A nature lover in the city

Redwood treehuggerAs a child, my favorite memories were of the woods behind my grandparents’ summer house.  My cousins and I would spend hours out there, eaten alive by mosquitos, not caring if it was rainy or sunny.  At the time, I was uninterested in urban landscapes; I associated ‘urban’ to the vast and monotonous enclaves of American suburbia. There was limited diversity and any and all errands required a car.  This is not to say I don’t understand this type of living.  My mother tended her flowers; while my sister, my father and I built our backyard deck.  Barbeques, neighborhood parties or the annual Easter Egg Hunt sit fondly in my memory.  Still, if that was urban living, I was more interested in the natural world where curiosity and exploration reigned free.  Along the way, my view was challenged. Could cities provide the same sense of curiosity and exploration I craved so deeply as a child and into my adulthood?

I grew up across the United States, but the Seattle area always felt like home.  My mother’s family hails from Göteborg, Sweden and we traveled often to Sweden, or other European destinations.  It was in these adolescent experiences – taking the tram with Swedish cousins, meeting friends in a park or exploring the ancient centres of Rome, Stockholm or Amsterdam – I realized that urban experience had as much potential to invoke curiosity as my beloved forest.  I remember thinking, “Why are European cities so much more beautiful than American cities?”  Underscoring the vast history of European cities was too easy; American cities have (some) history too. It dawned on me: parking lots.  The car and ‘convenience’ are prioritized over urban exploration and observation…

Since then, I continue on the urban journey.  I have learned that dense mixed-use urban living offers a needed solution to some of the most pressing challenges our world is facing: biodiversity loss, climate change or energy disparity. City living is also fun: cafes, farmers’ markets or live music are close by.  Educational, economic or cultural opportunities are also there – all which make urban living enjoyable…

Reflecting on the time spent in the forest behind my grandparents’ cabin, I revel fondly in those childhood memories.   There is much we can learn from the balance of nature, and its quiet ability to teach us – even our cities.  Living a compact urban existence however, ensures such places remain intact.  Someday I hope to take my own children through the forests that taught me; so they too can discover their imagination in the dark green wood.  Until then, I wander the streets of Amsterdam occasionally lingering to imagine the city through the ages or the secrets it could share.

Rural wanderings in Skåne, Sweden
Rural wanderings in Skåne, Sweden

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