“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than one seeks.”- John Muir
Despite being an avid runner, I, like many in 2020, discovered the magical restoration and reflection that comes from… WALKING. In the early days of shelter-in-place, my first observation regarding the slower pace of walking (versus my usual run) meant I actually had time to notice the neighborhood’s finer details and take more scenic paths not previously taken.
The gardens on the main boulevard, unique trim on historic homes, art murals under bridges, hidden cobblestone alleys, paired with the organic frames the boulevards make accentuating the beauty of Logan Square seemed louder and more evident than ever. At a time when Chicago lake paths, river walks, parks (and gyms) were shut during the initial shelter-in-place order, I was grateful for the limitless options to safely and sanely go on a walk and take it all in during my allotted hour of sunshine a day. And while walking didn’t break a sweat, it seemed to be a more powerful outlet to unpack and analyze my life priorities (past and future). “Taking more walks” has successfully made a shortlist of priorities I hope to protect in the future.
We have an innate need to be in nature
While “taking a breather” and leaving the confines of our living room has some obvious benefits, our innate need to be in nature and the positive effect nature has on us is backed by science. Biophilia is humankind’s innate biological connection with nature, and there is proof that incorporating more nature within the built environment has multiple cognitive, psychological, and cognitive benefits. Based on this, architects have been bringing nature into the built environment for years, often referred to as Biophillic Design. Infusing Biophilic design principles into the built environments and the planning of neighborhoods and cities can reduce stress, enhance creativity and clarity of thought, improve our well-being, and expedite healing — something we all need a bit more of in our lives (especially right now).
On my recent walks in Logan Square, I have discovered at least three biophilic design patterns which may shed some light on the many reasons walking in the community is so restorative.
Visual Connections with Nature: A view to elements of nature, living systems and natural processes.
Unlike most cities, Chicago experiences almost all four seasons (although sometimes it can feel like two: summer and winter). The biophilic benefit of experiencing the natural phenomenon of changing seasons elicits different psychological, cognitive, and physiological responses. For instance, the phenomenon of spring gives us new life, energy, and optimism. Some of the health benefits such as lowered blood pressure and heart rate, improved mental engagement/attentiveness, positively impacted attitude and overall happiness. Visual access to biodiversity is reportedly more beneficial to our psychological health than access to land area (quality vs. quantity).
Prospect (my favorite Biophillic Pattern): An unimpeded view over a distance for surveillance and planning.
A space with a good Prospect conditions feels open and free, yet imparts a sense of safety andcontrol, particularly when alone or in unfamiliar environments. Health benefitsare suggested to include reductions in stress, boredom, irritation, fatigue andperceived vulnerability, as well as improved comfort.
Natural themes in historic structures and places
Strong routine connections with nature can provide mental restoration opportunities, during which time our higher cognitive functions can sometimes take a break. Asa result, our capacity for performing focused tasks is greater than someone with fatigued cognitive resources (Source: 14 Patterns of Biophilia, Terrapin).
Walking inspires creativity and play
“Logan Square feels like I am a part of nature but in the city”.Kayce Bayer, Logan Square resident
Kayce Bayer, artist, illustrator, and educator, was inspired by the trees and plants in Logan Square during her daily quarantine walks with her son Otis. “During quarantine, I would draw things for my son to create a game and to be outside,” Bayer said. “We always go on nature walks in the neighborhood (especially to get fresh air in quarantine), and he collects pieces of nature, so we have a hallway full of things.”
In Kayce’s pursuit of learning more about the Bloomingdale Trail, reached out to Ben Helphand, President of The Friends of Bloomingdale Trail to create The Plants of Bloomingdale Trail Scavenger Hunt.
“We learned a lot about the boulevards and park system, the plants and trees in the neighborhood and even the fruits that grow here seasonally,” she said. “Otis and I went around and found all of them and even tried the mulberries, which were delicious and messy! We learned about the strange ones too — the Smokebush, which looks like a pom-pom. Zoombac, another sort of a shrub — it is native to this area, and the natives would make a type of lemonade out of it.”
When the tornado crushed the trees, Kayce said it made her realize just how for granted we take the abundance of trees in the neighborhood and was touched like many of us to see so many people volunteering to clear branches from streets, cars, and houses and morn over the destruction.
Walking connects us back to the community
“Architecture is destiny, and destiny is architecture.”– Lynn Basa, founder of Milwaukee Avenue Alliance
Lynn Basa, founder of Milwaukee Avenue Alliance, describes Logan Square in a very romantic and poetic manner. “When I think back to Sesame Street as a child, I recall thinking, ‘That is what a neighborhood should like!’ and that is what Logan Square looks like,” Basa said. “I remember reading a book, ‘Never a City So Real’ by Alex Kotlowitz and Logan Square exemplifies that. Logan Square doesn’t look like the everywhere USA.”
Based on Basa’s love of architecture and the symbiotic role it plays in its surrounding environment, it is no surprise that her mission is to nurture America’s main street: Milwaukee Avenue and the small businesses thrive within it. Due to the pandemic, the things that have to keep her up at night should be of concern to all Logan Square residents as the choices we make today could protect the neighborhood we hope to enjoy in the future. The challenge has also become increasingly visible walking down Milwaukee Avenue (and surrounding streets) as many beloved businesses have had to close their doors.
Most importantly, walking reminds us to show gratitude
I interviewed a few LoganSquarist staffers to hear in their words how grateful they are to live/take walks in Logan Square, despite life being a bit different in the neighborhood these days.
Why did you move to Logan Square?
“I instantly fell in love with the boulevards, and it was not even a question, and I never left.” ~ Kate Hamilton, Founder and Publisher of LoganSquarist
How would you describe living in Logan Square?
“Peaceful. I love all the parks and boulevards. It is very green.” ~ Lauren Dixon, resident of Logan Square and former Editor-in-Chief at LoganSquarist
If you left Logan Square tomorrow, what would you miss most?
“Right now, the most I get out of Logan Square is the architecture and the being able to walk down the boulevards as I already miss my favorite stuff (referring to local coffee shops and restaurants closed during COVID).” ~ Michael Dhar, Co-Editor In Chief
So, my final message to you all is this: As we enter the cold winter months in Chicago, we must resist the temptation to stay indoors and feed our innate need to re-connect with nature. So bundle up, and share your walks with us.
Featured photo: Janna Reddig