Confronting Nature-Deficit Disorder

[Panorama] A Day at the Park

Admittedly, the term nature-deficit disorder sounds contrived. But there is evidence that the concept points to real problems—problems that arise when people lack a connection to the natural world.

The term was coined by Richard Louv who was recently interviewed by National Geographic (Connecting With Nature Boosts Creativity and Health). Louv has advocated providing experiences with nature to children (he founded the Children and Nature Network) but he says that adults suffer from a disconnection with nature too. Nature-deficit disorder, Louv says, affects people’s “ability to feel ultimately alive.”

He cites research that shows that time outdoors can help people struggling with ADD. The New York Times recently published an article on research showing how walking in a park can improve one’s brain functioning. (Easing Brain Fatigue With a Walk in the Park).

Of course you can’t immerse yourself in nature if it’s not there. Louv notes that the majority of people now live in cities. If we take nature-deficit disorder seriously, we will need to redesign cities to put us in closer touch with nature in our daily lives.

This doesn’t just mean walling off nature in a few extra parks. It requires “biophilic design” that will end the separation of humans from the rest of nature, even in cities. One can envision green corridors running through our downtowns, gardens filled with native plants surrounding our workplaces, the replacement of lawns with miniature woodlands, and assemblages of plants that provide habitat to birds and insects. Louv calls this vision “a nature-rich society.”

Imagine much less concrete and asphalt and much more green. More bird song. Air filled with the scents of growing things. Butterflies bobbing among flowering plants. Small ponds where perhaps frogs may live.

While wholesale change from our cities of today would be radical, we already see examples in our cities now of nature surviving and even thriving. Residents of dense urban neighborhoods plant flowers in every square inch of land. Community gardens take up whole city blocks. Homeowners place bird houses and bat houses in their small yards. Office buildings are surrounded by aquatic habitat in which water lilies grow. Green roofs provide habitat for insects. There is much to build on.

Louv says “most Americans carry images of the far future that looks a lot like Blade Runner and Mad Max.” Our vision of the future is often one that is depressing and sad. He wants us to replace images of a dystopian future with positive ones of a nature-rich society. How much healthier emotionally would we be if we saw a revival of our connection with nature as our inevitable future!

–Vicki Linton

photo credit: Parque do Ibirapuera – Sao Paulo, Brazil by Diego3336 at Flickr

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  1. Nature-Deficit Disorder | Bioscience + Innovation - August 30, 2013

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