Biophilic design: Using nature to inspire learning and civic action among youth of color

The City of Madison, WI is actively engaging young people to design their city to ensure all kids connect to nature.

Photo of Mary Michaud
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The City of Madison, Wisconsin, boasts more than 260 parks, multiple lakes, and high scores on walkability and bike-friendly streets. At the same time, many people of color in Madison do not enjoy the benefits of these amenities. Madison's families of color have experienced an egregiously high burden of poor health outcomes, economic instability, and compromised quality of life. 

Recognizing that youth opportunity is a critical component to build equity in the community, Public Health Madison & Dane County, in partnership with the City of Madison Parks Department, is convening a process to engage youth and families of color in imagining a city where all children have the opportunity to meaningfully connect to nature.

Kicking off our efforts with a community planning event on March 5, we will employ elements of design thinking to generate a city-wide plan to connect kids to nature. With an emphasis on breaking down barriers to equity, youth will participate in  interviews to identify the ways the built environment, their access to programs, or even beliefs, norms and cultural rules shape their ability to spend time in restorative and active green spaces. 

K-12 and early childhood teachers, environmental educators, community educators and faith-based educators will engage youth to interview each other, both one-on-one and in groups, throughout the spring and early summer. Together, they will gather insights about how to boost our community's ability to ensure that all children develop a meaningful relationship with the outdoors. We'll aggregate their results and use them to shape a plan to connect all children to nature in our city.

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