Photo courtesy of Modesta McGrath-Martinez.

By Kelley Langhans, Alejandra Echeverri, S. Daws, Sydney Moss, Christopher Anderson, Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, J. Nicholas Hendershot, Lingling Liu, Lisa Mandle, Oliver Nguyen, Suzanne Ou, Roy P. Remme, Rafael Schmitt, Adrian Vogl, and Gretchen Daily.

Read the full paper here.

People are rapidly losing connection with nature as they live more urban lives. Improving access to nature is imperative for rebuilding a connection with the natural world. Urban nature can help people by improving their mental and physical health, so improving access to nature is ultimately good for humanity.

In this work, we laid out a broad definition of access to nature, highlighting the diversity of ways people can connect with nature and the diversity of types of nature they can connect with. We defined access to nature as positive interactions between people and nature, which can occur both physically and virtually.

We then explored three different dimensions of justice–distributional justice, or equal distribution of resources; procedural justice, or equal involvement in decision making; and recognitional justice, or the recognition of the unique rights and needs of all individuals–and how they can influence access to nature or lack thereof.

We proposed a cyclical design-thinking framework that shows how these dimensions of justice can be used to improve access to nature in urban areas. The framework has four steps, which are repeated until a just solution is reached:

1. “Definition”, where the issue is defined in a way that recognizes the rights of all involved people in an act of recognitional justice.

 2. “Ideation”, where all involved people brainstorm solutions together in an act of procedural justice.

3. “Prototyping”, where a solution is tried out.

4. “Evaluation”, where the benefits and burdens of the solution to different groups are assessed to ensure distributional justice.

With three case studies where Latinx, Indigenous, and Incarcerated communities that have been excluded to varying degrees from access to nature in urban settings are reconnected, we show how our framework can be operationalized.

We start by exploring Latino Outdoors, a Latinx outdoor excursion group, which seeks to create community for Latinx and Hispanics in the outdoors, as well as highlight their voices and ways of relating to nature. Second, we show the Sogorea Te Land Trust, an urban Indigenous women-led land trust that facilitates the return of Indigenous land to Indigenous people. Third, we unpack the Nature Imagery in Prisons project, which brings virtual nature to incarcerated people through nature videos. 

We hope that our work, and our framework, can help guide people who want to center justice in improving access to nature in cities for all people, especially the most marginalized.