Without a doubt, the part of urban forestry that intrigues me the most is environmental psychology – the study of how natural features impact our behavior. In both obvious and subtle ways, a growing body of research over the past couple decades has emerged that hints at just how deep this connection goes, particularly on children, and just how much further it could go if we created truly green cities teeming with healthy vegetation.

Some impacts are obvious. A study from the Landscape and Human Health Lab in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shows that fewer symptoms of Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) occur in children who walked through a park versus those who walked through a neighborhood or a quiet downtown area. Other impacts, however, are less obvious and can be downright fascinating! The same research lab found that girls in a Chicago public housing development who lived in apartments with greener, more natural views scored better on self-discipline tests. Another massive study found that school performance improved in some children who engaged with nature on a regular basis.

The next frontier of urban forestry is making these types of impacts an everyday reality for all children. While trees are an important part of that, they can’t do the work alone. We at American Forests are embarking on a new effort to create not just green spaces, but dynamic green spaces designed to deeply engage visitors.

kid in High line Park
Places like Manhattan’s High Line Park, give kids in urban areas the perfect place to ineract with nature and make a strong connection to it.

In Washington, D.C., we have been working with forward-thinking landscape architecture firm Bradley Site Design to help design and install a three-acre portable urban farm and fruit orchard on local buildings in the eastern tip of the city. The mobility of this project will allow it to shift after a few years to other underutilized properties, serving the needs of communities in this rapidly changing city. The best part, in my opinion, is that local youth will engage in a state-of-the-art American Forests curriculum that helps them contribute to the site design while learning first-hand from professionals who work in urban development professions every day.

Also, in Detroit and Oakland, American Forests is in the early planning stages working with local partners to create much-needed, hands-on outdoor education spaces on underutilized land for children in low-income neighborhoods to engage with nature in a positive way.

For all these projects, we will also analyze the social, economic and environmental impact these site-specific restorations will have on the local community. As we embark on this exciting new initiative with diverse industries, our hope is that these projects, and others, begin to spread some of the many benefits urban forests provide to children.

If you would like to support our efforts, please consider making a donation or encourage your elected officials to support the No Child Left Inside Act. Also, to read more about American Forests’ efforts to connect children with nature, please read our blog.