In the past few days three writings have converged in my mind on the theme of open space and its importance in our well-being, our history, and enlivening urban spaces. In Richard Louv's 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods" he argues for the importance of regularly experiencing nature in childhood (and beyond) and coined the term "nature-deficit disorder". He writes:
A widening circle of researchers believes that the loss of natural habitat, or the disconnection from nature even when it is available, has enormous implications for human health and child development. They say the quality of exposure to nature affects our health at an almost cellular level. (page 43, 2008 edition)
The Planning Magazine July 2011 article "An Urban Treasure Hunt" by Tony Hiss includes his description of visiting New York City's oldest tree - a 450-year old tulip poplar tree - located in what sounds like an urban wild along the Long Island Expressway. As Hiss describes, a NYC Parks Department plaque describes the tree as "The Alley Pond Giant" - "perhaps the last witness to the entire span of the City's history." Hiss also observes that the tree does not just have a link to the past but also a link the future:
The tree also has, just as forcefully, a sense of continuation and steady purpose.
If we don't get in its way, the unparalleled arc of the giant poplar's endurance will probably soar through another century or more. . . Alley Pond Park is home to a kind of two-way time beacon, one that shows us where we've come from and at the same time reminds us that we have a companion that can see us through the many uncertainties of the decades ahead.
A July 5th post on The Dirt, "Landscape Architects Take the Lead in Remaking Cities" describes the importance of the landscape architect's perspective to projects reclaiming abandoned urban spaces with a very interesting example of an old Steel Yard in Providence, RI (which also has historic significance - it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places). The post supports an argument put forth by Robert Campbell, architecture critic for The Boston Globe, and others that landscape architects - perhaps more-so than architects and planners -can transform forgotten places into new outdoor public landscapes.