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Can the Emerald Necklace Cure L.A.’s Nature Deficit Disorder?

Nature Deficit Disorder is a term coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods to explain the impact of our societal disconnect with nature is having on children.

In a 2009 paper titled “Children’s Nature Deficit: What We Know — and Don’t Know”, Louv and co-author, Cheryl Charles Ph.D., write that this disconnect is a direct result of a “lack of access or lack of engagement in nature in an increasingly urbanized world.”

Emerald Necklace
Source: Amigos de los Rios

According to the Los Angeles-based non-profit, Amigos de los Rios, this lack of relationship with the natural environment is having some disastrous consequences — including childhood obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and asthma.

A recent study by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability of land devoted to parks in the 25 largest metropolitan areas across the United States, ranked Los Angeles at just number 17 nationally and behind every other major metropolitan area on the West Coast.

The lack of parkland is especially noticeable in the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. That is why a project called The Emerald Necklace has the potential to make such a meaningful difference for so many L.A. children.

The Emerald Necklace was introduced by the Amigos de los Rios in 2005 to connect 10 cities and nearly 500,000 residents along the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River watersheds via a 17 mile loop of multi-functional green-ways. The vision has since been dramatically expanded, but their initial goal was to retrofit highly urbanized and largely paved areas with green infrastructure that could provide a wide range of ecosystem services including stormwater management, air purification, wildlife habitat, and desperately needed recreation areas for “communities suffering from extreme density, urban decay and the social and health issues they bring.”

Along with green outdoor space where children and families can play, there is a strong interpretive element in park planning. The Gibson Mariposa Butterfly Park in the City of El Monte, for example, features signs with the names and photos of the native plants that can be found throughout the park so children can become familiar with the elements of their ecosystem.

Interpretive sign of native plants at Gibson Mariposa Butterfly Park in El Monte, CA. Source: Amigos de los Rios

Ultimately, the Emerald Necklace will link 447 existing parks and 60 potential new parks with 68 miles of multi-benefit river trails and 50 miles of wash and creek trails. Trails will be strategically placed to connect the parks with area schools to improve recreational access for children.  In addition to signage like that found in Gibson Mariposa Butterfly Park, the parks will contain a variety of outdoor classrooms and environmental education programs to spotlight the featured green infrastructure.

Although many of the Emerald Necklace projects are yet to get underway, progress is being made and there is reason to be hopeful that once finished, the Emerald Necklace will be the cure that L.A. desperately needs for its Nature Deficit Disorder.

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