Finding Time for Nature in Chicago

Jules Banks
Staff Reporter

The Garfield Park Conservatory’s botanical gardens, which were first constructed in 1906-1907. Photos by OpenHouseChicago.com.

In the big urban jungle of Chicago, it can often feel difficult to find time to connect with nature. Strolls in the park, seeing different flora and fauna, or even getting fresh air can be tough for city dwellers as opposed to suburbanites or those who live in the countryside.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), citizens who live in urban areas rarely breathe in air that complies with their air quality guidelines, with only 20 percent of over 4,500 cities worldwide passing the guideline check. These air conditions increase risk of stroke, heart issues and certain cancers. In short, clean air and the trees that provide it are important to human health, and city dwellers, Chicagoans included, aren’t getting enough of it.

Elyse Willins, freshman acting major, says her first year in Chicago has proved to her that it can be difficult to find a refreshing place to be outdoors.

“The way our schedules have been, everything has either been in this building or if we get outside it’s maybe once a week. I remember going six days without actually stepping outside and being like, ‘Wait a minute, I haven’t been outside in a full week,’” Willins said.

She went on to explain that she often felt nostalgic for the days when she could feel completely safe and secure walking around in nature.

“I found myself mainly missing home because of nature and the accessibility of being able to go walk in a park and feel safe, because normally when I was home and if I was needing to clear my head I’d go for a walk,” Willins said. “But now…I don’t know where I’d walk to because if I’m ever outside, I need to be having a destination.”

Despite the cited difficulties of integrating nature into one’s daily life, Chicago isn’t completely lacking in chances to explore the outdoors. According to CBS Chicago, there are 570 current parks within city limits, adding up to over 7,600 acres of land allotted for the park district. Within those parks are endless opportunities to explore, whether it be through Chicago Park District sanctioned events or just open land to explore. Sophia Gallo, freshman sociology major and RU Green vice president, said she has a few favorites of her own.

“I think my favorite place has been either Garfield Park Conservatory (GPC) or McKinley Park,” said Gallo. “The GPC is incredible because it’s really warm when you walk in, and you feel like you’re totally submerged in nature and there are just so many beautiful plants to see! McKinley Park was also really amazing because it was a beautiful big park with lots of activities going on and people strolling around.”

Garfield Park Conservatory, located on 300 N Central Park Ave., is over 184 acres of land full of activities year-round. Besides the botanical conservatory itself, the GPC has various athletic fields, a swimming pool and a fishing lagoon. It is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on every day except Wednesdays, when it is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.. McKinley Park, located on 2210 Pershing Road, is open consistently from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., and hosts a number of picturesque scenes to enjoy, such as the pond full of wildlife and the various bike trails.

Samantha Schultz, junior psychology major and president of RU Green, had suggestions beyond a simple park to get into a more natural and relaxing environment.

“Come to our meetings,” Schultz suggested jokingly, “or take summer classes here. I know they’re doing sustainability classes this summer where they’re going to Bubbly Creek and cleaning up there.”

Bubbly Creek is located at the south fork of the Chicago River, creating the boundary between McKinley Park and Bridgeport. Once a wetland and then an open sewer, Bubbly Creek is now often the subject of restoration and conservation due to its historical and current exposure to man-made pollution.

Schultz also recommended going to local farmers’ markets or simply getting out and breathing some fresh air and eat some unadulterated produce.

“Just looking at local farmers markets and stuff, that’s super good for the environment,” Schultz said. “There’s a farmer’s market called Growing Home…it looked like a really good place. Farmers markets are good because they don’t use preservatives and stuff, and they’re more local, so you’re supporting smaller businesses, which is always good.”

Growing Home, which specializes in farm-based skill training for those in need of experience and work, has been running in Englewood since 2002.

In the end, Schultz mainly stressed the important of taking the first big step: leaving the building. She explained that one could even multitask by picking up litter on a simple walk to the park.

“Just walk outside,” she said. “Just go and look at it. There is so much trash and stuff, it’s ridiculous. Just recognizing there’s a problem in the first place, it’s a good way to be like ‘Hey I should get out and do something.’”



Categories: Arts & Entertainment, arts and entertainment, Feature, Feature, Recent Posts, Recent Stories

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