One of the things I miss the most living in a big city like Toronto is access to capital-N Nature.
I believe that everyone living in a city should have access to Nature which is close, contiguous, and connected to their lives.
No, not diluted nature like a postage-stamp city park. I’m talking about the sort of Nature you can lose yourself in. Where you can walk without your noise-cancelling headphones and hear nothing that reminds you of the hum and honk of the city.
The third rule in Christopher Alexander’s book “A Pattern Language” (1977) is called “City Country Fingers” and it addresses the importance of access to nature within 10 minute walking distance of any urban area.
While this may sound utopian, I experienced a version of this growing up in Oslo. Nature was maybe more like 30 minutes away. Jump on one of many transit lines whose final stops would end at the beginning of Nature. You could bring your skis/bikes on public transit to reach trails and slopes – no car needed.
This access did not happen at random. It is a policy choice which keeps on getting ratified, and so gets maintained.
Toronto and the larger region does not have what Oslo has, but it does have a thing called the Greenbelt. It is a large swath of mostly greenfield land that cradles the region like a crescent.
This land is essentially forbidden to build within.
The goal of policies such as the Greenbelt is to discourage the urban boundary from expanding endlessly, and to encourage densification of existing urban areas.
Within competitive regions like Toronto that face great development pressure, carving out space for Nature is not easy. However, the steps to get there couldn’t be clearer.
- Fiercely protect existing Nature, and add to it when possible, and
- Encourage densification within existing urban boundaries.