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Cities and nature playPlaytime Latest

06/03/2013 – Cities and nature play

We tend not to think of cities as havens of natural biodiversity, in fact cities are more likely to feel like a concrete jungle badly in need of some fresh greenery.  But surprisingly a city like Dublin City is replete with a vast amount biodiversity. The environmentalist Éanna ní Lamhna has suggested it is difficult to know just how many species there are and in her inspiring book, Wild Dublin, she describes a wealth of flora and fauna throughout the city. Interestingly, children share her perspective on the variety of nature in urban neighbourhoods. 

In my own research where children photographed their daily walks through their city neighbourhoods a fine array of plants, trees, cats, dogs, snails and even horses told an interesting story about how they see the city.  Through their photographs the children showed how they take pleasure in the smallest of natural occurrences; a scattering of daises across a grass verge, flowers poking through park railings and snails creeping slowly across the footpath. They particularly love trees. The leafy green foliage of trees appearing above high walls, a couple of branches nearer the ground they can throw a rope over and swing or if they are very lucky and the branches are sturdy enough they can build that joy of joys – their own den.  It has been noted that even just a ‘scrap of the wild’ (R. Pyle) can inspire them and foster a love of nature.

Adults today often bemoan the fact that children do not play out in wild spaces anymore. But sadly much of the potential nature can offer is forbidden to them. Many small parks in Dublin City are kept under lock and key and out of bounds for children. Climbing on trees, making swings and especially building tree houses are much frowned upon. In fact any evidence of a rope on a tree or an attempt to build a den is promptly removed by the council. Understandably there is a concern that play might be a bit vigorous and some harm might be done.  But perhaps if we gave children permission to explore and play in those tiny, but rich pockets of city nature they would learn to appreciate the fragility. 

Certainly if we insist play is only meant to take place on playground equipment in a designated play space then they will miss out on a wonderful learning opportunity and the chance to enjoy a playful expression of a love of nature.  It is time to rethink the possibilities nature in the city offers children to play.