There are quite a few ways in which one could define the term “Environment,” but right now I’d like to talk a bit about kids’ physical surroundings. Clearly, you need a nurturing household, and a happy, stable family life, with loving parents and access to enriching activities and a good education in order to have an optimized upbringing. But what role does physical environment play in producing an ideal childhood, and thus, hopefully, an ideal adult?
First, I will come down hard on the side of nature. I believe that raising a child in an urban setting is tantamount to raising a chicken in a factory. Urban parents have to work extra hard to give their children anything like an enriching environment, and unless they are rich and have regular access to horse stables or a vacation home in the suburbs, or else outdoor enthusiasts who bring the kids to natural parks every weekend, the main result is that urban kids grow up with the stultifying sense that there are always four walls present. Always. Every direction that an urban kid turns, she or he sees brick walls, cement walls, highway overpasses, and other built environments. In a city, one is very seldom more than 100 feet from a wall, in fact. Walls, walls, walls. Not good symbolically, and not good psychically.
You see, we have been evolving for millions of years, our own species for a hundred or two hundred thousand years, outside. Nary a wall in sight. And for the past several thousand years, our ancestors have spent most of their time farming (a few of them hunting), which means most of their time has been spent outside, in wide open natural surroundings. Due to this extremely long genetic history, we as individuals come pre-programmed to like certain things:
-Green valleys. Why? When primitive humans came into a green valley, this told them that there was plenty of water, game, fruit, nuts, berries, and the other things which sustain life. Coming into a brown, sterile landscape always spelled wariness, and brought with it the very real danger of starvation. Urban environments are like desert wastes (which people only appreciate now because they know they will not run out of water, food, etc), and trigger an innate uneasiness, linked to this very strong instinct. (more…)