Nature Interrupted: An Urban Experience

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Earlier in the week I had a moment. It was one of those I need to desperately get out of my apartment and just smell the fresh air and be around trees moments. So, I went outside and went for a walk. While outside and trying to find a quiet space were I could enjoy nature uninterrupted. I soon became cognizant of the many ways urban planning effects how we experience nature, especially in highly dense cities.

Living in New York City especially, can feel like you are literally living in a cage. The island of Manhattan is surround by water on all sides, sound like the perfect place for a stellar beachfront right? No. Absolutely no. Here, highways on all sides surround us. Which makes it impossible to experience nature (rivers, oceans, trees, most parks, etc.) without being adjacent to a freeway, construction sight, or major street.

This is the worst part of living in an urban area and speaks to larger issues of the conflation of technology/“modernization” and nature. Even as I am typing this and trying to express my organic thoughts, I must do so through a technological device (my laptop), of which could be having one of many unknown negative repercussions on my body. Same as when I was trying to clear my head in the park, mixed in with the smell of trees was the smell or gas fumes from cares, pesticides, and pollution from the Hudson River.

I understand that to ask for a complete overhaul of modernization and technology and in essence urbanization is a lot. However, all these things do beg the questions of in what ways can urban planning provide us with environmentally sound spaces? What is the true impact that living in these dense cities has on our health and environment? Do untouched spaces even exist? Or is that just some anti-colonial fantasy? How does this lack of access/difficulty of access discourage our participation in experiencing nature? Is this an intentional plot of capitalism? To keep us indoors, unenlightened and unconsciously consuming?

I’m not sure, however I believe there is something to be said about urban planning and the way we organize cities that can help provide positive and healthy interactions with nature. Nature in my life is so important and being able to connect with the beach, to walk through the park, to hear the birds, and to hear leaves rustling through the trees is so important to my peace of mind, concept of self, and feeling s of peace.

These are concepts and conversation that I believe people of color especially need to grapple with. We need to be conscientious of how these cities are being constructed and what the effect has on our mental health and physical health. Historically, we tend to get the brute end of the deal when it comes to living in environmentally safe places (i.e. water crisis in Flint, Michigan).

If this topic intrigued you please check out the Black Urbanist, she is an urban activist and blogger who is keenly aware of these issues and I’ve definitely appreciated learning about this topic from her site. Also below are some other great resources if this topic seemed of interest to you:

http://news.streetroots.org/2015/05/01/creating-livable-city-black-residents

http://www.thenatureofcities.com/2015/10/23/urban-spaces-and-the-mattering-of-black-lives/

Until next time…

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