Out West student blog

The importance of urban green space

Taipei: 2005 - Clara and her brother on Nankang mountain on the outskirts of Taipei, Taiwan, where she was born. Image credit: Clara Keischnick


By Clara Kieschnick '22
Hometown: Palo Alto, California
Major: Biology & Comparative Literature
Resilient Landscapes Program Intern, San Francisco Estuary Institute


For a few years now, I have struggled with the idea of being “outdoorsy.” Many of my friends have grown up camping and backpacking, and I have just not grown up with a family that takes those kinds of trips. I have been lucky enough to grow up in areas with lots of hiking spots, but my outdoor experience was never as intense or rigorous as those of my “outdoorsy” friends. In college, sitting in my ecology and earth systems classes, I wondered if I had ever really experienced nature—yes, I was studying it and wanted to work with it for a living, but did it really count if I had never even gone camping? 

Clara at the Stanford Oval; she has spent a lot of time this summer working on campus in Green Library. Image credit: Clara Keischnick

About six months ago, I came across the concept of urban ecology and urban agriculture. Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, began a program a few years ago bringing urban farms to local, underprivileged schools. Waters emphasized how awareness of the food you eat and its sources begins at a young age. Many children, especially in low-income areas, don’t have access to locally grown, nutritious produce and are not educated on its importance. For me, this idea of urban agriculture expands to urban nature as well. Many—if not most—children don’t even have access to local hikes like I did. For them, urban green space is their only connection to nature. Children, especially, are greatly influenced by the space around them—connection to nature must begin at a young age for it to really stick. And so, my mindset around nature began to shift—why should local parks, or even street trees, be any less important than national parks? Many schools consist only of a bed of black tar—but school grounds are a fantastic opportunity for children to get their first connection to nature, even if it’s just an oak tree and a patch of grass. Even a small clump of trees is a chance for them to see birds or pick a piece of fruit and learn about the power of nature. 

My internship, although it is remote, has been a chance for me to define my values and my approach to nature. Most of my projects relate to urban ecology—bringing more green space to San Francisco, reintroducing signature species to the Presidio, and adding fruit trees to schools in East Palo Alto. Not growing up camping regularly does not make you any less invested in nature (after all, you do not have to see—or maybe even want to see—a bear firsthand to care about its survival!). Urban ecology—that park near the house where you grew up—is just as important as preserving Yosemite or Yellowstone. Getting the opportunity to add nature right next to someone’s home—giving them the chance to love the environment the way that I do—has been incredibly rewarding work.

Read more at the Out West Student Blog »

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