“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.
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?
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