THE RESTORATIVE CITY: A New Way to Envision the Future

About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of nine books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle." His newest book, "Vitamin N," offers 500 ways to build a nature-rich life. In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

Nature is not a place to visit, it is home.” —Gary Snyder.

A few years ago, at the Minnesota Arboretum, several hundred people from a variety of sectors – tourism, housing development, health care, education, and others – came together for a conference focused in part on the Nature Principle.

I was especially intrigued by the remarks of Mary Jo Kreitzer, a nursing professor at the University of Minnesota anddirector of the university’s Center for Spirituality and Healing. She said the state should make it a goal to become the healthiest state in the country, and that viewing the future through the prism of the Nature Principle could help Minnesota reach that goal.

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She and others asked: If nature were the prism through which the future was imagined, what would it be like to live in that future?

Getting a handle on the future isn’t easy for cities, regions and states. Civic future-envisioning groups – with names like “Envision [insert city name here] 2020 “ – are one way to do that. These earnest efforts to take the long view sometimes accomplish great achievements. But lately they’re running out of ways to frame the future. After all, only so many regions can become the “new Silicon Valley.”

Traditionally, these envisioning groups focus primarily on economic competition (our Silicon Valley is better than yours). What if they tried something new? And asked a different set of questions?

What would a city or state’s health care system look like, if it maximized the benefits of nearby nature and wilderness to the mental and physical health of a region’s human population? What would that region’s future education system look like? Could an investment in creating more nearby nature reduce obesity, save health care costs and improve student testing? Many of us think so.

What about its residential or commercial developments (and redevelopments)? Could incorporating nature into the planning of revived or new communities dramatically increase the quality of life, not to mention property values?

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If more nature were woven into everyday life – if natural watersheds were revived, if community gardens and other forms of urban agriculture (including immigrant agriculture and high-rise farms) were encouraged, what would the economy and spirit of the region be in, say, ten or twenty years?

And if natural open space were protected and new parks created, what would the effect be on human civility and the crime rate? A host of new studies suggests the answer would be profoundly positive. What would our homes and yards look like, feel like, were the Nature Principle applied?

What would be the long-term impact of a region-wide campaign that truly greened businesses and workplaces? We’re not talking here about just saving energy costs, but about creating human energy, through biophilic design, which is linked to higher productivity, lower employee turnover, and more creativity in the workplace.

How would all of this, and more, shape the natural capacities of children of this and future generations?

On so many levels, such an envisioning process would be fundamentally different from the usual way that urban regions and states think about their futures. Tired approaches focus on one-upping the next town over, or other states, or on building an economy at the expense of other regions. But a community that applies the Nature Principle nurtures life itself – which helps every species, including humans, everywhere.

Why not envision that future?

• Update: In 2015, Cities Promoting Access to Nature will be launched by The National League of Cities and C&NN. The National League of Cities (which represents 19,000 municipalities and 218 million Americans) and C&NN will promote new urban policies that connect families to nature, devise methods to measure progress, and provide training programs.

Richard Louv is the author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age, and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network.


Photos: EVA-Lanxmeer in Culemberg, The Netherlands, and San Diego, California’s South Bay

Other reading



The New Nature Movement Isn’t About Going Back to Nature, but Forward to a Nature-Rich Civilization

How City Kids Will Save the Planet

The Vital Role of Urban Parks & the Child’s Right to Nature

“Biophilic Cities” by Tomothy Beatley

“Biophilic Design” by Stephen Kellert

Bringing Nature Home” by Doug Tallamy


  1. How nice to know that this kind of thinking is stirring right here in my neck of the woods! Thank you for coming to be part of at the Arboretum. I’d love to meet Ms. Kreitzer

  2. Wonderful work. There is momentum, and interest, by the Methodist Church here in Minnesota to close and sell two of their camps, in order to invest the money into new facilities at other sites. We’ve been involved at Decision Hills for 17 years, and are fighting to keep DHC open, even if we go on a shoestring, mostly volunteer operation. I wish more people would read what you are saying, and use it as inspiration to take action that supports natural spaces, rather than selling them to fund the building of more “structure”.

  3. As a scientist, ecologist, informal science educator, and naturalist, I think you’re right on target.

    We all need to encourage connections to nature at whatever age.

    There are folks who discover the natural world as gardeners in their 40’s and folks who were entranced as kids like me (and became biologists), and folks who learned about biology in college and became biology professors (my best buddy in graduate school and my spouse). And many others followed similar paths.

    But how we think about connecting with our natural spaces, incorporating this into our long-term planning — that’s a key for transforming how we connect with nature in our communities.

  4. I have just obtained a $5,000 grant to incorporate and set up the 501 (c ) ( 3 ) for Gardens In Friendship Together ( GIFT ). This organization will give grant funds to build community, school, child care center, and group gardens throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. I am in visioning the future just as this article is stating. It is a bright, beautiful, less stressed environment while giving children the education they need to improve the Earth even more. I am including my Natural Teaching Curriculum with each grant so as to help the teachers and gardeners reach all the children and adults involved, to provide them with the basic and long term knowledge they will need to continue creating a wonderful world around them.

    Thank you, Richard for starting a movement that is long over due. I am with you and everyone moving in this direction!

  5. What a nice surprise, finding a picture of EVA Lanxmeer. For our office it was a pleasure to design this plan with a combination of living (houses etc) and nature. And I’m happy it is an inpiration for other projects. Living in an green environment is so important!

  6. Hi Richard, I was one of the people that attended the Minnesota presentation you made this past spring. Since then I have also had the opportunity to hear Dan Beuttner speak about the research he has done through the National Geographic Society regarding Blue Zones around the world and also most recently on What makes people Happy?
    You need to speak to Dan about the work he has been doing to help cities here in USA and around the world start to put into practice the 9 principles he learned about in his research for the Blue Zones.
    I know that nature is definately a part of the “key” to making our lives more fullfilling and whole. See the Blue Zones site for the most recent infomation:
    You and Dan are speaking a similar language and it seems that you also have parts of the puzzle that needs to come together to make a more “whole picture” for the health and wellness of us all! I would love to talk more sometime. I hope you come back to MN soon! Kind Regards Paula Frakes – Life Enrichment Consulting in Minnesota

  7. Richard, this community may be an example of the type of residential development you describe in your writings. It has been deliberately designed and developed around nature, preserving natural watersheds, vegetation and habitats, incorporationg these features as assets which add great value to those living there in social, spiritual and economic terms. This community has a strong focus on connecting people to people and people to nature through community sponsored programs for children and adults. Take a look:

  8. Richard, this may be an example of the type of residential development you describe in your writings. Take a look: It has been deliberately designed and developed around nature, preserving natural watersheds, vegetation and habitats, incorporating these features as assets which add great value to those living there in social, spiritual and economic terms. This community has a strong focus on connecting people to people and people to nature through community sponsored programs for children and adults.

  9. Richard, the Greenway Foundation in Denver, Colorado, has been “greening the Platte River” from north to south as it runs through Denver since 1974. A great example of what you’re talking about, here’s their Mission Statement:

    The Mission of The Greenway Foundation is to advance the South Platte River and the surrounding tributaries as a unique environmental, recreational, cultural, scientific and historical amenity that uniquely links our City’s past and its future.

    This mission will be accomplished by creating ongoing environmental and riparian enhancements; holding property, when needed, in conservation easements; utilizing the River as an outdoor and historical learning resource, hosting free cultural events promoting the relationship between the River and music, art and theatre, providing youth employment opportunities, and by promoting good stewardship through hands-on educational programs.

    More about the Greenway Foundation here:

    Page Lambert
    Senior Associate
    Children & Nature Network


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