Updated: Feb 23, 2019
The word innate means hereditary or human nature and I'm a big believer that human beings are born to be outdoors as much as possible. Remember, homosapiens evolved over millions of years during an intimate struggle to survive the unforgiving forces of nature, which included big predators, climate fluctuations, disease, food shortages and countless other evolutionary pressures. Modern humans once shared the Earth with big apex land predators including the formidable saber tooth tiger!
"...many children in the our world grow up without meaningful outdoor experiences, and this 'nature deficit' can only spell trouble for human health and wellbeing, and the conservation of our natural spaces and wildlife."
The fact we are still here to this day is an indisputable testament to our unique bi-pedal body shape, survival instincts and superior brain functioning compared to other animal species. And it's because we were molded by the natural environment for so long that we are now beautifully adapted to life outdoors. Indeed, being surrounded by forests, mountains and lakes calms us, grounds us, and deeply enriches us in a way that no artificial setting seems to be able to (yes, not even an Apple shop or a Starbucks!).
Of course, most people know this intuitively. It's human instinct to want to explore, smell the smells of the forest and breath fresh, clean air. But even so, many children in the our world grow up without meaningful outdoor experiences, and this 'nature deficit' can only spell trouble for human health and wellbeing, and the conservation of our natural spaces and wildlife.
Modern Urban Lifestyles
So what's the answer? Living and working in Thailand as an outdoor educator in an international school, I see some interesting social trends emerging. Perhaps understandably, many young people in South East Asia are moving away from the traditional rural way of life and aspiring to live a more urban, convenient and modern lifestyle, often with little connection to the natural world.
For instance, in cities like Bangkok, young people flock to the shopping malls in huge numbers, often with little intention to shop but to cool down and relax with friends in the air conditioning and out of the heat of the city. It's hard to blame them, of course. Bangkok is a 24-hour sweltering metropolis of concrete and traffic, which never stops to sleep!
By growing plants, trees and vegetables in our cities on [a massive] scale would encourage wildlife to return to our concrete jungles, and it would cool down the urban environment, making it a more optimal temperature for people to live in.
Searching From Within
One answer though is to bring nature into our cities as an integrated, interwoven part of the cityscape. And I'm not just talking about planting a few trees or making space for a few new parks (although this would be a good start). Nope, I'm talking about utilizing the surface area of as many of the vertical and horizontal spaces in the urban fabric of our cities as possible to make our cities truly green.
By growing plants, trees and vegetables in our cities on this scale, it would encourage wildlife to return to our concrete jungles, and it would cool down the urban environment, making it a more optimal temperature for people to live in. And as if that wasn't enough, it would also provide urbanites with the beauty and experience of being outdoors in nature, without even stepping foot outside the city boundaries, while simultaneously cleaning the air we all breath.
How could it be done? Well government, private enterprise, NGOs, schools and city residents would all need to get behind a huge scale coordinated drive to green our cities. It would require subsidies and incentives to go green and plant in and around our places of education, work and play. But in the end it would be worth it for everyone and everything living in our cities today!
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