People sit in a park surrounded by large trees

How to Connect with Nature while Living in a City

I have always being a strong supporter of protecting and adding more vegetation and green space in urban areas. I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, where the  “Ávila” mountain  was so big you could see it from everywhere in the city. Below is a picture of the Avila to give you a sense of the size . Even though I was surrounded by buses and cars, large buildings, and crowds, looking at the Ávila made me feel somehow connected to nature. When I moved to the Washington, DC metro area it became more difficult for me to find those spaces where I feel the same type of connection with the natural environment. I have found some parks and green areas in DC, but they are not in my way to work or home. I am only able to enjoy those pockets of nature during my free time.

Distant photo of a city with a large mountain in the horizon.

View of Caracas with the Avila National Park in the background (Photo by Daniel)

There are many benefits of connecting with nature in our daily lives, including mental health, stress reduction, and emotional wellbeing. The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH) website provides many articles and posts that discuss the benefits of to bringing nature to our cities for our mental and emotional well-being.

Until we are able to build and live in Biophilic Cities, we have to make a conscious effort to find ways to connect with nature while living in the city. Here are some ideas on how you can do that:

  • Find pockets of nature on your way home or work: Just taking a few minutes to admire a tree in front of your home or work place can help to connect with nature. Everyday, I walk near Franklin Square on my way to work. Observing the park while I walk makes me feel better, especially during the fall when the leaves are changing.
Historic sculpture and people walking at a vegetated square. Buildings in the background.

Franklin Square, Washington, DC

  • Keep a living plant at work: There are a variety of plants that require little care that you can put on your desk or in the office. One of those are succulents, such as the ones we created on our team building few months ago.
Photo of a succulent plant in a circular bowl in a work desk near a computer keyboard and display

Plant in a work station

  • Visit vegetated parks on weekend: In DC, there are various national parks and green areas within and around the city. Taking a time to see the leaves of the trees moving, breath fresh air, or look at the running water from a creek can make you feel refreshed and energized.
Picture of a stone bridge over a rivers surrounded by large trees.

Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC

  • Take leisure walks along streets with old, shadow tree-lines: I love walking in Old Town Alexandria because it is full of large trees that make me feel connected to nature even though I’m in an urban place. Identify streets like that near your work or home, and take leisure walks during the day.
Picture of a sidewalk with buildings on the left and tree-lines on the right

Old Town Alexandria, VA

 

 

Fabiana I. Paez is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in urban planning projects, as well as social and environmental causes.

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Livable, Walkable, Poopable?

On November 17th, the National Capital Chapter of the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professional‘s (APBP) hosted a Night on Biking, Walking, Streets and Cities. As one of the speakers, APBP asked each of us to give a fun and lively presentation related to walking, biking, streets, urban design, or city building. To ensure a fun evening, we were asked not to give a presentation on a topic that we know well or is part of our professional brand. For me, that ruled out transportation and equity, biking and equity, public engagement and equity, and, well, equity.

The presentations ranged from how to destress on trails to using ice cream shops as indicator for placemaking. For my presentation, I “borrowed” my dear friend Tommy Well’s campaign slogan ‘Building a Livable and Walkable DC’. However, I added ‘Poopable’. The main focus of my presentation was the challenge of finding places for my dog to poop in my walkable neighborhood.

Below is a video of my presentation. The last 40 seconds are missing, but the important points were included.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

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Recharging Batteries in Hawaii

I grew up in a valley surrounded by the magnificent mountain of “El Avila” in Caracas, Venezuela. During some school breaks, I traveled with my family through the Andes mountain ranges to get to the Venezuelan “llanos,” a vast tropical grassland plain. I enjoyed admiring the wonderful landscapes, the diverse flora and fauna, and even the cultural changes among the towns we passed by. These trips piqued my curiosity about how the earth formed the way it did, and how living beings adapted to each variation of land. I love nature and being in contact with it, not only because of the psychological and emotional benefits it provides (topic for another blog), but also because it makes me feel part of something bigger, ancient, and powerful. That is one of the reasons I decided to pursue the career of Geography in the first place

I recently had the opportunity to visit part of the earth that is still actively growing: the wonderful islands of Hawaii. As soon as I saw land from the plane after a 6-hour flight from San Diego, CA, I was delighted to see the beautiful landscape that form the islands. From the plane, I could see Honolulu, a city surrounded by water and mountains. In the picture below, you can see the huge Diamond Head crater, which is one of the footprints of the ancient volcanic activity that created and formed the island of Oahu.

My husband and I stayed in Honolulu the first night. The next day we drove to the east side of the island, where we stay in an Airbnb near one of the best beaches in the U.S. and the world (according to TripAdvisor): Lanikai Beach in Kailua.

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

The next day, we decided to explore the northeast side of the island. As recommended by a taxi driver, we downloaded a mobile app that provided us with a guided tour around the island explaining the magnificent formations, beaches, places, and cultural activities as we drove by them.

Gypsy Oahu mobile application

Gypsy Oahu mobile application

 

We headed to the north side of the Island appreciating the beautiful beaches to our right and the magnificent mountains of Oahu to our left, until we got to the North Shore and Sunset Beach where we arrived just in time to watch the sunset.

View of the mountain from Kualua Point, Oahu, HI

View of the mountain from Kualoa Point, Oahu, HI

 

 

Panoramic photo of the sunset at Sunset Beach, Oahu, HI

Sunset at Sunset Beach, Oahu, HI

 

The next day, while relaxing on Lanikai beach, we saw people hiking on a mountain behind us, so we decided to hike the trail. The hike was call the “Pillbox Hike” and the view was incredible from there. Here are a few pictures:

Panoramic photo of Lanikai Beach from Pillbox Hike mountain Oahu, HI

Pillbox Hike near Lanikai Beach, Oahu, HI

For our last day, we visited the Big island, which is the only one with an active volcano. The weather conditions didn’t allow us to see the volcano or the flowing lava, but were able to enjoy our day a very unique and amazing beach scenery at the Black Sand beach. As its name indicates, the sand is black since it was recently formed by lava that cool down with the sea. We were also surprised to see sea turtles relaxing at the beach and swimming in the sea.

Turtles at the Black Beach, Island of Hawaii, HI

Turtles at the Black Beach, Island of Hawaii, HI

Being this close to the evidence of how Hawaiians islands were formed and still are forming is incredibly energizing and fascinating. Similar to my family trips around Venezuela, admiring these diverse and imposing landscapes make feel revitalized and refreshed. I highly recommend you to visit Hawaii, and enjoy its incredible landscapes, as well as its super friendly people that will received you with a warm “Aloha.”

 

Fabiana I. Paez is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in urban planning projects, as well as social and environmental causes.





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