How high do you prioritize living near wild areas? How big do they need to be?

I grew up in Lancaster, PA, which is a small city that is fairly densely urbanized relative to its small size. The city is surrounded by suburbs, and outside of that, farmland. Although I enjoyed the walkability of the community where I grew up, there were no wild areas at all within a half-mile or so walking distance of my house, the entire area was urbanized and the only parks had mowed lawn and landscaping. The closest I got to “wild” were the weeds growing in the little alley behind my house.

When I moved to Newark, Delaware for grad school, I started to get interested in birdwatching and I noticed that many of the areas within walking distance of my house had extensive wild areas. Not only were there parks with wild forest and wetlands, but even the middle of the larger “city blocks” were sometimes populated by ovegrown, semi-wild areas. You can view this on an aerial photo if you go to Newark, DE on Google maps, relative to Lancaster, PA.

I later moved into Philadelphia and I found myself back in the situation where there were few wild areas within walking distance, and I found myself seeking out the “best I could get”, like a poorly-maintained cemetary that was overgrown.

I have since realized that it is a high priority for me to live in an area where there are wild areas nearby. Not parks with mowed lawn and landscaping, but wild forest, wetland, grassland, or other habitats.

It doesn’t need to be “high quality” habitat. I.e. near me now, there is a former industrial site that is in the process of being developed, and it’s growing up with early-successional grassland, and it’s exciting because not only have I discovered a lot of interesting plant species growing there, including ones I haven’t found elsewhere in the area, but there are also unique birds, like Northern Harriers and Killdeer, that I don’t see throughout most of the region.

I’ve decided that anywhere I live from now on, I want there to be wild areas within walking distance of my house, ideally, something at least right out my door. But it doesn’t need to be big or “ecologically intact”. Overgrown industrial sites, minimally-maintained strips of land along railroads, and things like that, are good enough for me.

I just don’t want to be surrounded by manicured lawns, city, and heavily-maintained parkland.

I also would really love to see more people feeling this way because I think that, over time, if there were more “demand” in society for stuff like this, some of those sterile lawn+landscaping parks colud be converted to wild greenspace like forest and/or wetlands that had much more ecological value. Homeowners and commercial properties could also incorporate semi-wild areas into their landscpaing, like allowing areas where plants can reproduce by seed and simply trimming back ones that are too close to buildings or paths, and removing any particularly problematic plants like poison ivy growing near a path or a tree that might some day heave the sidewalk with its roots.

So yeah, this is how I feel about this stuff! Not only is this important in where I am going to choose to live from now on, but I would love for it to become more important to more people, so that it could have a cascading effect on land use in a way that would benefit both people and biodiversity.

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Someday I’d also like to move far away from the city. Unfortunately, there’s not many jobs for a chemist out in the woods or the mountains, so for me, it’s been a matter of taking a few hours drive on the weekends in order to be out in nature. At least the opportunity exists where I live now, though. The State I grew up in was mostly farmland with almost no public land or State Parks (and what little was reserved was mostly meant for hunting).

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I prioritized it highly enough to move from a house on a busy street in a very “settled” suburban neighborhood to a smaller house on 2.6 acres of wooded land. We have about a quarter-acre of lawn, much of which I’m planning to gradually take over with native shrubs and perennials. The woods sadly consist of a lot of dead ash trees and thriving honeysuckle, but there are some hickories, black walnut, and many pawpaws among them. I am looking forward to removing the honeysuckle in the coming years, nurturing desirable seedlings, and planting understory shrubs like spicebush and blackhaw viburnum.

I can’t overstate how much joy living in this relatively small patch of woods brings to my life. My husband and I watched a mink (!) bounding up from the stream at the bottom of the hill behind the house yesterday morning, and we’ve seen coyotes, turkeys, pileated woodpeckers, and barred owls regularly. It’s actually weird to look out of a window and not see a deer somewhere. That’s not even mentioning all the cool insects we see (we’re both bug people). With all this beauty surrounding us, I frequently wonder why anyone would want a boring lawn devoid of biodiversity and requiring constant destructive and pollution-generating maintenance.

Fortunately, I think a lot of people are becoming more interested in more biodiverse suburban landscapes, and they’re starting to realize how much beauty and interest they can add to daily life. I was greatly encouraged to see that one of my parents’ neighbors in their strictly HOA-managed Florida subdivision had planted their entire front lawn with native perennials, and had even put up signage to ID the plants and describe the pollinators that depended on them. Their property was abuzz with life…such a contrast to the expensively watered lawns to either side. Here in Cincinnati, I see more and more properties with less and less lawn, with the grass replaced with large island beds full of flowers and shrubs. Done right, this kind of gardening actually requires less maintenance, and I think people are starting to realize that advantage.

There will always be those people who can’t stand nature that they can’t control, but it definitely seems that there’s a real increase in the percentage of the population that want to be proactive in fostering biodiversity in planned environments.

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I feel you on all of this!

I live in Washington D.C., and am lucky to live by Rock Creek Park, a national park which is a large urban old growth forest. I frequently speak to people who are surprised by how “out in nature” you feel in this park, even as you are still within the city. The building I live in sits right on the border of this park, and proximity to the park was a HUGE factor in the neighborhoods we looked in when we started looking around to buy a condo. Lots of nature accessible by walking or public transit is so amazing and something I would never want to give up now that I’ve experienced it!

We also have some other really amazing spaces within the city such as Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (marshland), the National Arboretum, and Roosevelt Island. And if you have access to a car, there are lots of places within a half hour (like Great Falls, Scott’s Run), an hour (Sky Meadows) or an hour and a half (the northern parts of Shenandoah National Park) drive.

Incidentally, I grew up not far from you! I’m originally from West Chester, PA. My mom still lives there and most of my extended family is around that area. As a family we didn’t really do nature stuff when I was growing up. My love of being out in nature isn’t something I really discovered until I was around 30 years old (I’m 39 now), even though I always loved plants and animals and being outside. Not a wild place really (except for their amazing meadow!), but Longwood Gardens which is near where I grew up I think had an early impact on my love of plants. Did you ever go there?

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I am conflicted with this sort of thing.

I like densely developed areas for their walkability/bikeability and the ease of taking care of day-to-day needs. Less driving, I tend to live in a smaller footprint, etc. But outside of a few really well planned places, you often do lose connection to wilder, less manicured spaces.

I live now at the edge between the suburbs and the country. Little neighborhoods interspersed with some farms and wooded, undeveloped areas. There’s a couple acres of unmaintained land surrounding my yard and there are pockets of it scattered through the neighborhood. My own yard is just over half an acre and I’ve been slowly reducing the amount of it that I mow every year by planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers. I even have a little trail that goes through these areas in my yard. I get a lot of enjoyment out of doing these things, and it’s something that isn’t exactly possible in most more dense urban areas. And if it is possible, there are usually tighter limits on what you can do. My “pocket prairie” would almost certainly be earning me tall grass citations if I lived in the city.

I do get to see a lot of stuff from inside, or from sitting on my patio. I installed outdoor security cameras mostly so I can get footage of wildlife (and I occasionally get bears, turkeys, and even screech owls). I recently put up a nest box for screech owls and put a camera inside the box.

I do think that an ideal scenario for me would be to have a smaller, more compact space in town for day-to-day efficiency and MORE space outside of town for weekends. But that’s expensive!

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I have mixed feelings about this. I live in Colorado where we have tons of access to nature and wild areas. However, our population has grown almost 15% in the last 10 years with people moving here specifically to be closer to nature. This has resulted in all sorts of problems, including increased traffic, higher home prices, very crowded trails with no parking, and damage to nature from over-use. So while I definitely feel like it’s important for people to live close to nature and be able to enjoy it, there needs to be some sort of balance to protect it from over-use.

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I do need this. It is literally a mental health/disability accommodation for me, though i didn’t know it until i’d already done it. With my particular autistic social and sensory profile, i can’t function in cities. I grew up in one (or a very dense suburb anyhow) and my mental health was quite poor at the time, in large part for that reason. I like cities, like to visit them for a couple days, and think in terms of sustainability and culture they are a good thing. But I can’t live in a city and retain mental health.

That all being said i don’t need Yellowstone. I need space outside, either a little bit of land i own, or a preserve or similar i can be a part of helping take care of. Right now I ‘own’ an acre and a half which is of course a huge privilege many (most?) people don’t get. My time here is limited, either by whatever life throws at me, or by my own mortality, but for the time i am here i have tried to manage and heal this little disturbed field as best I can. It’s been a lifesaver, maybe a literal one, in times when I’ve struggled for other reasons.

I do think urban nature is underappreciated and people in cities shouldn’t be led to believe they can’t access nature. But yeah… in my case…access to some amount of nature outside of a city is literally necessary, or at least close to it.

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For me, I need areas nearby (~10 min or less drive) which allow me to get outside and enjoy nature, ideally with a place or two which doesn’t have people 95% of the time. I enjoy being outdoors all the time, but am also very self-conscious and being in a place you almost know there won’t be any people allows me to be so much more immersed. No need to worry about looking like a weirdo for staring at the ground (looking at plants) or pausing in stride to get a better listen to a bird call. These places don’t need to be fancy, even something like a powerline cut is good with me and sometimes preferable because they’re not often trafficked.

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this is a great topic. I bought a place beside rouge national park in Toronto Ontario and having the park beside my home only 1 minute away is such a great part about it. Every time i consider selling, i think, i will never get this great of a location close to a national park. As you may see from my inat observations i am there every day and i wouldnt have it any other way.

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I prioritized it. When I got a chance to buy a home, after becoming disabled to the point of not being able to work, I specifically looked for a solid house and a big backyard. I’m in rural farmland next to a portion of a National Forest.
We refer to the windows (the view) as “ the nature channel “.
I was having difficulties with the crowdedness and traffic. The rudeness of others on a daily basis. And although there were lovely parks (I miss them more than the people) I was tired of having to drive to “go outside”. I have gained much healing here.
I believe I will have to make one more move. I regret it already, but reality says taking care of this house, and the distance to grocery stores, libraries and doctors while aging will force it. Hopefully we’ll have made more headway in the combination we want to call home.

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Like others have expressed here, I have mixed views.

On the one hand, living in the city means you have a smaller human footprint on the environment: because everything that one could need is clustered close together, I can potentially walk or bicycle there, or take public transport, or drive a relatively short distance, which means I emit less carbon than I would living in the countryside, where everything is spaced widely apart. Hospitals, government buildings and other institutions can be easily reached this way without the cost of driving as it would be in the countryside. Living in a smaller space (flat or townhouse) means that I, along with my neighbours, take up less land and less space than if we all each had smallholdings. Cities also need much less infrastructure to be laid (water, electricity, internet, etc) connecting more people for less cost and comparatively less impact per person.

So while city living has its not insignificant environmental benefits, it also has its environmental costs. As we all know, urbanisation destroys the natural habitat in which it takes place; it concentrates pollution to potentially hazardous levels (concentrations of natural minerals far above their baseline ppm presence, toxic chemicals from all the products and pharmaceuticals we use, etc), and it puts people in super close contact (re: pandemics and crime).

Living in cities also tends to isolate people and children from nature, and this is a critical thing when we need our children to be the future custodians of nature. Countless studies have shown the psychological benefits of being in nature - better mental health, improved focus, lower stress, etc

As someone living in a city surrounded by mountains covered with natural vegetation, I benefit from both: the benefits that city life has to offer, and the immersion in nature that every human needs.

However, the flipside is that by wanting to live close to nature, we ironically help contribute to the damage and destruction of that natural environment! Here in my city, developments have grown like weeds all over the place because people keep moving here. As more people move to areas like this, more developments and more houses get built over the natural habitat that attracts the people in the first place. Given enough time, there will be little natural habitat, and what habitat there is will be heavily fragmented. Studies have shown that heavily fragmented habitat lose the ability to support many species and their overall biodiversity becomes simplified over time.

I think we need a shift in culture and policy.

We need to keep cities dense (not spread out = suburban hell and urban decay) with proper public infrastructure and public transport, and have green spaces available inside cities (not built over). In addition, hard limits will need to be placed on the development of highly-sought after property in sensitive and biodiverse habitats. Have programs in place to empower people who want to garden to contribute to the green urban spaces. Have programs to expose people and children to natural areas on a regular basis.

So while I would love to live close to wild areas, I also recognise the fact that wildlife such as elephants, lions, and wolves are not compatible with higher human settlement and need their wild habitat. If that means I live in a city with limited access to wild areas and such wild areas are adequately protected, so be it. I can be a transient visitor to such wild areas and keep my overall human impact to that of the city.

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I transformed my third of an acre of lawn planted by the builder into a natural habitat for the sole purpose of attracting moths, planting scores of a mixture of natives and a few cultivar strains- groundcover, flowers, bushes, and 4 trees which I regularly prune. In the 20 years that I have lived here and tended the gardens, the “wilderness” has been visited by at least 50 species of birds, 900 species of lepidoptera and countless other insect taxa, amphibians and reptiles, lichens, ferns, and mosses, gastropods, squirrels, and deer. I am the only person on the block to be regularly seen snapping photos of the “siding on the house” … :)

Neighbors often stop me and comment on the beauty of the small patch of “wilderness” in the neighborhood, so I think that in time the sentiment can be fanned into passion.

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The city noises (helicopters, airplanes, large vehicle traffic) really reduce our appreciation for life. This is the detriment for us (with PTSD and other concerns) of living in a metro area of more than 3 million people. The nature is still spectacular, even in the suburb, including parks with wild-feeling areas, even if the buckthorn gets thick. One of the nearby county parks is reintroducing American Bison this fall (yes, they are captive, lol). If we were moving anytime in this lifetime, we would prioritize living near a larger natural area that had fewer city noises. In the meantime, like many of the other posters, we are planting native flowers and tolerating nonnatives that volunteer and are liked by animals (smiling at you Amsonia ciliata). Getting local parks to equally prioritize natural areas that aren’t mowed and poisoned and aren’t used as sports fields seems like a helpful plan, too.

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For me it was taken into consideration, but not in the high priority. When I was living in Hong Kong, I was lucky enough to be living near a hiking trail within walking distance, but public transport is quite good anyhow so I can reach the wilderness in a relatively short time. Now living in the USA, because I don’t own a car my priority was finding a place that was close enough to campus and groceries either within walking distance or by public transport (which compared to HK is like night and day). And thus the only “wild” places I can reach within walking distance or less than an hour of public transportation commute would be urban parks, so I just try to make the most of what I can document. I honestly think if I learnt how to drive then I would be much more inclined to live somewhere more remote though, so I can at least maybe set up some light traps without raising concern from the neighbours.

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I completely understand the feeling. I grew up in the Dominican Republic and in the city there are no wild areas. We did have a little garden and a few palm trees in front of my house but other than that it is really a concrete jungle. I always loved our family trips where we would travel inland to the more rural towns and experience nature.
I now live in Lancaster County PA, in the more rural area and have absolutely loved being able to experience nature on a daily basis. I live on a duplex and take care of the garden beds and lawn and in the past 3 years have planted all native plants and have been delighted in all of different species of insects that have visited my garden. There are farms around and a park not far with a trail by the Conestoga river. It’s just enough “wild” to get our fix. Otherwise throughout the year, especially summertime, we go hiking on the many trails around the area(Mt Gretna being a favorite).

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I’ve always lived in either the suburbs or the city. I’ve also almost always been privileged enough that I can find my way to more rural areas when I want to, via bike when I was younger, via car now, via plane at times. I’m really fortunate to be in a position where I have all those options because I know that it can feel really isolating and suffocating even when you don’t have those options. I used to just ride my bike as far as I could, all the time, to see prettier views. I didn’t realize at the time that it was because nature was a form of relaxation for me but now that I am old and I know that, I make sure to get out and appreciate the little things.

iNaturalist was actually a huge eye-opener because I can go out in the suburbs or the cities and find pieces of nature now that I know what to look for. I love big mountains, vast deserts and pretty bodies of water but sometimes all I can get is a squirrel or a clover or, what a lot of people notice on my account, pigeons. I just try to find all that I can wherever I am.

I do own an isolated cabin which assures me a pretty full immersion in the wilderness but I can’t be there constantly. It’s another thing that I know I’m really privileged to have access to so I’m very grateful for that. If I didn’t have all the options that I do have, maybe I would want to move to a more rural area. I like to be alone and I like being outside. I’ve just always been able to make ends meet in the more people-centric places.

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I currently live in Philadelphia and while there are more wild places within walking distance, I’ve found that I’m really depressed living in more city/urban areas like this and I need to always be immersed in nature. If I’m being honest, I kind of hate it here and hope to someday move somewhere more natural and free when I’m an adult.

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I live on the edge of a national park near Sydney, Australia. It is an absolute privilege to live in a location with valley views and wildlife wandering into your unfenced yard. For every up-side there is a down-side. People living around plant invasive plants, have enviro-cycle run off, keep cats and dogs. The damage to the environment is immense. The creek 500m or so away is silted badly from urban run-off, water is dirty and it gets red algal blooms. People who build theoretically have their effluent pumped out and taken away but I suspect the expense may tempt other solutions. On the upslope of a valley full of Eucalyptus concern for bushfires is extreme.
Native species that visit can be an inconvenience. Until I worked out how to evict it in a way safe for it we had a Ring Tailed Possum living in the ceiling (don’t want wet patches of ceiling). If we plant anything, Brush Turkeys may decide to rip it out. Possums and Wallabies feed on our flowers, damaging the plants while doing it. They also introduce Ticks to our yard (I had to treat 8 Ticks on my ankles two days ago). When we dig, we may turn over Funnel-web Spiders. On the other hand, Kookaburras will sit almost on my shoulder waiting for something edible to be turned up (including the spiders). It is a pleasure I cannot describe to pat a Kookaburra that is accustomed to humans on the chest. We have resident Skinks, Geckos and many feathered visitors. Snakes probably pass through but we don’t have a water source for them or a compost bin or animal feed to attract rodents so they probably move straight on. Species in the area include (in order of concern) Death Adders, Brown snakes, Tiger snakes, and Red-bellied Black snakes. None are aggressive (why waste toxin on a human) but they will defend if you surprise them. In particular, Death Adders are incredibly well camouflaged and do not move if they sense your presence.
I take delight in the natural things around me including sighting snakes (but not finding Funnel-web Spiders or tiny Scorpions wandering inside). I do not understand why every household other than ours keeps cats and or dogs and dumps things into bushland. They all say they like living adjacent ‘the bush’ but their actions destroy the thing they say they like. Living adjacent a wild zone is aa responsibility. People need to be mindful of the consequences of your actions. The less care taken by people who live adjacent wild zones and the more humans invade wild space, the more damage is done.

Summing up, living adjacent wild areas or venturing into wild areas is a responsibility many fail to recognise. It can bring a mixture of problems, delight and concern for the future but being away from the artificial world in our cities (e.g.I fail to understand massive queues to buy a plastic Winter Olympics souvenir) and keeps you in touch with real life.

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Check out this thread, if you haven’t before https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/monitoring-gardens-and-spreading-the-message/26094

Thank you.