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. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

“If you build it, they will come.” I believe in that line, from the movie “Field of Dreams.” Or another interpretation: “If you imagine it, if you name it, they will come.”

Imagining a goal doesn’t get the heavy lifting done, but without imagination, nothing gets done.

On April 29, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell; Saint Paul Mayor and President of the National League of Cities Chris Coleman; and Neil Nicoll, YMCA USA President, among others, announced that their organizations are joining forces to get kids outdoors in cities across the country:

“As part of Department of the Interior’s ambitious youth initiative the National League of Cities (NLC), YMCA of the USA, and the Department today signed an agreement to coordinate efforts to bridge the growing disconnect between young people and the great outdoors by creating meaningful connections to nature …”

what if we truly greened
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Buffer
Mayor Coleman said the effort will “build upon the work we’ve done locally and to which NLC has already committed—with partners like Wilderness Inquiry, the Children and Nature Network, MNRRA, and the Outdoor Alliance for Kids.” You can read the announcement here. 

Some cities are already doing a pretty good job. For example, the Charlotte urban region (spanning the border in both Carolinas) offers some great park and recreation models for the future.

Last week, when I spoke at a large civic luncheon, I challenged Charlotte to formalize the goal, as reported by the Charlotte Observerto become America’s Best City for Children and Nature.

A few weeks earlier, I had given the same challenge to my own urban region of San Diego. And last year, I suggested the goal at a similar gathering in Houston.

The idea isn’t brand new. Back in 2009, Backpacker magazine ran an article called “The Best Cities to Raise an Outdoor Kid.” Boulder, Colorado led the pack of “25 places to beat nature-deficit disorder.” The qualifications (maybe backpack sales?) were never fully explained. Still, it was a good, conversation-provoking piece.

So let’s amp this up. Why wait for a national competition to be officially declared? We can begin by issuing an informal challenge city by city, town by town, to make this part of their official DNA, to set tangible, measurable goals, to see their civic future through the lens of nature.

Charlotte and other cities could establish a two- to five-year plan with benchmarks and reachable goals. Here’s a starter list of goals (and not necessarily in order of importance):

  1. Creation of an envisioning process to see the future through the prism of nature
  2. Number of family nature clubs and programs that connect families with nature
  3. Number of schools with natural play spaces
  4. Degree of economic and cultural diversity in outdoor settings and programs
  5. Number of pediatricians and other health professionals prescribing nature
  6. Number of private yards and public spaces planted with native species
  7. Increase in nature trail, bike paths, natural parkland, open space and wildlife corridors (“childlife” corridors, too)
  8. Commitment of businesses, nonprofits and public institutions to the cause
  9. Public awareness campaigns; for example citywide or statewide children’s essay contest on how they connect with nature
  10. Increase in local nature-based tourism and other economic measures — including property values, tax base; and successful efforts to market the region as a great place for children and nature

And so on…

Ideally, such a competition would have national sponsors, but if these cities were to set and reach their own goals, they could reasonably pronounce themselves among the nation’s — or the world’s — best cities for connecting children to nature.

Some cities love a challenge. Charlotte is certainly one of them. We’ll see what happens.

Regarding the first item on the list above, in 2011 I wrote a piece about how regions and states could see their own futures more creatively through the prism of nature. I had recently attended a conference held at the Minnesota Arboretum, where several hundred people from a variety of sectors – tourism, housing development, health care, education, and others – came together to explore nature’s role in their state.

As I wrote at the time, I was especially intrigued by the remarks of Mary Jo Kreitzer, a nursing professor at the University of Minnesota and director 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 nature could help Minnesota reach that goal.

 Could an investment in creating more nearby nature reduce obesity, save health care costs and improve student testing?

In such an envisioning process, cities and states could ask a series of questions. For example, what would health services, and results, look like? What would the region’s future education system be like? (After school programs, field trips, science education, and so on.) What if more nature were woven into everyday life – if natural watersheds were revived, if more parks were created, 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?

What would our homes and yards look like, feel like, if the restorative power of nature was considered in their design or remodeling?

How would the true greening of a region affect property values and other economic measures? What would be the long-term impact of a region-wide campaign that 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.

On 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 subsidizing corporations or one-upping the next town over — we’re the New Silicon Valley — on building an economy at the expense of other regions.

But a community that decides to be a great place for children and nature nurtures life itself – which helps every species, including humans, everywhere. Why not envision that future?


New Jacket very small
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • Google+
  • Buffer

Richard Louv is the author of THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network

Follow Rich Louv on Facebook and @RichLouv on Twitter



More Reading

National League of Cities, Department of Interior, YMCA of the US sign agreement

Charlotte Observer: Author challenges Charlotte to connect children with nature

Toward a Nature-Rich Urban Future: Five Ways Houston or (Insert Your City Here) Could Lead the Way

True Green: 21 Ways to Plant a City

The Botanical City: Could Where You Live Become the Most Nature-Rich City in the World?

What If We Truly Greened America? 5 Ways to Build a Botanical City

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

Backpacker Magazine: The Best Cities to Raise an Outdoor Kid

Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability — Andrew Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin, Richard Jackson


  1. Michael Barton

    Portland, OR is a great city to raise outdoor kids!

  2. The idea of nature-deficit disorder among children is no longer something that can be overlooked or dismissed. With the rising statistics of malnutrition be it being obese or underweight, parents, educators and other relevant organizations must look into tapping nature in order to refocus real and experienced child development.

    With this in mind, seeking green spaces and taking time to let children play outdoors is a step towards getting the gears of parenting and education back on track. It’s about time to unearth the old ways as we help our kids make the most of this relentlessly evolving era of technology peppered with consumerism.

  3. My husband once said “you were everywhere” and my thought was and still is today, children are.

    Help make our world the best place for children.


  4. I have been learning to let go of my fears as a parent and allow my children (6 and 11) to walk alone to our nearby park. They play at the ‘swamp’ where a storm water outlet meets a wetland/pond and there are lots of climbable willow trees. It is their favorite place to play. They have come back, safe, every time!

  5. Seattle is a very green city with great parks, a lake you can swim in and the Puget Sound you can sail in, all within the City. Great mountains to hike nearby. My kids are growing up seeing Mt. Rainier in the distance on a clear day – that is a lifetime gift that will shape them I think.

  6. I’ve yet to find a city more accessible for people of all socio-economic backgrounds than Philadelphia. Trails are accessible by foot, bike, public transit and car! Beautiful natural sections of the Fairmount Park System are short walks from wealthy, middle class and high poverty neighborhoods. If we want to see all kids in the woods we need to focus on providing kids with experiences they can access on their own. If we take a kid to hike in the Delaware Water Gap National Park it is an incredible experience. If we get on the 32 bus and hike in the Wissahickon it’s an incredible experience that they can replicate without us.

  7. What is the solution to starting this process? Where do I start in MY community?
    It’s heartbreaking to constantly read statistics but feel helpless in making things start to inch forward. I’d like to start a “beautification council” within my unincorporated area but need help knowing where to start.
    Supplying This type of information will help people start doing the footwork at grassroots levels rather than just reading article after blog after post and shaking there head then going about their *helpless* routines.

    • Richard Louv

      Nicole, this month, C&NN and the National League of Cities will have an important announcement. We’re working on it. In the meantime, hope you’ll keep looking for ideas on C&NN’s site.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.


You're just two clicks away from
receiving C&NN News & Updates

Share This