The rewilding revolution doesn’t require oversight or permission or even much in the way of expertise.
HOW can both humans and nature thrive? This question is one of the most pressing of our time, worthy of deep consideration by each and every one of us. And, thanks to unique natural and cultural contexts, the answer will be different for every place.
A major part of the solution may just come from a concept known as “rewilding.” Although generally used to refer to big-scale conservation efforts to protect, restore and connect wilderness areas, rewilding is equally applicable to cities, suburbs and surrounding natural areas. The notion can also be applied to people’s minds, bodies and spirits — an antidote to denatured lives.
A strong case can be made that the 21st century must be an era not only of nature conservation, but of restoration as well. And a great place to begin is to reseed our cities and suburbs with native plants. Such wildscaping attracts more native insects, which are quickly followed by birds and other animals. The local web of life becomes more robust and diverse, more capable of fighting off unwanted intruders. Nearby nature wins by boosting its diversity and staving off extinctions. We win by inhabiting nature-rich settings that foster nature connection while boosting our health and well-being.
Sounds great, right? But how might we begin the rewilding process?
Today, Seattle and every other major American city features numerous organizations that aim to connect people, especially children, with nature. The list includes independent schools, natural history museums, environmental education organizations, botanical gardens, zoos, planetariums, aquariums, science centers and nature centers. The great majority of these organizations are doing amazing things, positively impacting the lives of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of children.
Yet, despite this plethora of nature-related offerings, the disconnect between children and nature has ballooned to an all-time high. Our youths continue to break records in technology consumption while becoming increasingly detached from the natural world. In short, we haven’t yet figured out how to “move the needle” on nature connection at an urban scale.
Hear from the author
Sampson will talk about his new book “How to Raise a Wild Child,” a step-by-step guide for parents and teachers to engage kids in nature. 7:30 p.m., Thursday at Town Hall Seattle.
A new approach is needed.
Rather than so many organizations working in relative isolation, the solution is more likely to come from multi-partner collaborations aimed at scaling nature connection efforts. Ideally, working groups would act like a Swiss Army knife, each organization functioning as a distinct tool with unique capacities. All of these efforts could be aided by citizen scientists and citizen naturalists, children and adults who may not have formal expertise, yet serve a critical role collecting information and acting on it.
I am very happy to say that this work is well under way. All over the country, including in Seattle, visionary multi-partner green-space alliances are forming. We must nurture these efforts.
Imagine rewilding schoolyards, backyards, courtyards, urban trail systems, empty lots and parks with native species, all with the help of local communities. It wouldn’t take long to transform urban and suburban landscapes into a thriving new norm. Best of all, this rewilding revolution, particularly in its initial stages, doesn’t require oversight or permission or even much in the way of expertise. Anyone can participate simply by planting some native plants.
Who will drive urban and suburban rewilding? For the most part, it’ll be people like you and me. As environmental activist David Orr says, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” Scaling efforts to foster a deep nature connection will depend on two things: access and engagement.
Access involves rewilding cities and suburbs, ensuring that everyone, regardless of skin color or family income, lives close to a beautiful green space. Engagement is all about rewilding minds, ensuring that children get plenty of nature play and experiential learning outdoors. Who, apart from engaged citizens, is going to take on the heavy lifting? But here’s the fun part. Odds are excellent that this work will be some of the most important, enjoyable and satisfying that any of us will ever do.