Leave No Child Inside

Developers are joining the movement to return children to nature

| March 1, 2007

As a nature-loving child and budding activist, Richard Louv would have likely seen Derek Thomas as his arch nemesis -- a bigwig at a huge residential development company, the kind whose survey stakes Louv pulled out and rearranged in small-scale sabotage of a project infringing on his boyhood woodlands. Now, Louv is working with Thomas in his ongoing quest to reconnect children with nature.

Louv -- who popularized the idea of 'nature-deficit disorder' in his widely acclaimed book, Last Child in the Woods -- writes about the emerging allies he's found in developers in the current edition of Orion. He recounts the shock he felt when Thomas, the vice chairman and chief investment officer of Newland Communities, invited him to speak at a company meeting organized by Thomas to introduce his staff to new ideas. Louv suggested that the people in that room were in part to blame for children being confined inside, rather than enjoying the great outdoors. Developers, he said, 'destroy natural habitat, design communities in ways that discourage any real contact with nature, and include covenants that virtually criminalize outdoor play -- outlawing tree-climbing, fort-building, even chalk-drawing on sidewalks.'

After hearing Louv speak, the crowd broke into energetic discussions of possible solutions to the disconnect between neighborhoods and nature. The developers started talking about nature trails, natural waterways, and on-site nature centers. It was, Louv writes, a pivotal shift. 'The quality of their ideas,' he explains, 'mattered less than the fact that they had them. ... They were undergoing a process of discovery that has proliferated around the country in the past two years, and not only among developers.'

The movement, Louv explains, has also reached educators, who are devising more nature-themed programs for children as young as three. Several cities and states are taking action as well with campaigns -- some titled 'Leave No Child Inside' -- to combat the growing numbers of obese and unhealthy children who haven't been stretching their bodies and imaginations outside as they should.

In Louv's words, 'developers and environmentalists, corporate CEOs and college professors, rock stars and ranchers may agree on little else, but they agree on this: no one among us wants to be a member of the last generation to pass on to its children the joy of playing outside in nature.' -- Natalie Hudson

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