THE VITAL ROLE OF URBAN PARKS & the Child's Right to Nature

About the Author

Richard J. Dolesh is Vice President for Conservation and Parks for the National Recreation and Park Association and a longtime proponent of connecting children to the natural world.

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.

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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, “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: and

More Reading:

ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE, WORLDWIDE: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress

Six Great Ways Parks Connect Kids to Nature, by Rich Dolesh

How Prospect Park Shaped a Man, by Brother Yusuf Burgess

EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE: 12 Questions about Equity & Capacity, by Richard Louv

Addressing Children’s Nature-Deficit Disorder: Bold Actions by Conservation Leaders Worldwide 

Children and Nature Worldwide Summary of Research

The Forgotten Human Right, Richard Louv

A Walk in the Woods: Richard Louv in Orion magazine on the human right to a connection to nature.
This 2009 piece was expanded in his 201 book, The Nature Principle.

Robin Moore on a Child’s Right to Nature


  1. Fantastic initiative! It’s critical to develop urban nature-based opportunities for individuals who simply do not have the means to access the more suburban and rural natural areas. As a bonus – we also have evidence that living nearer to parks relates to lower morbidity rates. Keep up the excellent work El Sereno and NRPA!

  2. This public/community partnership and generosity combined with a strong vision backed by solid research is an example that needs to and can be replicated across our country. Thank you, Rich, for framing the imperative.

  3. I suggest you contact Jennifer Lowe, owner of Darsaya Studio for a look at her white paper on her park project in a California neighborhood and the role of concerned neighbors in the project. This was a citizen-driven and initiated undertaking, not the project of a public official.

    Margaret Fleming


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