Saturday, August 25, 2007

Re-Mystifying the Urban Riverscape

Randy Haluza-DeLay, an outdoor educator, advises on the need to reclaim a sense of mystery about the cityscape. He says:
'To remystify the city is to reawaken a sense of wonder and to alert ourselves to the marvels in familiar things. It is to blur the mental boundaries between Nature and Civilization so that we have an understanding of ourselves and our human-built environments as part of the natural world. ... It is to instill a compassionate sense of place that consciously links care of self and the broader world, both human and non-human. Remystifying the city and connecting to the place we live is a beginning in learning to live with the land.'

Research into people who are environmentally aware and responsible show that environmental concern is related to the level of 'connectivity with nature' (Dutcher, Luloff & Johnson, 2007), as well as to an individual’s ‘emotional affinity’ to the natural world (Kals, Schumacher and Montada, 1999). Indeed, say Dutcher et al (2007:17), 'the literature questions the notion that effective conservation can be ethically grounded solely in the utilitarian appeal of human survival', something that would have been familiar to Maslow (with his pyramid of human needs and concept of self-actualisation).

Connecting to wild places, and pockets of the wild in urban spaces, has a range of powerful and positive benefits including maintains Davis (2004), relaxation, reduction in stress, increase in self-efficacy, increased health and wellbeing, improved self-esteem, where spiritual and psychological experiences are felt as a 'lasting influence', 'intense', 'deeply moving' and 'ego-transcendence'.

Connectivity to river-nature, then, can be seen as an intensely moving, transformative and personal expression of lived spirituality (after Orsi's concept of 'lived religion' - defined as the 'ongoing, dynamic relationship with the realities of everyday life' (1997:7). In fact Durcher et al suggest that nature connectivity may be well be 'an essentially spiritual experience' .

But as this blog river story has shown, in the rapid development that is Brisbane, 2007, nature in terms of habitat and ecosystem services is suffering. And the potential for such lived spiritual experience and for enhanced health and wellbeing is the poorer for this continuing devastation.

Steve Cork from CSIRO's Sustainable Ecosystems suggests that urban dwellers have lost not only places to restore body and mind but also he says, they (is it we?) have a lost an awareness about our reliance on natural ecosystems for food, atmosphere, climate and water, as well as 'for cultural, spiritual and intellectual stimulation and fulfillment'. There is also less access to places where these processes can be re-captivated. And hopefully, they'll be places where biodiversity not housing density is thriving and the scenic beauty of the riverway is held sacred (Hale et al, 2005).

Continuing degradation of the river-vally environment gives rise to what Robert Michael Pyle (1992) calls 'the extinction of experience'.

Perhaps river restoration, better riverbank care, removal of noxious weeds (there are many), and recreation of the wild river trails as well as a sturdy education campaign to accompany these actions might bring a greater awareness of local residents to the inherent spiritual possibilities of river connectivity. The New Zealand poet, Brian Turner, says it like this:

Listening to the River
I think of so and so, a person of many parts, who is drawn to water
and finds rivers speak to him in languages he lives to translate
over and over. Their syllables roll like stones, consonants catch
and tip like slivers of rock flickering in the deeps.
(Lines from Listening to the River, a poem by Brian Turner, cited in Wattchow, 2004)

Dutcher DD, 2007 (forthcoming), ‘Connectivity with Nature as a Measure of Environmental Values,’ Environment and Behavior.
Hale BW, MM Steen-Adams, K Predick, and N Fisher, 2005, 'Ecological Conservation Through Aesthetic Landscape Planing: A Case Study of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, Environmental Management, 35,' 4, 381-395.
Haluza-DeLay R, 1997, Remystifying The City: Reawakening the Sense of Wonder in Our Own Backyards, Green Teacher, 52, Summer.
Davis J, 2004, Psychological Benefits of Nature Experiences: An Outline of Research and Theory with Special Reference to Transpersonal Psychology, Naropa University and School of Lost Borders.
Kals E., D, Schumacher & L. Montada, 1999, ‘Emotional Affinity toward Nature as a Motivational Basis to Protect Nature,’ Environment and Behavior, 31, 2, 178-202.
Orsi R, 1997, 'Everyday Miracles; The Study of Lived Religion,' in DD Hall, ed., Lived Religion in America, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press.
Pyle R M, 1992, 'Intimate Relations and the Extinction of Experience,' Left Bank, 2, 61-69.
Wattchow B, 2004, 'Many Voices Speak The River: Education in an Adventure- River- Landscape,' Educational Insights, 9, 1.