When we think of children and the outdoors, of connecting children to nature, a city landscape is not the first image that comes to mind. But, many mayors across the country hope to change that.
As part of the Cities Connecting Children to Nature Initiative, mayors in 18 cities across the country are leading a national effort to ensure all children in their cities grow up with regular connections to the natural world. Rather than having isolated projects, or an add-on to their staff’s work, mayors view nature connection as integral to their vision for their city and align this work with other city goals and priorities.
“All of these things are connected. It’s not about doing one thing here and one thing there,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, Texas. “It’s about doing all of these things that align themselves together. Because parks and green space in a neighborhood literally can change that neighborhood for the better.”
In St. Paul, Minnesota, Mayor Melvin Carter understands that all his city’s priorities affect children. “Every road we went down, the further we got down that road the closer we got to education and our children,” says Mayor Carter, “we found ourselves realizing that what all these things have in common is children.”
This realization defines the way Mayor Carter sees equity, nature access and St. Paul’s natural resources. “We have to have children owning nature. In St. Paul, we are working to bring children and families back to the river. There is nothing bigger that we can do than show our children that this planet literally belongs to them.”
From St. Paul to Houston to Rochester, New York, mayors around the country are connecting kids to nature as a regular part of city-life, making such vital work doable, realistic and sustainable in cities.
These city leaders understand that, in order to do that, they must integrate nature into everyday city life for all children, equitably. And, that in doing so, they are also accomplishing a wide range of city priorities.
In Rochester, Mayor Lovely Warren has three main priorities: more jobs, better educational opportunities and safer, more vibrant neighborhoods. “Connecting children to nature hits all three of those,” says Daniele Lyman-Torres, Commissioner for the Department of Recreation and Youth Services in Rochester. “We focus on making our neighborhoods more vibrant by activating green spaces and parks, by connecting our children to the outdoors. We create better educational opportunities by making environmental education and outdoor classrooms a part of our everyday. And, we increase jobs and job opportunities by creating green leaders, people who can grow up and become a part of the environmental employment field. There is a whole industry there that we really need in Rochester.”
These mayors see children and the city’s natural resources as intertwined assets and opportunities, and they also understand the inherent connection between children, nature and other city efforts such as climate resiliency, health and education, green infrastructure and, most certainly, equity and access.
“We can connect children to nature, we can mitigate the risk of flooding, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Mayor Turner. “By doing all of these things, at the same time, we are enhancing the community’s quality of life.”
Two of these innovative mayors, Mayor Melvin Carter and Mayor Sylvester Turner shared their vision for prioritizing nature access in their cities during recent convenings of the CCCN initiative. In their brief speeches, they linked children and nature to broader issues of equity, climate resiliency, healthy communities and more. In doing so, they also motivated and inspired CCCN staff to continue advocating on behalf of children, our planet and the future of both. Watch the videos and be inspired yourself.
Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, TX joined a CCCN Houston stakeholders meeting in 2019. About 75 stakeholders participated in the meeting, including city and county staff, school district employees, and representatives from the nonprofit and business sectors. They all came together to discuss a common vision and path to connecting kids to nature in Houston.
In October of 2019, nearly 60 participants from all 18 cities participating in the CCCN initiative came together in St. Paul, MN to share best practices and identify priorities moving forward. Mayor Melvin Carter of St. Paul, MN welcomed the group with a powerful message about equity, children and nature.
Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) is a joint initiative of the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families and the Children & Nature Network, helps cities increase equitable access to nature to improve the wellbeing of children. CCCN supports a cohort of 18 cities with technical assistance, grants and peer learning for cities to implement nature connection strategies.
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