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Planting the seed: Connecting Vancouver children with nature

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Concern over the disconnection between children and nature has been growing in the last decade. Childhood outdoor play is declining, especially in urban areas. The disconnection puts both children and nature at risk. Experiencing natural environments through play and organized activities benefits children’s physical health, mental health, well-being, cognitive performance, and pro-environmental attitudes. Children engaging with nature have a strong sense of place, and greater sense of neighbourhood cohesion than those who do not, and tend to develop life-long environmental ethics and willingness to protect nature. This study explores the opportunities children across the City of Vancouver have to connect with nature; opportunities that vary geographically and face decline due to densification and development pressures. While all children in the city could benefit from more access to nature and nature programming in their schools, mapping shows that some of Vancouver’s lower income areas have significantly fewer natural areas in public parks. This study investigates current opportunities and potential public sector policies to promote a more equitable nature connection in elementary school-aged Vancouver children. Nature mapping, case study analyses of Austin, Texas and San Francisco, California, expert interviews, and an analysis of a Vancouver Park Board survey help identify and assess policies to address the gaps. I recommend that local officials undertake a collective impact approach to strengthen policy effectiveness through greater reach, capacity, and funding as a core first step. This should be followed by the development of co-managed green schoolyards by the Vancouver School Board and the Vancouver Park Board and as greater support to educators in pilot projects in high-priority schools.
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