature play is necessary for children

4. Societal Health (& the Future of Environmental Stewardship)

“Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it… It serves as a blank slate upon which a child draws and reinterprets the culture’s fantasies. Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and full use of the senses… In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace” (Louv 2008, 7).

“So often activism is based on what we are against, what we don’t like, what we don’t want. And yet we manifest what we focus on. And so we are manifesting yet ever more of what we don’t want, what we don’t like, what we want to change. So for me, activism is about a spiritual practice as a way of life. And I realized I didn’t climb the tree because I was angry at the corporations and the government; I climbed the tree because when I fell in love with the redwoods, I fell in love with the world. So it is my feeling of ‘connection’ that drives me, instead of my anger and feelings of being disconnected.” Julia Butterfly Hill

What is Nature Play?

According to New York City non-profit Green Hearts (greenheartsinc.org): “Millions of Americans fondly recall playing outdoors in natural settings, doing things like:

Building tree houses; Catching frogs and fireflies; Splashing in creeks; Daydreaming in a special hiding place; or Digging holes “to China.”

These activities are all nature play: unstructured childhood play in “wild” areas, whether it’s the vacant lot next door, the local neighborhood park, or the “back forty” of your farm. At its very best, nature play isn’t scheduled, planned, or led by adults, nor is it confined by grown-ups’ rules. Instead, it’s open-ended, free-time exploration and recreation, without close adult supervision. For many of us, this sort of nature play virtually defined our childhoods.

“Where I grew up, a person was just naturally outdoors all the time. No matter which direction you went, you were outdoors – you were in a plowed field, or woods, or streams. We’re not like that here… Kids haven’t lost anything, because they never had it in the first place. What we’re talking about here is a transition made by most of us who grew up surrounded by nature. Now, nature’s just not there anymore.” Suburban dad interviewed by Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods, 2008: 12

While undeveloped landscapes, and “wild nature,” may not be available in the same abundance as they were fifty years ago, the idea that nature is already gone is as dangerous to its continued existence as unchecked development, sprawl, and overconsumption. Urban spaces are particularly in need of green spaces, especially “wild” ones, where urban-dwellers can have meaningful interactions with flora and fauna, which reshape their understanding of the many meanings of “nature” in the 21st Century. Improved education and increased access to nature – whether urban or “wild” – are desperately needed if social and environmental sustainability are to prosper in tomorrow’s generation of leaders.

If we know that it’s critical for kids to play outside, then why don’t they?

Disincentives to Nature Play

“I like to play indoors better, ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” Paul, fourth grader from San Diego (Louv 2008, 10)

1. “Nature’s just not there anymore” 2. Fear of Danger (the “Bogeyman” Syndrome) 3. Fear of Environmental Damage (kids versus delicate ecosystems) 4. “Criminalization” 5. Lack of Research about its importance (especially with/for children)

“I had a place… And then they just cut the woods down. It was like they cut down part of me.”

Fifth grade poet from Missouri Louv 2008, 14

These cut-down parts – of ecosystems, and the communities, and individuals that rely on them for energy, for food, for shelter, for belonging – appear in greater proportion with every passing day. Nature, and the world as we know it, is threatened by human sprawl and consumption. If we fail to raise the next generations of children as environmentalists, natural scientists, and stewards of the landscape, any visions we have of a sustainable future will be no more than pipe dreams.

The Way Forward Resources, Change-Makers & Precedent Projects

Natural Learning Initiative

Creating environments for healthy human development and a healthy biosphere for generations to come The Natural Learning Initiative (NLI), founded in 2000 with the purpose of promoting the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of all children, through environmental design, action research, education, and dissemination of information, is a research and professional development unit at the College of Design, NC State University, Raleigh, NC, USA. Our Mission The mission of the Natural Learning Initiative is to help communities create stimulating places for play, learning, and environmental education - environments that recognize human dependence on the natural world. We collaborate with educators, play leaders, environmental educators, planners, politicians, and all professionals working for and with children.

The Center for Ecoliteracy

The Center for Ecoliteracy supports and advances education for sustainable living. Best known for our work in school food reform and integrating sustainability into Kâ&#x20AC;&#x201C;12 curricula, we have engaged with educators from across the United States and six continents. We offer books, educational materials, film guides, and studies. We conduct seminars, offer presentations at conferences and other events, and provide strategic consulting services to schools and districts. The Center for Ecoliteracy was cofounded in 1995 by Fritjof Capra, physicist and systems thinker; Peter Buckley, former CEO of Esprit International and environmental philanthropist; and Zenobia Barlow, who serves as executive director. It is located in the award-winning David Brower Center, a home for environmental and social action in Berkeley, California.

The Edible Schoolyard Project

Our Mission The mission of the Edible Schoolyard Berkeley is to teach essential life skills and support academic learning through hands-on classes in a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom. The Edible Schoolyard curriculum is fully integrated into the school day and teaches students how their choices about food affect their health, the environment, and their communities.

The West Philadelphia Landscape Project Project Mission For more than twenty-five years, the West Philadelphia Landscape Project (WPLP) has worked in the Mill Creek watershed and neighborhood. Our mission is to restore nature and rebuild community through strategic design, planning, and education projects. Through our experience in Mill Creek, we seek to demonstrate how to create human settlements that are healthier, economical to build and maintain, more resilient, more beautiful, and more just. A key proposal of the West Philadelphia Landscape Project is to manage the Mill Creek watershed as part of a broad approach to improving regional water quality and as a strategy to secure funds to rebuild the neighborhood. We employ landscape literacy as a cornerstone of community development. During the past quarter century, hundreds of students, teachers, residents, and public officials have been part of WPLP. WPLP has worked with numerous partners, including the Philadelphia Water Department, Pennâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Center for Community Partnerships, Aspen Farms Community Garden, Sulzberger Middle School, the Mill Creek Coalition, the Philadelphia Urban Resources Partnership, and Philadelphia Green. WPLP is led by Anne Whiston Spirn, a professor of landscape architecture and planning at MIT, founded WPLP in 1987 when she was at the University of Pennsylvania.

Naturalized Playgrounds a common sense approach â&#x20AC;&#x153;the greener the setting, the more the reliefâ&#x20AC;?

Precedent Projects landscape architectural interventions that prioritize play

Teardrop Park, Battery Park City, NYC Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, with Robin Moore and NLI

Teardrop Park, Battery Park City, NYC Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, with Robin Moore and NLI

Teardrop Park, Battery Park City, NYC

Plough Park, Shelby Farms Park, Memphis Tennessee* James Corner Field Operations, with Robin Moore and NLI

*the information that follows was shared with me confidentially and is not public record

The Way Forward

Shallow ecology is anthropocentric, or human-centered. It views humans as above or outside of nature, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or “use” value to nature. Deep ecology does not separate humans – or anything else – from the natural environment. It sees the world not as a collection of isolated objects, but as a network of phenomena that are fundamentally interconnected and interdependent. Deep ecology recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings and views humans as just one particular strand in the web of life. Fritjof Capra, The Web of Life, 1996: 7

“Conventional ecological studies proceed on the tacit premise that what people think about the environment –how they perceive it, how they conceptualize it, or, to borrow a phrase from the ethnomethodologists, how they “actively construct” it– is basically irrelevant to an understanding of man-land relationships. To accept this premise is to conclude that cultural meanings are similarly irrelevant and that the layers of significance with which human beings blanket the environment have little bearing on how they lead their lives. But the premise is not correct... and to suppose otherwise would be a serious mistake.” Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, 1996: 67

Questions for Future Research Direction

Who is intended Audience? (publication type/disciplinary audience) Is it data driven? Educational material? (and/or materials for educators) An attempt at a planning methodology? What additional material should be designed? Post occupational studies? Case studies of designed landscapes? Another recommendation to SITES for inclusion of a child-centered credit? A working paper for planners and politicians? A poster presentation for an LA conference? Op-ed piece? What metrics or maps would be appropriate? Mapping environmental conditions (permeable cover and canopy, hike and bike trails, playgrounds, open spaces as proxies for â&#x20AC;&#x153;natureâ&#x20AC;?) and comparing with CDC data re obesity, ADHD, etc.? Additional metrics?

Thank you!

Profile for Annie Palone

The Importance of Nature Play for Sustainable Cities  

Presentation for the Graduate Portfolio Program in Sustainabilty, Center for Sustainable Development, School of Architecture, University of...

The Importance of Nature Play for Sustainable Cities  

Presentation for the Graduate Portfolio Program in Sustainabilty, Center for Sustainable Development, School of Architecture, University of...