This post was written by Richard J. Dolesh, Vice President for Conservation and Parks for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
Parks, Urban Cities, and a Child’s Right to Nature
Just how hardwired are we to nature? Do we have an essential connection to green spaces? Is our health and well-being dependent on a regular dose of nature?
A growing number of researchers and scientists believe we do, and there is increasing empirical evidence of this connection. Studies are showing that access to green spaces and natural landscapes positively affect our moods, enable us to learn and retain knowledge better, and even are responsible for imprinting children with immunological defenses that make them more resistant to diseases and allergies.
While the evidence of the importance of a connection to nature as a vital component of a healthy life is becoming more compelling, so, too, is the belief that children throughout the world should have a right to nature.
The prestigious International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one of the oldest and most influential global conservation organizations, just adopted a resolution to that effect at its most recent quadrennial congress in Jeju, Korea. Building on work begun in 2008 by IUCN board member Cheryl Charles, President of the Children and Nature Network, and Richard Louv, author of the internationally known book, “The Last Child in the Woods,” the IUCN unanimously adopted the Declaration on Connecting People with Nature, and passed a motion in support of the child’s right to nature presented by Dr. Annelies Henstra.
So, what does this mean to children in densely populated urban areas with little or no green space and few designated parks in which to play? It means that government officials, urban planners and community development organizations will need to use their collective will, enlightened leadership and creativity to design and develop these types of spaces.
One excellent example of how the challenge is being met is taking place in Los Angeles, California. Long recognized as a city that is ‘park-poor’ and lacking in green space in its most densely developed areas, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa with support of the City Council embarked on an ambitious initiative, his “50 Parks” campaign, an effort to build 50 new parks in some of the most underserved communities in the city.
One of the new parks under construction which will be dedicated soon is in the El Sereno area of East Los Angeles. This area of Los Angeles has the highest percentage in the city of children under the age of 10. Even in this densely populated area, there are no parks within a half mile of the neighborhood, and only one park within a mile of the park site. More than 5,000 kids age 5 or younger live within two miles of the proposed park. In partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association’s ‘Parks Build Community’ program and with support of the Trust for Public Land and the donation of a full, state of the art playground from Playcore, Inc. and donations from local businesses and philanthropic individuals, and aided by a grant from the First Five Foundation, a state fund for early childhood development projects, a new park has blossomed on a vacant lot. The El Sereno Recreation Area and Children’s Nature Play Garden will open in October 2012 to serve the children and families of this community. It is a great example how parks can build community and bring nature to children in even the densest urban cities.
For more information on the park and children’s nature play garden at El Sereno and NRPA’s Parks Build Community initiative, go to: http://www.nrpa.org/parksbuildcommunity/ and http://www.nrpa.org/About-NRPA/Initiatives/Parks-Build-Community/El-Sereno-Park-Revitalization/.
For more information on the Children and Nature Network’s Research Summary of Children and Nature Worldwide, go to: http://www.childrenandnature.org/documents/C118/.
This entry reflects the author’s personal judgments and does not represent the views of the United States Government or the Department of State.