5 Sites That Connect You To Nature In A Serious Way
Autumn is my favorite time of the year. The changing colors of leaves, their rustling sounds in the breeze, and, wrapped in a light warm coat, strolling around the city. Being outdoors in fall is just another reminder that there are a variety of public spaces that bring people closer to nature. Here are my favorite sites for connecting to nature in a serious way.
1. Canopy Walks (Hainich National Park and Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany)
One of my favorite memories is rising above the canopy of the primeval forest in Central Germany, a designated UNESCO Heritage Site. Hainich National Park first built its canopy walk for research purposes, to study the ecosystem without disturbing the forest. The canopy walk opened to the public in 2005, with interactive programming that allows people to take an educational walk in the tree tops.
Further South in the Bavarian Forest is this 1300 meter long canopy walk with a spectacular terminus of a spiraling 44-meter high tree tower:
2. Fingerspan (Philadelphia, PA)
At a lower altitude, nestled into the tranquil Wissahickon Woods of Philadelphia, is Fingerspan. After a span across the gorge had deteriorated, the Association for Public Art comissioned artist Jody Pinto to design an outdoor installation at the site through their Form and Function project. Fingerspan is a bridge/overlook made of weathering steel that spans over the gorge. Steel bar grating at the bottom and perforated steel overhead protects visitors while allowing them to see the dramatic view of the gorge and the Wissahickon Creek below.
3. Confluence Project (Pacific NW)
Nature is not only viewed as enjoyment for people; it’s also strongly intertwined with the development of our culture. Confluence Project, in the Pacific Northwest, aims to connect people to place through art and education. Working with Northwest communities, tribes, and the artist Maya Lin, six public art installations share unique stories along the Columbia River. At Cape Disappointment Park, where the river meets the Pacific Ocean, stories from the Chinook Tribe and Lewis and Clark journals are shared through artworks and inscriptions.
In Vancouver WA, a land bridge was created over State Route 14 which once again connects historical Fort Vancouver with Columbia River, further extending the fort’s influence along the west coast.
At Sacajawea State Park, stories were etched into 7 circles positioned in the ground at varying heights, to encourage people to reflect on the cultures and histories that influence the site.
4. Fort Worth Water Garden (Fort Worth, TX)
Design with nature also evokes ideas of introducing ‘nature’ elements into an urban public space. Fort Worth Water Garden by Phillip Johnson consists of a series of concrete terraces with water and vegetation. Visitors can reflect at the quiet pool, hang out by the dancing pool with aerating jets, and step up and down the active pools of gushing water. In bringing different plays of water into an urban space, people experience a man-made version of nature.
5. Pacific Commons (Fremont, CA)
Another way of connecting to nature is to insert its function into urban spaces. Wetlands have increasingly been introduced into urban areas to filter stormwater runoff and reduce sediments and chemicals. There are many high profile wetland parks, but I was pleasantly surprised to come across a new one while visiting my hometown a few years ago, in an area filled with strip malls and big box stores. In 2009, CMG Landscape Architecture completed a 16-acre regional stormwater treatment wetland and trail system for the 514-acre suburban watershed. The park not only introduced a new natural area that integrates into the nearby Bay Trail system, but a network of interpretative signage and overlooks also provides opportunities for residents (and shoppers) to engage with nature.