Updated: Aug 28, 2020
By Elizabeth Cambanos
Johannesburg, South Africa
I am currently studying Permaculture and raising my baby in lockdown.
How many people living in an urban environment feel disconnected from nature? A walk in the woods, the sunshine on your face, a fresh breeze over your skin, the smell of the damp earth beneath your feet…
As a child, I loved to spend time in the parks, play in the autumn leaves and explore the bugs on the trees. Children often have an innate connection with the natural environment as they have not been exposed to the societal, cultural and urban influences that separate us from nature as we become older. As a teenager growing up in Greater London, I became less connected to nature, spending more time indoors. I became less connected to the rhythms of nature, staying up late into the night and sleeping until the late morning. I became less connected to nature, hardly paying attention to the subtle changes of the season and the monthly cycles of the moon. The conveniences of living in an urban environment such as technology, fast food, people, activities, work etc. all contribute to a sense of separating us from nature. In nature, there is no waste, only cycles and rhythms. In our urban environments, there is plenty of waste and not enough acknowledgment of the impact of our actions on our environment and our planet. Growing up in London suburbia, I didn’t miss this connection to nature, as it wasn’t something I was aware of and I didn’t know any different. I strongly believe that our disconnection from the natural world impacts our mental and physical health, as we are animals at the end of the day, and animals are a part of nature.
Moving to Johannesburg, another big city, I have observed a lot of pollution and rubbish in the city. I have seen how economics plays a significant role in how people view their environment. I have often seen people throw rubbish out of the taxi window (public transport) and onto the road, essentially using the environment as a bin. In the townships, there is a lack of infrastructure and collection of rubbish, which leads to rubbish left out on the streets. As with the broken window theory, developed by Wilson and Kelling, once an area looks unappealing, the area becomes further disregarded and dangerous anti-social behaviour can take place. I heard a story that trees planted in some of the townships were chopped down by the residents, fearing that it could provide an opportunity for criminals to hide behind trees or the branches could be used to climb into their homes. In contrast, wealthier suburbs where people can afford to upkeep gardens and beautify their surroundings with trees and plants, have positive physical and emotional impact on the people who spend time there.
Despite having a lot of cars and pollution due to the lack of public transport, Johannesburg has over 10 million trees and is celebrated as having the world's largest man-made forest. Similarly, London has 3,000 parks of varying sizes, which together they cover almost 18% of London. The urban environment shapes the way we live and view our environment, often causing a disconnect with nature, yet with the snippets of nature such as parks and trees that are available in urban spaces, it provides us with the opportunity to connect back with mother nature and our true nature.
Thank you for reading!