Now that Christmas has come and gone, and all the presents unwrapped, those with kids might be astonished by the amount of toys that now surround them. Perhaps to escape this you’ve taken a walk around a local woods or to the coast?

 

In his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, Richard Louv argues that as a consequence of spending more time indoors, human beings, especially children are being affected by a wide range of behaviour problems including depression, childhood obesity and attention disorders, many of which have seen an increase in recent years. Louv terms this Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). With reports that children are spending as little as 9% of their time outdoors, more needs to be done in order for children to develop an interest and a connection to nature.19 

 

Although not a recognised medical condition (an argument that Elizabeth Dickinson raises) it attempts to describe the problems that can occur in children who are not exposed to nature at a young age, and Louv argues for greater contact with nature in learning environments. In the book Louv tries to work out, by interviewing children, what the causes for the diminishing time they spent outdoors were; fear was attributed mostly. Parental fears seem to be most apparent, a point shared in a National Trust report. When interviewed by Louv one child responded ‘“my parents don’t feel real safe if I’m going too deep in the woods”’20. There appears to be an apparent mistrust of the outdoors by adults, potentially caused by ‘stranger-danger’ and the perception of danger of other people, despite the few cases that occur every year. Media and legal induced fears are also mentioned, as well as ‘well-meaning (and usually necessary) environmental regulations’21. Additionally competition from television and computers, and lack of time due to homework were high on the list. He later goes further, arguing that our current society is ‘teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature’22 there is cause for a programme to re-engage children with nature. 

 

Louv raises an interesting point that it is not just children who will be missing out, but potentially the whole planet, ‘The health of the earth is at stake as well. How the young respond to nature, and how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes - our daily lives’23. The fear is that if children aren’t exposed to nature in this general, how can we expect them to care for it in future generations; the planet will be an object to be exploited. 

The long term effects of NDD are not yet known. Edith Cobb reports in her book ‘The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood.’ Her reports suggest that contact with nature in the younger years can lead to increased creativity in later years, concluding, ‘that inventiveness and imagination of nearly all of the creative people she studied was rooted in their early experiences in nature’24. There is valuable knowledge we can take from assessing it as a benefit to the city, clearly increase in creativity is a positive affect toward the urban realm. 

 

There is a calling for nature to be in cities. Arguably children have not lost anything, because they never had it in the first place, but any intervention must address social issues. Parental fears are high on the list, but too closely monitored and children will not be truly free. We might not be able to construct whole woods in the city for children to play and to explore, but there are clearly architectural responses to this problem. By increasing nature in the city we can at least begin to engage young ones’ curiosity, and that is a start. 

 

15 Greening the City: A Guide to Good Practice - A Report for the Department of the environment piii

16 ‘we tend to think of architecture as a three diminutional envelope, an object containing a sealed interior environment, and of landscape design as the shaping of the earth in which the building sits. This attitude has been at the expense of the enclosure of land, and encourages architecture to avoird working effectively with the living landscape; Captured Landscape - Kate Barber, p2

17 The Biophilic Design - Stephen R. Kellert pvii

18 Greening the City: A Guide to Good Practice - A Report for the Department of the environment piii

19 http://www.edenproject.com

20 The last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv, loc306 (ebook - available at amazon.co.uk)

21 The last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv, p31

22 The last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv, loc158 (ebook - available at amazon.co.uk)

23 The last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv, loc184 (ebook - available at amazon.co.uk)

24 The last Child in the Woods - Richard Louv, loc1571 (ebook - available at amazon.co.uk)

25 ‘The Misdiagnosis: Rethinking “Nature Deficit Disorder” - Elizabeth Dickinson, p4

26 The Misdiagnosis: Rethinking “Nature Deficit Disorder” - Elizabeth Dickinson, p3