Cities Connecting Children to Nature (CCCN) is a national initiative that seeks to create more equitable and abundant access to nature in cities through a partnership between The National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and the Children & Nature Network. CCCN supports robust citywide action plans to implement policy, develop new partnerships, amplify nature-based programming, and create more equitable nature access. The initiative seeks to ensure that a connection to nature becomes an integral part of city priorities, planning and policymaking across a range of areas, including park access, education, community health and wellness, job creation, and land use. In order to achieve these goals and system changes, the CCCN initiative works to activate parks and greenspaces through nature play programming and installation of nature play spaces across the city. Many of CCCN's initiatives align with partner organizations' goals and missions such as the City's Strategic Direction 2028 (SD28), Climate Equity Plan, and Environment Stewardship Advisory Committee (ESAC), in addition to Austin Independent School District (AISD), Texas Children in Nature Network (TCiNN), and many more.
In March of 2016, the City of Austin was one of seven cities nationwide selected to receive a planning grant from the project partners for Cities Connecting Children to Nature. The grant funded a six-month strategic planning process that brought together representatives from ten city departments, AISD, the health sector and nonprofit organizations in order to create a 3-year Implementation Plan that identifies how city leadership can provide abundant and equitable access to nature for the children of Austin, with a specific focus on children in low-income communities and children of color. In October 2016, the City of Austin was awarded additional funds to execute the plan.
This planning process yielded the following long-term goals:
Every child has equitable and abundant access to nature at their home, neighborhood, and school.
Every caregiver, teacher, and health professional has been exposed to the importance of spending time in nature for a child’s healthy development. Every child considers outdoor play a top option in their free time.
City codes and school curricula allow and encourage kids to play outside in nature more frequently.
Austin is seen as an innovator and leader in the Children and Nature Movement.
Kids choose nature.
To achieve these goals, we conducted extensive research and mapping to identify areas of Austin with the largest gaps in nature equity. Due to the rapid growth of Austin, we updated the 2016 Nature Equity Map to reflect new data and include additional factors that impact nature equity such as transportation to parkland, facilities like libraries, public and private schools, and more. Our 2022 Nature Equity Map continues to inform us our selection of the areas where priority implementation strategies will be focused.
The creation of the The Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights (COBOR) illustrates what equitable access to nature should look like in Austin and establishes a common foundation and high aspirations for nature connection in a community. Show your support for Austin’s Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights by signing the pledge form.
2023 Priority Strategies
Green School Parks: Create a network of school parks that provide schools and the surrounding community the opportunity to learn from, steward and play in nature.
Using the Nature Equity Map, pilot Green School Parks (GSP) have been created at Barrington Elementary and Wooldridge Elementary, with a third underway at the new Sanchez Elementary. These schools provided PARD with a baseline for the GSP assessment, which, in turn, provided PARD with the tools to start the GSP designation process. Currently, there are over 15 GSP now in Austin with more to come soon.
To see an overview of the GSPs with information on individual features, you can visit the story maps for Barrington and Wooldridge.
To better understand the effects of the green infrastructure installed as part of the GSP program, CCCN partnered with UTHealth to examine whether worsening heat decreases opportunities for physical activity and reduces the overall emotional well-being of young people. The final findings of this project can be found in English here and in Spanish (Español) here.
Nature Play: Activate parks and greenspaces through nature play programming and installation of nature play spaces across the city.
Nature play has taken on three areas of interest: physical infrastructure, programming, and policy change. Physical infrastructure includes the installation of nature and procurement of trees. The procurement of trees not only provides physical features for nature play spaces but also gives a second life for trees. Another aspect of nature play is programming, which includes the Loose Parts Lending Kits program. Loose parts are a collection of items that are used to build and create in a free, unstructured environment that promote creativity, imagination, cooperation and communication, and fosters connection to nature and stewardship values. The final area of interest involves policy change which includes putting nature play and connection to nature at the forefront of city priorities. Nature Play Guidelineshave been created with the goal of installing nature play areas at all sites across Austin. Currently, nature play spaces have been installed at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park and MLK Station Neighborhood Park with another underway at Armadillo Neighborhood Park.
Youth Leadership: The Youth Leadership Working Group (YLWG) imagines an Austin in which young people can easily access careers in outdoors, nature, & the environment, are fairly compensated for their contributions, and that the field, and leadership within, represents the communities we serve.
YLWG imagines an Austin in which young people can easily access careers in the outdoors, nature, & the environment, are fairly compensated for their contributions, and that the field, and leadership within, represents the communities they serve. Paid opportunities for youth to be involved in nature-based opportunities have been developed and expanded, including the PARD Ranger Cadet Program, DSD Youth Forest Council, and CCCN Youth Leadership Committee. Young leaders in this field have presented alongside professionals at panels, conferences, summits, and webinars.
Outdoor Learning Environment (OLE): Improve outdoor spaces at childcare centers to enable 0-5 year olds to be active, learn in nature and develop motor skills.
An OLE! Austin demonstration site is being constructed at Austin Community College Children’s Lab School (ACC), with additional OLE! Austin sites planned at Child Inc's childcare centers. Associated research will better inform the impact of an OLE site on children at that site. A handbook is also being created to assist childcare facilities in developing an OLE site at their own center.
Nature Smart Libraries: Foster connections to nature through stories, experiences, and resources to promote curiosity and environmental literacy.
Nature Smart Libraries (NSL) will use public libraries as venues to connect children and families to nature with support from Austin Public Libraries, Parks & Recreation, the Watershed Protection Department, and various non-profit partners in efforts largely revolving around infrastructure and programming.