About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of eight books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

FROM “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE”: IS THERE A “BUTTON PARK” IN YOUR FUTURE?


Remember the special place in nature that you had as a child—that wooded lot at the end of the cul de sac, that ravine behind your housing tract? What if adults had cared just as much about that special place as you did, when you were a child?

Here’s an idea (described in my new book, THE NATURE PRINCIPLE), whose time may be coming: the creation of ” nearby-nature trusts.” Land trust organizations could develop and distribute tool kits, and perhaps offer consulting services, to show how neighborhood residents could band together to protect those small green parcels of nearby nature. What might these little parcels be called? How about ” button parks?”

More about my suggested term later, but first let me tell you about the Carolina Thread Trail.

A few weeks ago, I was in Charlotte North Carolina, speaking to a gathering arranged by the Catawba Lands Conservancy, a regional land trust which has protected 7,500 acres. Catawba is also the lead agency for the Carolina Thread Trail, a regional trail network that will eventually weave throughout a huge area of North Carolina and South Carolina, reaching into 15 counties and serving over 2 million people.

The Catawba organization describes the Thread Trail this way: ” Simply put, it will link people and places. It will link cities, towns, and attractions. More than a hiking trail, more than a bike path, the Carolina Thread Trail will preserve our natural areas and will be a place for exploration of nature, culture, science and history, for family adventures and celebrations of friendship. It will be for young and old, athlete and average. This is a landmark project. A legacy that will give so much, to so many, for so long.”

If the full concept survives the legal and political challenges that are inevitable any time good people pursue a vision this large. The Thread Trail is one example of how regions can address what will be, in an urbanizing world, a growing hunger for the health and well-being that nature provides to human beings. In fact, the availability of nearby nature is or should seen as an integral element of our future health care system, for reasons related to both physical and mental health.

When the Trust for Public Land (TPL), working with the Colorado Health Foundation, brought together groups concerned about the disconnect of children from nature, TPL leaders and I brainstormed on the future of land trusts in tough economic times. Considering this approach, one of TPL’s leaders suggested that neighborhood leaders might also identify abandoned houses, buy them, raze them, and turn them into natural parkland or community gardens. ” We really do have to think about creating nature, not just preserving it,” he said.

As with family nature clubs, the central organizing principle of nearby-nature trusts would be: do it yourself, do it now —- with a little help and information from friends who know about land trusts.

A larger pattern could emerge: As neighborhoods work to preserve or create parcels of nearby nature, they could symbolically join these special places to similar ones throughout a city; such an effort could be a new way to build parkland across an urban region — a kind of decentral park.

But let me return to this notion of what I call ” button parks.” Why call them that? “Pocket park” is the term for small parks created by governments or developers; button parks — well, people can sew those on themselves.

The term makes particular sense in the Carolinas. The reason that the Carolina Thread Trail is called a thread trail is not only because of the image that word evokes, but because of the Carolinas’ long dependence on the textile industries. In past decades, stitching shirts has given way to circuit chips, but the sense of history remains. Development pressure has brought the need for regional planning, so that the nature connection can continue, especially for children and families in urban and suburbanizing areas.

So, while visiting with the good folks of Catawba, it occurred to me that the Carolina Thread Trail could be strengthened over time, politically and socially, if the people who live adjacent to the trail were to become more directly involved, not only in the use of the trail, but in the concept’s expansion deeper into their own neighborhoods.

What if people had access to free tool kits which helped people create their own ” button parks” connected to the ” thread” trail? These button parks wouldn’t need to be literally connected to the trail, but would serve as small extensions of the trail throughout the region.

Barriers would exist, among them the fear of liability. But precedents do exist around the country. When I spoke in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the director of ACRES Land Trust suggested one approach. ACRES has protected natural habitats throughout northeast Indiana, southern Michigan and northwest Ohio. Jason Kissel, executive director of ACRES, suggested that button parks could be created by neighborhood associations, and that, at least in Indiana, public use of private land left in its natural state poses less danger of future litigation than land that has been ” improved.”

By going through the process of creating button parks, people would learn about the growing importance of the land trust movement. Potentially, figuring this out could dramatically increase the amount of protected nearby nature. The residents of neighborhoods would be able to take pride in their protection of those little special places, places too small for government or large conservancies to protect, but large in the hearts of children and their families.

______________

Richard Louv is founding chairman of the Children and Nature Network. He is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and “The Nature Principle” (Spring, 2011).

 

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  1. I love this idea. I live in Madison, Wisconsin where there are many “pocket parks.” We love our parks and green space they are highly valued. That’s why the idea of button parks is fascinating. This idea could be used to protect green space that isn’t already protected or is threatened. Recently a garden project was sold to developers much to the dismay of many people. There were no tools to help keep this land as garden space. Thanks for interesting idea.

  2. what a great idea! My city is filled with urban parks but not the neighborhood I grew up in–I wish this program had existed back then. I recently passed through to find that my beloved childhood play area, “The Pond” has been altered significantly and there’s no longer access for kids to play there!

  3. Yina Delgadillo says:

    Although I think “the creation of “nearby-nature trusts� is a great idea because it should stimulated parents to take their children outdoors and expose them to nature more often. I believe show or teach the community how to protect “those small green parcels of nearby nature� is even better because in that way people will learn the value of nature and the benefits of expose our children to it.

  4. Ryan Lundquist says:

    Having this piece of nature was very important to me as a kid. About a quarter mile behind my house is a creek trail that travels for miles. as a kid i would walk out there with my friends and do all sorts of activities to escape from reality. we would go fishing, catch lizards with traps made from long pieces of grass, and we would collect bluegill in a bucket and put them in a fish tank. these childhood activites make up a large portion of my child hood memories, and i cherish them. I see it as disasterous is kids dont have a similar escape to go to, and people need to realize the importance of having parks and nature areas like this. There may be one large on in a town, but it may be too far for some people. smaller parks shoud be designated just for people to enjoy and escape to, mayb even to just simply read a book. If we dont protect our natural lands and instead build buildings over them, then it may be too late to save them. I think it would be AWESOME if my neighborhood of about 200 houses were to have its own nature area for people to enjoy, even if it wasnt large. people from the nieghborhood could meet each other there and become friends, because as of right now there really isnt a way to get to know someone on the otherside of the neighborhood unless you might run into them going for a walk.

  5. Barbara Stedman says:

    I love this idea, too. Actually, I have thought about how to keep an empty lot in our street (in Portland, OR) empty as a “button park”. It has been for sale for a while and is difficult to access so it will probably sit empty for the near future. It would be great to keep this piece of land as a natural area. But that leaves the question of how to finance buying this lot. I’m still searching for an organization that would buy it. I’m sure the neighbors would be willing to put labor or money in to transform it from an invasive species weed patch to a natural area with native plants. But we still need someone to buy and own this lot.

  6. The neighborhood kids will tell you where to put the button parks. Chances are, if they are lucky kids who play outdoors already, they already have a few favorite places. Part of the process should include asking kids where they like to play.

  7. kilin yang says:

    The “button park” concept is an interesting idea because in metropolitian areas where a majority of people live in apartments it is difficult for children to readily access “their own small parcel of nature.” It would be wonderful if there was a movement that encouraged “roof top gardens”. What a great and fun way for children to experience nature and also learn farming. I also like the idea of people buying abandoned buildings and turning them into community gardens. This not only would benefit nature but also society since most areas with abandoned buildings also have higher crime rates. I wonder if there is a study that shows a correlation between areas with community gardens and crime rates vs. abandoned buildings and crime rates. Cities could potentially save a lot of money by reducing crime, simply by introducing a community garden.

  8. kilin yang says:

    I thought that the idea of a “button park” was interesting because children should experience their “own small parcel of nature”, whether it’s in their backyard or off a trail. In metropolitan areas it is more difficult for children to experience nature so I liked your idea in regards to turning abadoned buildings into community gardens. Areas with abandoned buildings also usually have a higher crime rate so it would be interesting to see what would happen if they were turned into parks, community gardens, etc. If the crime rate decreases, this would not only benefit us environmentally but socially as well.

  9. Madeleine Souza says:

    I love the idea of “button parks�. I am lucky enough to have a few nature areas around my neighborhood already. I have a “parkway�, a pathway, which was created when the neighborhood I live in was built. It goes about two miles and it has about twenty different entrances on the left and right to the other nearby courts. The parkway leads people who want to walk their dogs, go jogging or to walk to their “pocket park� right near the local library and grocery store. The pathway has grass on both sides of the trail which goes all the way to the end of the path. Ever since I was a kid I would walk through there with my parents, siblings, cousins and grandma. We would usually play at the “pocket park�, which includes a metal play structure. But when you brought up the issue about “button parks�, I loved it! And it would be a great idea more communities had something like that where people can just escape and enjoy the nature around them, but still be near their home. I live near Quarry Lakes, which I consider a “pocket park.� It is part of our East Bay Regional Park system and includes lakes, a network of trails, and a swimming area. It is surrounded by suburban housing developments, but it can be reached by trails that reach from the Bay all the way to Niles Canyon and beyond. Where can I find information on starting a “button park�.

  10. Marwa Elkady says:

    Yeah I agree with you, Yina. This does seem like a really good idea to get people to go to the park and take an active role in nature. More people need to go to the parks and other natural places. As Richard Louv states in his book, nature has so many benefits to us. For example, it can help those with attention disorders, stress, anxiety, and depression.

  11. Mariam Maqsud says:

    I am glad to hear about this. it is very interesting organisation and also, people are going to to get very happy about this. most of the people love to have nice parks around or close to their houses. i think most of them are welling to help to build a park near their house. because if i would have my own house i would love to see near my home a nice park so i could go anytime i want to.

  12. James Vu says:

    I really think that this is an awesome blog! “Button parks� are a brilliant way to encourage many people to establish a connection with nature. What’s unique about them is that they encourage groups of individuals, not just individuals, to have fun. The greater the number of people who benefit from being at the “parks� is, the stronger the influence of the “parks� on people’s relationship with nature is. Such “parks� are not only places where people come and have fun by themselves. They meet and have fun with each other. These places provide a way for people to enrich their relationship with nature by sharing the relationship with other people who have similar interests. This would create a much larger and more powerful bond than before.

    Whether it is playing sports or exploring among the trees and bushes, people can definitely gain an advantage by spending time at “button parks.� When I was a child, I used to play with my friends in an outdoor area near my house. The area was small and only had a few trees and no playground. However, my friends and I had many activities in mind. We played sports such as baseball and football as well as other games such as hide and seek and climbing trees. To us, the barrenness and smallness of the park stirred our imagination, which in turn motivated us to think up of different ways to have fun. It was like playing in a sandbox. Even though there is nothing but sand, a person could build many structures from the sand, such as sand castles, sand hills, or sand statues.

    “Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses� (Louv 7). Working with one thing to produce other things brings out the best in us and forces us to look beyond the obvious. For this reason, I believe that “button parks� are helpful. Nature, which surrounds us from the outside, will help us learn about what is inside of us and discover what each of us is capable of doing.

  13. Pamela Graham says:

    I live in Fremont, California. I think that by building “button parks in the Fremont area would be wonderful idea. With our diverse cultures, it would help bring our communties together.
    In my neighborhood, people just wave at each other- say hello but that’s the extent of it. I feel if we had “button parks” where people could be involved in planning and protecting the environment they would feel more connected to the neighborhood and to nature. Adults and children would benefit from such a community project in many ways such as culturally and socially.
    I used to go to Niles when I was young. We would have picnics, look at the birds, swim, and fish. Every time we went there, it was a different experience and adventure. It was all in a natural setting.

  14. Jesus Ledon says:

    I actually do remember having my own special place in nature as a kid. It was a creek that had its own little running stream. That same little stream dried up during the summer, and we would play in the still waters of the drying stream in the creek. I discovered these strange little graceful creatures that seemed to walk and run on the surface of the water. (They were water strider bugs) It was that experience that inspired me to suggest to my dad that we explore camping in the sierras in Nevada. Turns out it was one of the things we enjoyed as a family. These childhood memories always seem to make me feel good for some reason, I was about twelve years old, and I can still remember how I felt at the time and can remember vivid images of these expeditions as a kid. (I’m now 27) As an adult I cannot remember any experience that makes me feel the way I remember feeling with nature as a kid. I can personally vouch for the importance interacting with nature. I am a total believer and support Louv’s idea that “By going through the process of creating button parks, people would learn about the growing importance of the land trust movement … The residents of neighborhoods would be able to take pride in their protection of those little special places, places too small for government or large conservancies to protect, but large in the hearts of children and their families�. Sounds like a powerful and practical antidote to the nature deficit in children.

  15. Kendall Beermann says:

    I think that the whole Button Park idea is a great concept. This will really help to inspire not only children, but adults, to see the true beauty of nature. In my community there are many grassy areas that used to be parks. We need to be consistant in taking advantage of the opportunities we are given to experience nature. With the urbanization that has occured throughout the United States since the Industrial Revolution, the opportunities are becoming less and less by the day. As a group we need to come together to preserve the areas we are still able to experience the greatest treasure known to humanity, that is, nature.

  16. Josh Ford says:

    Back when I was a younger kid, I walked to nearby parks in the Niles area, by my home. I like the idea of having smaller parks around because, in my opinion, kids do need a place with little or no boundaries to release themselves in. I always enjoyed my experiences as a younger kid in nature, and even today I still hang out by the parks in which I hung out at as a kid. I think with the idea of having smaller parks around neighborhoods and families is nice because this gives kids a chance to roam around and play, as well as interact with other kids. Overall, kids would enjoy themselves much better (as well as parents) and can be seen having a lot more fun outdoors than they would think. In order to accomplish tasks like these, though, all we would need is determination and self-confidence as a society.

  17. Lillian Ho says:

    I also think this is a good idea. If we could have a little “button park�, we could coax our kids to come with us, they might start to get used to it. If you always go there, our children might start trying nature-based activities. They might also start having more emotion towards our “nature lands� being replaced by urban objects.

  18. Ryan C Ruiz says:

    The idea of a “button park” is a great one. As a child, it was one of the best field trips ever, when the teacher took us all to a park. Even as I grow older, there is still that sense of wonder and a fun that arises in me when I go to the park. And, as a great lover of such, I would completely support such an endeavor. However, as with all endeavors, there are a couple of flaws.

    First, I believe that most places that would support such a thing as “button parks� already do have them and have parks or at least backyards. Countrysides would be the most likely have more supporters and have the space for a button park. However, in the city, where apartment buildings and condominiums reign over houses, it would be quite difficult to have a “button park� when most places do not have room for backyards or even patios; where one can create this “button park.� Not to mention, most apartment buildings do not allow life – other than the human variety – within their walls.

    Second, there is an issue of human nature being lazy. Most people will not do more than they have to in order to survive. Most would not think about the lasting effects of not having any contact with nature. Also, despite the “button park� being free, most people would be too lazy or indifferent to order one, wait for it, then build it when it arrives. Also, the daily maintaining that most parks – no matter how small – require is quite a feat when considering that most people have demanding jobs, especially in this economy.

    Still, I find this to be a wonderful idea in helping to reintroduce – or even introduce – people to the wonders of nature. Also, I believe that it will be an inspiration for people who have always wanted a garden or some such place but have never had the opportunity to do so. Besides, people are lazy but there will always be one person who will benefit from having a “button park� and in turn, that person will spread the word.

  19. Liz Heimlich says:

    When I was young and living in the East Bay Area, we had a “button park” located on the corner of a street that was once part of “downtown” (not really the kind of downtown like when you think of big cities like San Francisco or New York, but downtown nonetheless). It was once the sight of a department store that had since been demolished. The lot was cleaned up and landscaped; the walls of the buildings surrounding the lot were painted with murals; benches were set up…and a fence with a gate and lock were put up all around it. This saddened me as I lived in an area with hardly a place for young kids to play. Sure, we had a park across the street from our house, but that was pretty much run by the local transients and the like. Because of this, I spent most of my childhood at home.

    Today, I live in a more suburban area and have a child of my own. Fortunately for her, we have plenty of “pocket parks” surrounding our neighborhood and she can grow up having places outside to play and not spending the majority of her childhood indoors.

  20. Meng Xue says:

    It is good idea. It is better allow people to own their own park belongs to them, not every time by the government to decide. Park is to allow people to places of recreation and relaxation. I think the future is not just a park bench,slides and swings. Would like to have more equipment available to the older people, middle-aged people and children. Let Park belongs to the place that everyone can go.

  21. Tara Lynn says:

    Hello, Richard Louv. I am fascinatingly impressed with your book, articles, and your activate participation in Child and Nature organization and continual of pushing the world to do better. Button Park and Thread Trail is a great idea where everybody could be as one in that area without any heavy baggage that we all carry everyday. This is the place where everyone should be happy by giving the nature and where the nature gives people back. Also, it is absolutely perfect as the people could leave something of themselves in the park by “sewing a button” there. If there is ever one in my hometown, I would definitely check it out and contribute something. Thank you, Richard Louv for basically everything you have had done to change the world from a small to big way. I know someday that the entire world would be entirely moved by your words, ideals and dreams.

  22. Yina Delgadillo says:

    1. Although I think “the creation of “nearby-nature trusts� is a great idea because it should stimulated parents to take their children outdoors, expose them to nature more often, and help them to unplug themselves from the electrical devices. I believe show or teach the community how to protect “those small green parcels of nearby nature� is even better because in that way people will learn the value of nature and the benefits of expose our children to it; consequently, they will start to respect and take care of every single space and creature in nature. I am 28 year old and one of the best memories from my childhood is going to the park with my parents to collect nature things such as nuts, ladybugs, different kind of leaves, etc I was able to visit the park twice or three times a week because it was 10 min walking from home. Every time we visited there were some people teaching kids about the different things we can find in nature and the importance of preserve it. Since that I grow up seeing nature as a precious thing and trying to take care of it as better as I can.

  23. Zhuo Jiao says:

    I think the “button park” was interesting because children need nature place to have their own nature experience, and if people have “button park”, they will enjoy it and get the sense to protect environment. Also, children get their place to close to the nature. I live in Fremont, and the Elisabeth Park that is the biggist park in fremont is fulled up with people every weekend. Activities in nature is much better than stand there to see the view. Activities is a kind of communion with nature, and it let children know the real nature and can promote the relationship with families.

  24. GMCasey says:

    I can imagine that my eight year old daughter would love the idea of a button park nearby our home. In fact, we live in such a lovely neighborhood in Fremont, California, filled with large old trees and many great natural spaces woven in and out and about – just perfect for “button” parks. We are also very close to Lake Elizabeth park, so something like a Thread Trail is very possible here as well.

    Button parks are a practical and tangible solution to growing concerns that we are losing our ability to connect with nature. Local organizations could easily spearhead such projects in suburban areas. I remember playing in the streams of water at the Newark Community center in the summers as a kid. We would ride our bikes all over town and end up there, and wander all through the park. I can’t imagine my own daughter doing the same with such abandon, nor can I imagine being comfortable with the idea of that myself. For fear of her safety from child predators, I am guilty. But if there was a button park just beyond our doorstep, then I could easily let her experience a piece of nature without fear.

  25. Lauren says:

    Personally, I believe the idea of “button parks” evokes something greater than just a preservation of the adventurous land we used to love as kids. To me, is symbolizes the great need for the appreciation of nature. Throughout your book, “Last Child in the Woods” you highlighted and emphasized your attention on the emotional and physical affect nature has on children. This article shows the side of the importance of the preservation of natural land. “Button Parks” is a great way to create awareness on the importance of nature…adults and children alike.

  26. virginia merlos says:

    I love this! I live in city that doesn’t have to much green space to enjoy, but I do remember as a child we had for green I would play outdoors in open space every day. And I would love for my son and grandchildren to enjoy parks and value and protect them. So this idea is great! Before I read your book I was guilty myself of being too afraid to let my son play outside and we didn’t enjoy nature as much as we do now it’s become an everyday thing for us now rain or shine. Thanks!

  27. I too am from Fremont, CA and I used to live near a trail that reminds me of the Carolina Thread Trail you are speaking of. The Alameda Creek Trail went on for miles and ended at one point at Coyote Hills Regional Park. I used to take long bike rides there as a child and teenager. I would go with friends, family and even my husband. When I grew up, I lived closer to the other end of the trail and would ride bikes along it into a park in Niles Canyon. There you could picnic and take a break, in preparation of the ride back. It was a great trail to ride and a great place to explore. There were only a few areas I would consider “parks” and that was at both ends of the trail, but there was plenty of natural space to run and play throughout the journey, especially since it ran on both sides of the Alameda Creek. Even though I haven’t been there in years, I had some very special memories of the times I spent there and wish there were little “button parks” to stop off at along the ride.
    It does seem like there would be a lot of red tape to go through to have the so called “button parks”, with all the liability issues that are among us these days. It seems like all the fun has been taken out of unstructured play due to liability issues. I think this is greatly changing the way our children explore nature and how often they get the chance to. I hope your “button park” idea comes to fruition.

  28. Emiry Gutierrez says:

    I love the idea of button parks! I live in the suburbs and there’s this park up in the hills of California that is pretty big. There’s trails and picnic tables etc, but the only problem is it’s hard to get to (being on top of the hills). I think button parks would be a great way for children to get easy access to nature, where they can play and be physically and mentally active. They could be places that they could favor and make their own.
    I’m not saying that playgrounds are negative, in fact, I still play on the swings sometimes, but they dont really allow for a direct connection with nature. I believe that these button parks could be the solution.

  29. [...] love that idea. It’s a good companion to the button parks that the Children & Nature Network would like to promote in the U.S. and other countries. [...]

  30. Jan Foiles says:

    I love this idea!
    Growing up in Kansas, I spent lots of time playing, hiking,exploring a site near my home we called “Dead Mans Creek”. As an adult, I learned it was a diversion dike to prevent flooding in our small town between two rivers.
    Lots of fond memories of childhood adventures!
    Jan

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