|By Way of Explanation: Architecture and Nature|
|In this work we use the word nature broadly. There are a good many conflicting perspectives on what constitutes nature. Those, in turn, lead to differing views of the desirable relationship between people and the natural environment.
From a general perspective, the natural environment is not characterized by its distance from human settlement. Nor is a natural area necessarily one that is unaltered by human intervention. We use the word nature to include a great variety of outdoor settings that have substantial amounts of vegetation.
The focus is on the setting rather than the plants themselves, and on flora rather than fauna. The settings we emphasize are not the wild and awesome, distant and dramatic, lush and splendid. Rather, the emphasis is on the everyday, often unspectacular, natural environment that is, or ideally, would be, nearby. That includes parks and open spaces, street trees, vacant lots, and backyard gardens, as well as fields and forests. Included are places that range from tiny to quite large, from visible through the window to more distant, from carefully managed to relatively neglected. The justification for this broad view is neither a personal whim nor an ideological stance. Rather, it is based on what has been deduced from a great deal of research. In other words people's concept of nature is broad and inclusive and the kinds of natural settings that are beneficial to human well-being include a great diversity.
We see people as a part of the natural world. People, like all other creatures, have needs; their health is influenced by how well those needs are met. The process of meeting those needs impacts the environment. That is true for all living things.
It is also true that humans have transformed the environment, natural and otherwise, with dire consequences to all living things. What was once undisturbed nature is no longer to be found. What was once a healthy environment for other plants and animals is now often degraded. What was once a healthy place for humans has suffered as well.
Given the damage that we humans have caused, there is understandably a widely shared feeling that correcting things should have high priority. Some professionals consider it far more important to emphasize educating the public about ecosystem requirements than to cater to what they see as endless and costly human desires. Perhaps the middle ground is best. Needless to say, we must not encourage further deterioration of the natural environment, even in the urban and near urban settings which represent the central focus in this paper. Many urban areas can be improved ecologically in the process of benefiting people.
The idea of "educating the public" is a problem. Not because one is opposed to education, but because one is aware of how difficult a process this is. Even if education were straightforward, there is the issue of who has the right answers. Too often, the underlying assumption in the "educate-the-public" stance is that those with the message, the experts, have the appropriate solution and those who are to receive the message, the public, are ignorant. Even the man in the street has pertinent insights and information that experts need to hear.
We must all pose the question of what is the role of everyday nature in the well-being of everyday people. It is common opinion that everyday nature can make a significant contribution to people's everyday lives. Nearby nature can foster well being. Nature views have been demonstrated to be related to greater physical and mental health. Activities that are nature-related have been shown to help people go about their lives more effectively.