Wild Society

Tag Image: 

Language of love

Can biophilia capture the heart of our cities?

February 12 2014

Timothy Beatley's Biophilic Cities Project is proof that one word can start a global conversation.

Just six months ago, Beatley, a professor of sustainable communities at the University of Virginia, helped to found a network of cities united through biophilia.

Today, the Project's partner cities stretch from Portland to Singapore, Oslo to Wellington, New Zealand -- each pledging to cultivate an urban nature-loving ethos among their populace.

We caught up with Beatley on Tuesday, the day after his keynote address at Portland’s  12th Annual Urban Ecology and Conservation  Symposium, to learn more about what makes biophilia a belief, a feeling, and just maybe, the start of a new international language.

The Intertwine Alliance: What is biophilia?

Tim Beatley: Biophilia is the belief that we have this hard-wired need for nature in our life. When we experience nature we have a whole host of positive reactions that to me demonstrate the premise of biophilia. Stephen Kellert talks about it like a muscle that we need to exercise, reinforce in our daily activities.

The biophilic city is the next step: a city that puts connection to nature at the center of its planning and policy.

I've been working on this one way or another for over 30 years, in habitat conservation, resilient cities, etc. But the idea of biophilia is relatively new. I was here in Portland in January 2012 to give a talk, and had a conversation with Linda Dobson and Mike Houck; that was the beginning of the Biophilic Cities Project.

How did you arrive at the term “biophilia”?

TB: When I first started using the term, it grew out of biophilic design. But I'm more of a policy planner and writer. My engineering friends use the term “biophilic” to refer to green elements added to the design of a building. So I'm extending it to the larger city, and in turn trying to reach the larger professional community.

Why “biophilia” and not “green infrastructure”?

TB: A lot of people like the term “green infrastructure,” maybe because it puts investments in nature on par with transportation, gray infrastructure, etc. But to me it's not enough. "Biophilia" emphasizes the innate emotional need we have for nature. Whereas “green infrastructure” is unfeeling, almost technocratic. Biophilia's affect is one of recognition of a deep biological need.

When I launched my book back in 2011, I got funny reactions to the term. People thought biophilia sounded like a disease. Now there's a feeling of “aha.”

Who are you trying to reach with this concept?

TB: So there's a professional audience, a lay audience – individuals out there in the citizenry who are interested in leading a healthier life – and a leadership community, mayors and planners, who can be reached by the research. Planners are increasingly recognizing the value of the terminology.

What is the role of coalitions like The Intertwine Alliance in promoting biophilia?

TB: I talked about Houston Wilderness, Chicago Wilderness. There are a lot of examples here and across the world where groups come together with a common view. When you've got fifty, one hundred, two hundred groups behind a biophilic agenda, that's tremendous power.

There's a vision, and then there are a whole variety of possible implementations. I think the vision, establishing the premise, is almost more important than the specific implementation.

At the UERC Symposium, you talked about establishing a “Nature Pyramid” with recommended daily doses of nature. How do get your daily dose?

TB: Well, so I live in a little city in Virginia called Charlottesville. But for a little city we've done bold things. We have a major stream restoration project called Meadow Creek that is coordinated by the city and the Nature Conservancy. The project is about a mile-and-a-half long and it's just spectacular. And, it also goes back to your question of the power of coalitions.

In terms of connection with nature, this is the type of investment -- in a restoration project -- where the idea of a biophilic city comes in.  You've got to create a city in which nature is embedded. Meadow Creek is a two-minute walk from my front door, and we go just about everyday.


Timothy Beatley is the Teresa Heinz Professor of Sustainable Communities at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, where he has taught for twenty-five years. Beatley is the author or co-author of more than fifteen books on these subjects, including Biophilic Cities: Integrating Nature into Urban Design and Planning, and Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities. Beatley recently collaborated on a documentary film about green cities and urban nature, entitled The Nature of Cities, which has been shown on PBS stations across the U.S.

From Alliance to Action

Social capital, synergy, and next steps at the Intertwine Spring Summit

January 22 2014

Market mechanisms and putting a dollar value on nature: that’s what folks new to the ecosystem services field often assume it’s all about. But to my mind, market and valuation tools, while important additions to the conservation finance toolbox, do not tell the whole story.

The real power of an ecosystem services framework is its ability to bolster the case for conservation action by illuminating the multiple benefits we receive from Mother Nature. Nowhere is this more important than in urban and urbanizing regions.

As a program officer for the Bullitt Foundation, I’ve seen increasing interest in using ecosystem services concepts to strengthen advocacy in support of protecting regional open space resources and natural infrastructure. 

But in many urban regions a broad and encompassing open space agenda can be very difficult to plan and implement. There often is a fundamental misalignment between the need for regional scale, vision, and action, and the sad reality of fragmented governance and poor collaboration.

Things are different here in The Intertwine, where this kind of thinking is practically mainstream. The Intertwine Alliance works regionally across jurisdictions and connects the interests of disparate stakeholders. It has articulated a broad value proposition for protecting urban nature, from supporting biodiversity to managing storm water to improving public health outcomes.

If true regional collaboration is rare, as I have suggested, how has the conservation community across the Portland-Vancouver metro area come together around a common vision for urban green space? 

In my view, the answer is social capital; something that open space advocates here have been creating for more than three decades. The Intertwine Alliance builds on that strong foundation, very effectively diversifying and strengthening the public constituency for protection and stewardship of urban green space. With more than 100 Intertwine Partners now listed on the masthead, progress on this front is unmistakable.

Which brings me to one last word: Synergy. My online Google dictionary defines synergy as: “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.”

The Intertwine Alliance is unique in its willingness to embrace a large and diverse urban region, and its commitment to safeguarding open space for the wide range of ecosystem service benefits it provides. Perhaps most importantly, it offers our community an opportunity to discover the power of synergy as we craft a common vision and magnify our collective impact.

I believe the most exciting part of our work has just begun. We’ll hear more about this at the Intertwine Spring Summit. I’ll see you there!


As a program officer for the Bullitt Foundation, Steve Whitney works to protect nature in and around major Northwest cities. Trained as an environmental planner, he resides in Seattle but spends as much time in Portland as he can.


Our Big Backyard

Why Metro's new magazine means playtime in The Intertwine

January 15 2014

In the debut edition of Our Big Backyard, you can find out why Newell Creek Canyon might be the region’s next great natural area, get the scoop on geocaching and learn how Verde is empowering the Cully neighborhood with help from Metro grants. Enter a nature photo contest or snag a field guide to Smith and Bybee Wetlands. In short, Our Big Backyard gives you the inside scoop on Metro parks, trails and natural areas and inspires you to get outside.

But there’s one important story you won’t find: the tale of how – and why – Metro transformed its quarterly magazine for nature lovers.

We knew it was time to rethink our approach. Much has changed since 1998, when Metro launched a newsletter-style publication called GreenScene to publicize nature classes for the regional government and our partners. So, a year ago, we set out to examine Metro’s role in the region and the role of a magazine in our increasingly digital world.

A small and shrinking number of people read print publications because they can’t get information anywhere else. As a public agency, Metro needs to serve that group. But we also serve a much larger group of people who choose to read magazines, once in a while, because they want the experience of devouring lively, jump-off-the-page stories.

Meanwhile, The Intertwine Alliance blossomed into a vibrant regional network for governments, businesses, nonprofits and community groups that care about the outdoors. Metro’s role as a regional park provider expanded dramatically, fueled by two bond measures and a levy. Today, we’re responsible for engaging the region in the story of 17,000 acres of parks, natural areas and habitat preserves. Voters deserve to know how their money is being spent, and how they can see their investments firsthand – by hiking at Cooper Mountain Nature Park, biking along the Columbia Slough, helping restore Newell Creek Canyon and much more. And they deserve to understand how nature fits into Metro’s broader mission of making a great place.

As we reshaped Metro’s publication, we asked our audience for help. They responded, loud and clear: Survey participants most valued easy-to-find information, with quality storytelling and photography a close second. They clamored for field guides that allow them to explore on their own time. Trails, restoration, walking, biking, natural gardening and other sustainable living tools also ranked high.

Our Big Backyard is designed to give readers what they want. It got bigger. It got striking photography, rich storytelling and bold design. Event listings got a makeover, becoming more visual and fun. And a regular guest page from The Intertwine will serve as a portal into the region’s incredible outdoors.

As Metro’s nature communications coordinator, Laura Oppenheimer engages people in regional parks, trails and natural areas. Transforming Metro’s magazine brought her back to her roots as a journalist. Laura lives in Southeast Portland with her husband and two curious children.

The River Possible

Unlocking the Willamette’s true potential

January 8 2014
The Portland Harbor cleanup has been the subject of much attention lately, including here at Willamette Riverkeeper, and with good reason. There’s a lot at stake with the Superfund project, and we’ll need to continue to engage to get the best result for this vital stretch of the Willamette.
But even as we focus on this complex issue, it’s important to remember other opportunities that can help unlock the tremendous  potential of our river.
Here are four conversations I’d like to see launched in 2014:
1) Accessing the water’s edge.  Yes, we can stand over the Willamette River, in some areas, but we have too few opportunities to touch it, and get out on it. Good steps have been made to increase access over the past decade by the City of Portland, the Metro Regional Government and others. But we can continue to better to connect people to the river.
One idea: more trails to small beaches where one can launch a canoe or kayak, fish, and simply touch the water -- next to the Eastbank Esplanade, the Springwater Corridor, in Portland Harbor and beyond.
Another idea, one that’s been around for years: take down a portion of the “seawall” at Tom McCall Waterfront Park and replace it with a series of steps down to the water itself. Such an amenity could enable people to experience the river up-close, and can be combined with natural design elements that benefit wildlife. It is time to begin an action plan to make it happen.
2) Restoring habitat in the heart of the city. We can do this today. Even small nodes of floodplain and healthy riverside habitat can provide tangible benefits for fish, birds and mammals. Throughout significant portions of the City, the riverside is rock and concrete, which does little for fish and wildlife. We can soften this hardscape at multiple urban locations, such as portions of the Bowl at Waterfront Park, and immediately improve shallow water habitat for threatened fish like Spring Chinook.
3) Creating the Portland River Center.  Imagine a facility on the banks of the Willamette that serves as a focal point for river-related interests. This space could be a gathering point for the public, enabling easy access to the river and space for human-powered craft such as rowing shells, canoes, kayaks, rowboats and more.
I envision a River Center that houses organizations that share a vision for a clean and healthy Willamette, from river-related retailers to businesses who simply wish to support the river. The Center could foster watershed education, from classes for all ages linked to Portland Public Schools, to research involving universities and the general public. In my view this potentially public/private partnership could increase our civic engagement in all things Willamette.
4) Moving Interstate-5. This is the big one on my list, but well worth a renewed conversation. It is time to begin to plan to move the Interstate 5 freeway away from the river, or to feed the freeway through a tunnel, or to cover a portion of it. Altering or moving the Marquam Bridge could also be part of the solution for an issue seen - and heard - by anyone who spends a few moments in the heart of the City.
The benefits would be extensive for the City of Portland. Instead of the current noise and vibration, we could realize an East Riverbank with wildlife habitat, public access and relative calm. Portland wouldn’t be the first to take on this huge logistical issue.
Seattle is making a massive improvement to its waterfront by removing the Alaskan Way Viaduct. And Seoul, South Korea removed five kilometers of freeway in the heart of the city, uncovering a small river now accessible to all.
While I certainly place the elimination of Portland Harborʼs pollution first and foremost, there are tantalizing opportunities to make progress on these options as well. Letʼs move into 2014 with a vision of the future fueled by optimism, and alive with opportunity.

Travis Williams is Executive Director and Riverkeeper for Willamette Riverkeeper, a non profit organization that works to protect and restore the Willamette River's water quality and habitat. He has led the organization since 2000, and authored the Willamette River Field Guide (Timber Press, 2009). He holds an M.S. in Environmental Science from Johns Hopkins University. 

Mill vs. Mulch

Is it time for the greenspaces movement to embrace urban lumber?

December 18 2013

With proper equipment, winching a few black walnut logs out of a Southeast Portland backyard should take 30 minutes. It took my buddy Daniel and I, new to urban timber harvesting, upwards of 11 hours. Or then there was the time a hidden chunk of metal buried in three deodar cedar logs -- removed from a landscape project near Grant High School -- chewed up another friend’s sawmill blades.

Urban lumber isn’t always easy. So why have my friends and I committed to saving these logs from the fireplace?

Every year in the U.S., an estimated 4 billion board feet of urban trees are cut up for firewood, mulched, or taken to the dump.  Yes, urban trees often have defects: large knots and metal embedded in the wood, for example. But at the end of the day, a lot of existing urban trees DO produce high quality saw logs. To me and my partners at Fiddlehead LLC, it seems immoral to value our urban trees while they’re living but then discard the deadwood so casually.

Across the globe, from Portland to Rio de Janeiro, lumber-producing trees can grow well in urban and semi rural areas.  Through my work, I've seen many valuable older trees destroyed, and new trees improperly pruned and then relegated to the same fate. That's how I became an advocate for holistic urban lumber planning (click here for my podcast) -- so that every tree, when it comes down, plays a new role as a valuable building material, rather than firewood and mulch. 

Planning for urban lumber isn’t simply an extension of current practices: it means planting more trees closer together, and removing the lower branches to prevent knots. And, of course, not sticking metal into the trees would be helpful as well.

In 50 years -- with smart policies in place and a shift in our culture -- I believe we could produce a decent percentage of lumber we use across the world right here, in sustainably managed forests where we live.

New policies and operations emerging from the global greenspaces movement will strongly influence how trees are utilized in the future.  It’s time embrace a holistic and integrated approach to urban lumber. My view is that The Intertwine Alliance and its 100+ partners could play a role in sparking this conversation -- to reforest land and significantly shrink the carbon footprint of our built environment.

This year, Daniel and I have leased land in Charbonneau and are starting to collect logs to mill. Daniel is building a slabbing mill so we can make large diameter tables from the 4' and 5' diameter logs we’ve collected from sites around Northeast Portland.  In the last few weeks I have begun gluing up deodar cedar and black walnut for tables and benches -- furniture made from beautiful, valuable wood with a very personal story.  We need more of these kinds of connections in the world.


David Barmon co-owns Fiddlehead LLC, a Portland-based landscape construction and consulting company that supports an integrated approach to food, forestry, and water. David is a strong advocate for wild foods and urban lumber. Recently he received the Sustainable Business Oregon Innovation in Sustainability Emerging Leader Award. He can be reached by email.

Your winter wishlist

High hopes for the New Year from our nonprofit partners

December 4 2013

Adieu, 2013.  You've been a good year for The Intertwine. Our coalition has grown, and with it, our collective power to achieve good things.

Now, bundled in our December woolens, we watch morning frost sparkle on autumn's fallen leaves and turn our thoughts to the future. What will the New Year bring?

We asked our nonprofit partners to share their organization's top wish for 2014. Here's what you had to say:

“Finish all the gaps in the 40 Mile Loop (Bridgeton Gap,  I-205, Marine Drive Gap, Fairview Gap, Troutdale to Springwater Gap, Sellwood Gap, North Portland Greenway Gap, St. Johns Landfill to Portland Road).”  40 Mile Loop Land Trust

“1,000 native trees and shrubs planted by students and community volunteers to enhance the Columbia Slough Watershed.”  Columbia Slough Watershed Council

“More awesome community greenspaces (Support our work and help us find new project sites).”  Depave

“Preserve and restore the 10-acre Woods (part of the Baltimore Woods corridor, a white oak woodland threatened with development).”  Friends of Baltimore Woods

 “An updated parks plan with provisions for lots of greenspaces, natural areas, trails, and plenty of funding.”  Friends of Clark County

“Funding for a full week of Outdoor School for all students in the region.”  Friends of Outdoor School

"For everyone in The Intertwine to spend 30 seconds looking up at a tree and experiencing the wonder of nature. And then coming out with us to plant a young tree that someone else will wonder at in the future."  Friends of Trees

“Funding for a park with native vegetation, rather than the proposed McDonald's in East Portland's Mill Park Neighborhood.”  Groundwork Portland (Contact Cassie)

“Complete the match for our Metro grant with $1,000,000 (due by mid-2015).”  Neighbors for a Livable West Linn

“A collective shift from me to we."  Northwest Earth Institute

"Establish a project team with Metro Regional Government to build a bike and pedestrian trail system in Newell Creek Canyon by 2016.”  Oregon City Trail Alliance

"Mindful stewardship of the natural world.”  Portland Garden Club

"Funding for the Slavin Road connection to the Red Electric Trail (to connect Hillsdale with the Hooley Gibbs Street Bridge and the Willamette River).”  SW Trails PDX

“A parking lot with 80 percent tree canopy coverage and no stormwater runoff.”  Tualatin Riverkeepers

“A draft cleanup plan for the Portland Harbor stretch of the Willamette."  Willamette Riverkeeper



Saving those special places

Where does conservation money come from?

November 20 2013

Few of us, myself included, have the money to buy everything we want. My choices are usually to save for later, work harder, earn more, want less or forget the object of my desire.

When it comes to park agencies in The Intertwine, we already know that most don’t have the money to buy the land that they want to connect our parks, trails and natural lands, and help establish ideal green infrastructure systems.

So should these agencies simply want less? Forget the object of their desire? Personally, I’d rather see us, the partners of The Intertwine Alliance, working harder to keep our parks agencies hard at work.

How? Well, speaking of things we probably all know, let’s agree that grant funding for parks is both limited and competitive. In my six years as a park planner in Vancouver and Clark County, I’ve gained direct experience cobbling together funding sources for our natural areas and new parks and trails. My typical patchwork of funding options could be some combination of the city/county general fund (property taxes), park impact fees, real estate excise taxes, conservation futures funds, partnering agencies, private donors and community, state and federal grant programs.

Which brings me to a third thing we might intuit: every grant program can prove critical to leveraging a public land purchase, trail connection, or park project.

One of most important funding sources we Intertwiners can access -- the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) -- needs our help. The LWCF, created in 1965 and funded (albeit never fully) through federal royalties from offshore oil and gas development, will be up for reauthorization in 2015.

Over its 50-year history, LWCF -- created to protect America’s natural resources and outdoor recreation assets -- has supported many land acquisition and development projects on my side of the Columbia River. Clark County, Vancouver, Ridgefield, Camas, Battle Ground and Washougal have all received LWCF funding support, capturing over $3 million since 1976.

As a coalition, The Intertwine Alliance can provide visible support as LWCF is evaluated, pushing not only for the fund’s reauthorization, but also for improvements that would give the parks agencies of The Intertwine an extra boost.

Recommended LWCF improvements from the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals (SORP), of which I’m a member, would:

  • See LWCF fully and permanently funded at $900M annually;
  • Specify a percentage of monies to be directed to urban populations;
  • Allow monies to be used for restoring and repurposing existing facilities and areas; and
  • Add language that makes allocation of monies feasible for larger regional landscapes like the Columbia River watershed (and The Intertwine!)

If we want to keep the parks agencies of The Intertwine hard at work, we can start by looking at the tools we already have in our coalition toolbox: the power to raise the volume on a critical conversation. Let’s ensure that LWCF funding gets fully authorized -- and that urban regions like The Intertwine get the attention we deserve. Visit the SORP website for more info on the need to adapt and reauthorize LWCF.


Through her work, Jean Akers, both landscape architect and certified planner, promotes conservation and sustainable outdoor recreation for park and trail systems in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. She also serves on the Board of the Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals.


A forest runs through it

November 13 2013

“I have seriously moved to the burbs. What will become of me?” This was among my first thoughts driving to my new home in Happy Valley in 2011, with hubby, kids and dog in tow.

For the 14 years prior, I had lived and worked in Montana -- all within running distance of rugged natural areas and the potential to encounter something wild, from bears, cougars, rattlesnakes, even the mad mama cow who loved to corner me against the barb-wire fence. With my move to Portland, I thought for sure that the peace, solitude and wholeness I felt in Montana’s wild places, so close to town, was at an end.

No more living on dirt roads five minutes from town, no more big skies and wide open spaces where my kids could roam. No more easy escape from the human world to fuel my inner soul.

And then, one rare day, I stepped into Forest Park. I remember hitting the Wildwood Trail and for the first time in Portland, feeling like I was home. Maybe you’ve felt this too: the beauty of Forest Park, which doesn’t so much touch you as knock you over.

It’s a park, I soon learned, that is without parallel in the contiguous United States. No other city can boast a comparable natural and recreational resource on its doorstep -- one that still supports most of the native plants and animals that were here during the Lewis and Clark expedition. Forest Park facilitates the migration of wildlife between the Oregon Coast and the Cascade Range, purifies our air, and sequesters significant amounts of carbon -- all the while being subject to the demands of competing human uses and the growing ecological pressures associated with urban areas.

In 2010, the Forest Park Conservancy -- the park’s sole supporting non-profit -- organized a group of public and non-profit partners, known as the “Forest Park Alliance,” to develop a long term strategy to address the ecological threats that face Forest Park.

Thus was born the Greater Forest Park Conservation Initiative (GFPCI): a 20-year roadmap for the protection and restoration of the Greater Forest Park ecosystem that includes 5,200 acres in Forest Park and an additional 9,000 acres of public and private land.

In May 2012 -- a year after first setting foot in the park -- I took a job as the Conservancy's Executive Director. Over the past six months, we’ve worked tirelessly through partner collaboration to complete the GFPCI. Just one week ago, we released this landmark plan, the first of its kind.

Why? Because, as I hope our work makes clear, Forest Park is a privilege. And if this privilege is to continue to exist, then we must work together just as tirelessly, as a community, to protect it. I want the next generation that inherits Forest Park, including my three kids, to be proud of the legacy we have left them.

Whether you’re a volunteer, educator, partner, donor or city official, you can help shape Forest Park's future. Click here to learn about the Greater Forest Park Conservation Initiative, and join the Forest Park Village!

Renee Myers, Executive Director of the Forest Park Conservancy, has worked in environmental conservation for the past 12 years, with extensive experience in watershed management and large-scale forest, stream and river conservation and restoration. She spent 14 years in Montana before moving to Portland in January 2011. She loves running, hiking, fishing, gardening with her kids and sharing a good brew with her husband.

The gray-haired conservationist

How I answer the question of legacy

November 27 2013

“Yeah, but who is going to keep this going when you’re dead?”

Now there’s a question you don’t hear every day. But there it was, recently directed at me from a group member during a recent tour of West Linn’s White Oak Savanna -- a natural site my husband and I have been working to restore since 2005.

Blunt but interesting, I thought. Because when think about it, this question is something that all of us in the Intertwine (not just those of us with gray hair), should probably ask ourselves more often.

After all, legacy hits at the core of why we conservationists do what we do. Whether we get paid for our work, or volunteer our time, our shared motive is to leave something worth protecting over centuries. While fundraising, politics, and community organizing are certainly important, the ultimate key to our success (or failure)  is whether we can spark a fire in the bellies of our children to serve as stewards of the land after we’re gone.

Especially if the land you’re protecting offers them something in danger of vanishing forever. For over 10 years, many volunteers have helped our small nonprofit, Neighbors for a Livable West Linn, begin to restore the upper 14 of the 20 acres of a rare and majestic spot called the White Oak Savanna.

Today, only two percent remains of the 600,000 acres of White Oak habitat that once stretched up and down the Willamette Valley. Of those 12,000 acres, just one percent is publicly owned -- like our little patch of Savanna. Conserving this beautiful Savanna has to date entailed over 6,800 hours of restoration work, dozens of fundraisers, and plenty of tours -- like the one I mentioned above -- to get the community excited.

But yes, we’ve also taken care to weave kids into our effort. They have worked with us on school plantings, Scout and NW Youth Corps projects, PSU work parties, SOLVE events. They’ve had first sightings with us of coyotes and blue camas. They’ve hopped on tree swings, and come to love this land with us. They are quick studies.

And lately, they show us how it’s done. Young students at a local after-school Camp Fire program at Trillium Creek Primary are now busy doing their own fundraisers for the protection of the lower six acres of our White Oak Savanna. They call themselves the White Oak Savanna Committee.

As a social worker and teacher for more than 35 years, what gives me hope at the end of the day is the potential of our kids to make things better. In classrooms today, I hear kids who are more liberal in their thinking and more accepting of each other than the students I went to school with dozens of years ago.

So when a young person serving me at the local pizza spot remembers me working with their class two years ago, to plant a thousand blue camas bulbs, I feel reassured that we gray-haired conservationists will be leaving The Intertwine in good hands.

Because as I told the site visitor who asked about legacy that day in the Savanna: “It’s the kids who are going to keep things going.”

Roberta Schwarz is the co-founder of Neighbors for a Livable West Linn.  She has had 35 years of experience as a social worker and teacher, and has been working to conserve and restore the White Oak Savanna for over ten years.

Green Time

Can research prove nature's healing power?

November 6 2013

Here in The Intertwine, we’re fortunate that our forests, streams and parks give us endless options for exploring the world via foot, pedal and paddle. Most of us suspect that getting outside is a healthy thing to do. What we may not know is that an increasing number of researchers are studying the health benefits of nature – building our knowledge base, validating conventional wisdom, and offering insights for policymakers, health professionals, parents, and more.

It might be awhile before “Green Time” is integrated into our healthcare system. In the meantime, I invite you to leaf through some of the pioneering work that’s changing the way we think about health and nature:

1) Physical Health – Good for our Bodies.

Whether hiking to the top of Council Crest, bike-commuting along the Springwater Corridor, or canoeing the Tualatin River, physically activity outside burns calories, exercises the heart and muscles, and releases endorphins. Research from the U.K. shows that people that engage in nature-based Green Exercise are more likely to exercise longer, more frequently, and feel better about themselves for doing so than people running on an indoor track or treadmill. Resources like The Intertwine's Find Adventures feature can help people discover such experiences right out their front door, regardless of their physical abilities.​

2) Mental Health – Good for our Minds

Just being outside can have profound effects on our health and well-being.  The calm and quiet of the woods, the river or even a park are relaxing and mentally restorative. Studies demonstrate that exposure to even small amounts of nature (like a few trees) or simulated nature (such as a photo) can increase a person’s concentration, attention, and productivity.

While this research supports conventional wisdom about the value of connecting with nature, other studies on psychological state are provoking even more excitement in the medical community. Individual- and population-based studies have shown that increased contact with nature can improve mood, a sense of vitality, and even positively affect medically-diagnosed conditions like depression and anxiety.        

3) Social Health – Good for our Communities

Other research indicates that green spaces can help us be better neighbors and create safer, healthier places to live. The presence of trees and other vegetation creates a more pleasant aesthetic environment and has been shown to increase social interactions and sense of community. Trees are also associated with a reduction in crime rates, including in Portland neighborhoodsExposure to nature can also shape a community’s social fabric by increasing individuals’ feelings of generosity and altruism.​

Much of this scientific work has been championed by researchers like Roger Ulrich and Geoffrey Donovan, as well as author Richard Louv and scholar Tim Beatley. Organizations such as the Trust for Public Land and the National Recreation and Parks Association have begun incorporating these ideas of health into their literature, and even the American Academy of Pediatrics has accepted the importance of getting people outside and connected with nature.

So next time you’re wondering if you need more Green Time, know that a wealth of evidence supports the healing power of nature. Now go out there and enjoy it!

Kurt Beil, ND, LAc, MPH is a holistic physician and researcher at the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) in Portland. His research focuses on Environmental Psychophysiology. For his Master of Public Health field project at Portland State University, he worked with Kaiser Permanente and Metro to investigate the potential public health benefits of The Intertwine.  He can be contacted by email.


Subscribe to RSS - Wild Society