Mapping the Wild with Smart Devices



Today’s parents have many concerns that where unknown even a generation ago.  They worry about obesity, too much time in front of screens, safety of their kids in the neighborhood from cars and predators.   It’s no wonder that they often restrict their children’s free movement to their own block and sometimes just the front yard.

One of the results of this has been dubbed “Nature Deficient Disorder.”  Richard Louv not only coined the term but campaigns tirelessly to increase the awareness of its impact on children. Richard’s efforts have resulted in formation of many local advocacy groups around the States and the world.

What more can be done?  During the past five years another body of research has established that using game-like mechanisms can be a powerful tool to increase engagement and incentivize positive behaviors. “Gamification” is often reliant on the interactivity available through the use of smart devices; phones, tablets and computers.  In other words, “there’s an app for that.”

Mapping the Wild is a proposal to use gamification to address the Nature Deficient Disorder.  The concept is to create a tool that provides support and rewards for people, and kids in particular, to discover and map the nature that is all around them.  Not only will this raise the awareness of nature for kids and families but, over time, will also become a valuable tool that will inform the community about these resources so that they can be factored into planning and development decisions.


  • To use smart devices to engage children in learning about the plants and animals in their environment.
  • To document the extent and value of “unused” spaces within communities.
  • To expand the area where children are allowed to roam.


Mapping Wild Things (MWT) is an educational system consisting of:

  • A smart device application (iOS & Android)
  • Database
  • Cloud Storage
  • Website with
    • Program fundamentals
    • Instructor and Parent Guides
    • Plant and animal identification links
    • Social network support, calendar, help forum, etc.


MWT will be co-developed by interested stakeholders. The goal is to provide these organizations with a tool to advance their missions.  Suggested stakeholders could include, but not be limited to:

  • Native Plant Society
  • Audubon
  • Boys & Girls Clubs
  • Nature Conservancy
  • Children & Nature Network
  • Code for America
  • Students for the Environment – EPA
  • EekoWorld
  • Climate Reality Project

Liminal Places to Play – the Spaces Between

This week I’ve run across three items that resonated deeply with my on-going interest in SLOAP (Spaces Left Over After Planning)

Mile end park

The first is an article by Penny Wilson entitled Beyond the gaudy fence.  She wrote this as a way of explaining the design concepts behind her work on play areas associated with the 2012 Olympics.  In it she recalls her own play history and the works of Lady Allen and Aldo van Eyck, elegantly reminding us of their deep commitment to what we now call “wild play”. She speaks eloquently about the play that liminal spaces, those small areas that live in the margins of our urban environments that have traditionally been the venue for kid’s hang outs.

Accidental playground

The second is a new book The Accidental Playground by Daniel Campo.  The book profiles the “occupation” of the  Brooklyn Eastern District Terminal, an abandoned property that has flowered into a rich environment for self expression and play.  While not a spot primarily for kids, BEDT is an excellent example of a liminal space.

Burning Man

Image (c) Reuters

The third is Burning Man.  Once again we have an example of a liminal space.  In this case 68,000 people creating a vibrant self-policing city in the middle of the desert.

What do these examples, separated by so much space, time and scale have to do with each other.  Just this, left to their own devices people tend to just want to have fun and they can do so peacefully.  We live in over planned, over structured and fearful times.  We need to hold these examples high and also to our hearts.  To be witness for the inherent goodness of people is essential if we are to act as a counter balance to those who would control with fear.

This week’s blog from Mike Lanza talks about sending kids off to school is like sending them to prison.  As an occasional student of sociology I agree with his take on this.  One of the first things I noticed when I started doing schoolyard playgrounds was the lack of kid’s toys.  When I asked what happened to all the stuff kids carry in their pockets the teacher I was talking with pulled open the bottom drawer of her desk to reveal an explosion of toys literally spilling over its sides. When I asked about the collection she brightly said “Oh, these are just the ones they haven’t claimed.”  The excuse was that when kids brought stuff to school the kids would fight over them.  What total non-sense!  I vividly remember playing marbles at nearly every recess.  I brought gliders and little paper parachutes to school all the time.  Most other kids did as well.

Have kid’s changed?  Are kids now so toy crazy that they will fight each other for possession?  Or have we become so fearful of kids learning to negotiate their social relationships that we have to expunge any opportunity for this essential skill to be learned?

I think you know the answer to that question.  Now the hard question, how do we turn this around?