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Our Place in Nature

By Sander Joziasse, Famke van der Wal & Frederike Freitag.

“Whatever befalls the earth,

Befalls the sons and daughters of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life;

He is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web,

He does to himself.”

- Ted Perry, inspired by Chief Seattle

Envision a small piece of wilderness in the middle of the structured landscape of the city. A wild secluded garden that appears to be a calm oasis in the rapid pace of the surrounding area. Stepping through the portal, one is transported into a different world centered around the natural wilderness that is often not given space in urban areas. The pebbled pathway leads through a rich landscape filled with different species of plants, flowers, and trees. Around the garden are multiple ways for the community to connect with nature and each other. There are fruits and vegetables that can be harvested for personal use, a natural playground for children, an old swing set, multiple seating places, and art. This is the vision for a City Oasis which was born during our Value Creator semester.

In September 2020 the three of us, Famke, Sander, and Frederike came together with a shared feeling of appreciation for nature and the idea that our modern lifestyles have grown distant from the wild, natural world and the qualities of peace and calm associated with it. We called this observation the “disconnection between people and nature” and very soon, as we started researching, we found that there is an entire field of study on “Human-Nature Connection” or what is also often called the “Human-Nature Relationship”.

To better understand the reasons for what we felt to be a disconnection, we reached out and talked to some of these researchers, professors, and the managing director of one of the biggest nature experience organizations in the Netherlands (IVN).

We learned that rather than thinking of a rigid disconnection we can better think of a gradual relationship with nature, just as much as we have relationships with people. If you want to get to know a person, you spend time with them, and little by little through shared experiences your relationship and the emotional bond grow stronger. It’s the same with nature, and it seems that we have been neglecting our relationship and somehow given up on this family member or an old friend of ours. We have, in some way, grown quite egocentric in our relationship, just taking, not giving back. Researchers call this human egocentrism ‘anthropocentrism’.

So, we talked to more people from more fields to discover where and how we could best help rebuild this relationship. We called with an urban designer, a biophilic architect, a behavior change expert who focuses on sustainable development, ecologists, some people who are leading local initiatives to regreen, and the managing director of a European nature restoration organization (Rewilding Europe).

This is where our project started taking shape. We became familiar with the empowering approach of rewilding, a concept that doesn’t try to protect nature, but which aims to restore ecosystems to a level where nature can manage itself. An approach which can be taken in wide-open landscapes or the smallest of gardens in a city. This also corresponds to the ideas which we had gained from other conversations, reminding us that we cannot force people to have an interest in improving their relationship with nature. But rather that we can provide opportunities and spaces for people to spontaneously rediscover nature from a different angle, just as much as you can learn to rediscover a partner after long years of marriage. With urban environments being most deprived of nature, we wanted to give an opportunity for people and nature to meet especially in those areas. And in addition, we wanted to create a local initiative that could be scaled up and replicated if successful.

With all these ideas gathered and through a process far from linear, the idea of the City Oasis was born. A place where nature and people can meet in urban areas, where nature is given space to be itself, and where people can re-experience the magic of nature. We got inspired by a vision of ‘city in nature’ rather than’ nature in a city’. Based on our idea of the City Oasis, we reached out to more local initiatives and got in touch with local decision-makers to pitch our vision.

The idea of the City Oasis was met with a lot of interest and enthusiasm, yet also a need for someone to facilitate the implementation process since we would not be able to implement it within the time of the semester. Together with the support of a network of city gardeners and the city panel, we were able to formulate a coherent vision in the format of an advisory plan, while the city gardeners assured, they would be able to create the City Oasis. In the upcoming months, the idea for the City Oasis will be carried on by the local networks we have engaged with.

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