WHAT IF WE TRULY GREENED AMERICA? Five Ways to Build a Botanical City: Part 2.

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 ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book is "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

What if we truly Greened America?

The Botanical City is an old idea whose time finally may have come. But it needs a boost, a convener, an institution to plant the seed and nurture it. Botanical gardens, working with partners, could play that role.

What if botanical gardens helped galvanize urban regions to connect children, their families and their communities to nature, knowledge and wonder?

To create a regional campaign to get kids outdoors in nature, every city needs a convener, a trusted organization that brings disparate partners together in common cause. A botanical park can play that role, by planting and nurturing a human network of families, natural teachers, pediatricians, landscape architects, and others. Each botanical park can become a hub of bioregional information. It could encourage families to create family nature clubs, whereby families and individuals band together to take a hike, garden, do a little stream restoration, or visit a botanical garden – thus helping build a future funding and attendance community for botanical gardens and similar institutions.

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What if botanical gardens were to launch a Nature Smart campaign (complete with bus advertisements and free media), invite the public to not only learn about nature, but to learn in nature?

As director of youth education for the San Francisco Botanical Garden, Annette Huddle works hard to incorporate school learning standards into children’s field trips. But she also sees the power of nature to stimulate cognitive functions, to unleash the creative mind, to ignite a rich interior life. (My admitted bias: What good is scientific knowledge to people who lack fertile imaginations and strong spirits?) At any age, people can stimulate their minds by spending time in nearby nature, whether it’s an arboretum or the woods at the end of the cul de sac or the wilderness at the edge of town. As part of a Nature Smart campaign, botanical gardens could partner with PTAs or other groups to create a regional Natural Teacher award or fellowship, honoring the teachers who insist on getting their students outside to learn.

What if, in each city, botanical gardens were to launch a Natural Health campaign to promote the preventive and therapeutic power of spending time in nearby nature?

Recent research suggests that urban greenery can have a profound impact on health  — particularly mental health. Botanical parks could invite people to come to the botanical garden to admire and learn about the plants, but also to improve physical and mental health. But such a campaign, led by botanical parks, would promote all natural parks in an urban region. Studies suggest that the urban parks with the greatest biodiversity are also the parks that have the greatest beneficial effects on psychological health and well being. The plants (and animals) of botanical gardens are seldom native to the bioregion, but they do offer biological diversity. They’re healing places. Why not market that?

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What if each botanical garden challenged its city to become the Most Biodiverse City in America?

Botanical parks could work with wildlife biologists and ecologists to establish benchmark statistics for local biodiversity, then campaign to dramatically increase it by a stated date. Working with zoos, libraries, schools and other institutions, botanical gardens could hand out seed packets and seedling starts for families to use to turn their yards into attractive native gardens. While the emphasis would be on native plants, other plants can also help reestablish the natural food chain – bringing back, say, butterfly or bird migration routes. Botanical gardens in each city could help create a De-Central Park by declaring that all the green spots of a city, from pocket parks to community gardens to green roofs, be seen as one great park or wildlife corridor.

What if botanical gardens took the lead in creating a Homegrown National Park?

Widen the scope: Botanical gardens and their partners across the country could declare an ambitious ten-year goal, the creation of a vast network of wildlife corridors established by ordinary citizens, yard to yard, city to city — realizing entomologist and writer Doug Tallamy’s dream of a Homegrown National Park.

Unrealistic? Maybe. Idealistic? Of course. And that’s the point.

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The Botanical City: Part 1


Richard Louv is founding chairman of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting With Life in a Virtual World.”


Other reading:

The Forests Where We Live: Six Life & Dean Reasons We Need Our City Trees

How to Create a Neighborhood Butterfly Zone and Homegrown National Park

David Suzuki Foundation Heads Plan to Turn Toronto’s Ward 19 into Canada’s Largest Homegrown National Park (a different approach to Doug Tallamy’s inspiration).

De-Central Park in the City: Richard Louv Talks About Spreading Green in the City

Imagining De-Central Park

A New Role for Landscape Architecture: Robin Moore

Photos: Kids with shovels © Maya Sharp; Kids and corn © Robin Rivet


  1. These are really interesting thoughts! I do see the botanical garden and arboretum near me providing more programs for families than they did several years ago. It seems that when I first had children, the parks were more adult-oriented. More for serious botanical ventures. But I see more walks for young families now. More backpacks to check out with binoculars and activities for young children to do while in the park. What if these gardens did more outreach to encourage more planting of native plants and plants friendly to native wildlife and birds? I bet it would make a difference.

  2. I think Minneapolis comes close to this. The Park Department not only runs the parks and park programing, they take care of our urban forest planted a long all streets between the road and sidewalk. Our house are connected to park by this uban forest.


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