I was born in Rotterdam
under the fog of the Maas
And I walked, with my own silence,
Amidst the city bustle.
We city dwellers, if I may speak for all of us here, don’t often grow up with or in nature. We played hide and seek among the apartment blocks, holidays were often city trips and I only saw the lovely Dutch countryside, which reminded me of the poem ‘Herinnering aan Holland’ [Memory of Holland], when I travelled by train from city to city.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the city. You won’t find me living anywhere else. But in the centre, I missed something: I was an animal lover with no animals around me. I didn’t know then that I could be fascinated by goldcrests in the trees around the Museum Park. So, I set out on my own in search of nature in the city. Pigeons already use buildings as cliffs, the city blends with nature, but I still needed to find it. Voluntary work in the animal rescue centre and curiosity on a walk. Looking for treasures in the city like those in Het Park and in the Kralingse Bos. I simply looked up more often. Sometimes up at the Zalmhaven tower, sometimes at the peregrine falcons flying around Erasmus MC. The city is full of life if you take the time to discover it.
Particularly for students, it’s vital to connect with nature. With so much social and academic stress as well as the unrest of a pandemic, nature can provide relief. It won’t resolve mental health – much more change is needed for that – but it does contribute to a healthier life. More nature in the city therefore also means less social stress and less heat stress. To find nature, you don’t need to leave the city; we bring it back to the city.
That ‘connection’ doesn’t need to resemble an ANWB catalogue. You don’t need to walk along the Coolsingel holding a bird guide in one hand and binoculars in the other (although if you do, I’ll come with you). A simple walk with a cup of tea through a park, experiencing what lives there, is a first step. If you’re lucky, you might get to know a group of sparrows that you care about. It might make you more aware when our small birds aren’t flourishing. Then you may feel, like me, the need to do something in order to protect them. And if we, students and city dwellers, were to be amazed by the nature in the city around us more often and appreciate it more, we can convert this amazement and appreciation into actions to stimulate and protect nature.
This city girl only saw the shadow of a fox. I knew what a hedgehog was but had only held one two years ago. And don’t tell anyone, but there was a time when I didn’t know the difference between a coot and a duck. But this city girl now loves high-rise buildings as much as the mice that live beneath them. I know the difference between a jackdaw, rook, crow and raven and I cherish the ladybird that eats the aphids on my plants. The pigeons in my district know me as well as the seagulls know Bram Ladage’s fries. The city can adapt to nature, just as nature has adapted to the city for so many years. But to ensure this, we need to find the connection. The bustle of the city is very different from the peace of nature, and both are worthwhile.