In the mind of Richard Louv, the clump of trees at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac is just as important as Yosemite National Park in introducing children to the wonders of the natural world.
“What is just as important as wilderness is nearby nature,” Louv said. “For a child, it can be a doorway to another universe.”
Louv, an author of “Last Child in the Woods” and more recently “The Nature Principle,” spoke to a packed and enthusiastic auditorium at the Lawrence Arts Center, 940 N.H., Wednesday night.
The keynote speaker of the Built Environment and Outdoors Summit, Louv coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in “Last Child in the Woods.” The term describes what has happened as children grow up playing indoors rather than outside. It’s a shift the book claims has negative consequences to individual health, our social fabric and even to the creative process.
Louv’s most recent book is “The Nature Principle” that envisions a future where lives are just as immersed in nature as they are in technology.
Many in the crowd were already familiar with Louv’s work. Over the past several years, local retired real-estate developer John McGrew has handed out hundreds of Louv’s books. They helped spark the local grass-roots organization Outside for a Better Inside.
As a boy who grew up in a part of Raytown, Mo., where the tract houses ended and the fields and woods began, Louv said he developed his love of nature early.
“I owned those woods,” Louv said. “They existed in my heart then as much as in reality. And they exist in my heart today. I sometimes go to those woods and I find something there that I don’t find anywhere else.
”To help return nature to urban and suburban environments, Louv advocated turning cities into “engines of biodiversity.” Backyards and rooftops would be planted with native plants.
Cities would become corridors for wildlife and the pathways of migrating butterflies. Those ideas, by Louv’s own admission, are outrageously idealistic and ones that won’t be accomplished by policy changes alone.
“You don’t have to wait for permission. You don’t have to wait for a foundation grant,” Louv said. “You can just go out and do it now.”
Louv’s talk ended with a standing ovation and was followed by a crowd in the Lawrence Art Center’s lobby waiting for Louv to sign their books. Among them was Lawrence grandmother Linda Sturgeon, who planned to send the book to her grandson in Denver.
“Please share this with your teachers at school,” she had written beside Louv’s signature.
She said Louv’s talk reminded her of her own childhood, which involved playing in creeks and riding a horse all over Leavenworth. She’d like her grandson to grow up in a similar world.
McGrew was happy with Wednesday night’s turnout and believed that Louv’s message had already been taken to heart by Lawrence residents. He pointed to the 22 butterfly gardens planted at community schools.“
There is no doubt it is catching and starting to make a difference,” McGrew said. “But it will be slow.”