Judy Ling Wong
Painter Poet and Environmental Activist
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"Art Perfecting Itself " - Living the arts of the East and the West
Article by Judy published by Green Spirit Magazine - Spring Issue 2015
Read the fascinating story of how Judy entered traditional Chinese studio practice as a child and now integrates and lives the ethos of the East and the West
Urbis Dialogue 5 - Citizen Participation and Stewardship - whose earth is it anway?
Judy spoke about "Enabling Communtiy Participation in an Urban Setting"
The 2015 URBIS Webinar Series is a global platform for online dialogue that brings together representatives of cities and local governments and leading experts from around the world to share experiences and address specific urban challenges focusing on the sustainable use of regional biodiversity and ecosystem services to support social development in a rapidly urbanizing world.
Enabling Community Participation in an Urban Setting
Judy Ling Wong CBE
Presentation for “Urbis Dialogues 5: Citizen Participation and stewardship: whose earth is it anyway?”
Life is tough in urban areas. What gets people’s attention is a link into their immediate sense of self and a relevance that draws them into a relationship. They have to be able to say “That is me, that is what I am about.” Engaging with anything fundamentally expresses attention to a recognised need, giving voice to an identity, or making concrete a deep love for something that they are willing to give their precious time to. Growing community is a key urban theme, with a constant influx of new multicultural people. Not to forget, in cities, we also enter territory that is re-interpreted by wildlife itself – kestrels nest on iconic buildings such as Tate Modern, and foxes eat a range of takeaways supplemented by fresh urban rats.
My 30 years of experience of working with multicultural communities, involving people in the care and protection of the environment can be summed up in 2 short sentences:
“We love what we enjoy. We protect what we love.“
The agenda for the first sentence “We love what we enjoy” is to enable access to nature, vitally important to build the next generation of nature lovers. The agenda for the second sentence “We protect what we love“ is to enable that love and motivation to become action.
There is not much time in this short presentation so I will only give some indication of the complex challenges and opportunities by focusing on 2 initiatives I am leading on at present and give a range of approaches for increasing participation:
The first initiative is The Campaign to make London the world’s first National Park City. One of London NPC’s aims is to enable access to nature for 100% of London’s children. That ties into the work of the Sowing the Seeds Network, the second initiative, which takes its name from the Report Sowing the Seeds, commissioned by the London Sustainable Development Commission. The network focuses on engagement with nature for all children under 12 in London.
To set the scene, here are 5 so-called “Killer Facts” for London:
- 22% of London’s 11 year olds are obese. Diabetes in terms of its devastating effects and the financial burden on the UK is horrendous. At present 1 in 6 hospital beds are taken up by diabetes. The present prediction is that increase in diabetes, through the link to obesity, will be explosive. The Health Service is slowly beginning to come to a realization that investment in simply getting children outside, to be active as a lifelong habit, is pragmatic. We, as part of nature, are not built to sit at desks or stay inside all day long.
- Children who live near to park playgrounds are 5 times as likely to be a healthy weight as children who don’t.
- 1 in 7 of London’s families have not visited a green space of any kind from protected areas to parkland for a year
- People who live in deprived inner city areas have access to 5 times fewer green spaces of good quality than people in more affluent areas
- Current initiatives to reconnect children with nature are only reaching 1 in 25 of London’s children.
These are our future citizens, that we will depend on for the future care of the environment.
The campaign for London National Park City is not about designating London as a traditional National Park. It is about creating a new model - a National Park City, aspiring to embrace nature within its social and cultural life. It will not only focus on existing outstanding spaces but also work with people to improve quality of life across its areas of concrete jungle.
London’s inner city areas are full of social housing for disadvantaged low-income groups. You may be surprised to hear that, in London, in many boroughs, we have more green space owned by social landlords than all the green spaces run by Parks Authorities! However, much of this is of the lowest quality - generally boring mown grass and a lot of issues around dog mess.
This is a huge opportunity. Can you imagine enthusing and enabling residents to transform some of these spaces and bringing social landlords round to giving permission for the creation of beautiful wildlife gardens, where older people can sit and chat, mini-orchards or natural play areas of the highest quality for families with children? Access to nature - right outside the windows of some of our most deprived communities!! Additionally this can kick start the beginning of a vision for the building up of a continuity of wild spaces right across the city, created by ordinary people.
On the fun side, and enjoyment needs to be a big big part of this, we hope to switch on specific contributions from our multicultural community. One idea is to invite parents and grandparents to come into parks, across a string of festival days, to simply show off their traditional outdoor games, or to show us how to make toys and useful things out of natural materials. By multicultural, I do not mean non-white - everyone has a distinctive cultural origin. In the UK we have the people of Cornwall, Northumberland or the Orkney Islanders.
As part of the Sowing the Seeds Network, there is a project called Natural Thinkers – training nursery teachers, childminders and parents a specially designed range of nature activities to support under 5s.to connect with nature. The significance of these outdoor activities is that these activities in nature are chosen with attention to their value in child development. The focus on under 5s has become a prime concern here. Research has established that by the age of 3, 80% of the brain is fully developed. If they are not adequately stimulated, they miss the developmental boat. At the same time research has pointed to the fact that one of the best stimuli is simply to take babies and toddlers outdoors. Nature will do the job for us – the simple fact of the wind on their faces, the movement of leaves, the changing colours, smells, sound - all provide varied experiences. A lot of the training centers on not interfering with what the child is doing. Leave children alone with something interesting, and they will take initiative. They do not need to be entertained. Too much structure makes children, our future citizens, boring and bored.
Another brilliant project, Father Nature, partnering with the Territorial Army, runs overnight camping for inner city families in the tiniest green spaces.
To summarise, to involve urban people effectively, we need to:
- Enable access to nature through enjoyment with special attention to early life, feeding the love of nature which is the basis of motivation
- Make links between the needs of nature and the needs of people
- Raise awareness and enable opportunities for engagement
- Deepen understanding of nature and build skills
- Above all develop new community based leaders with new ideas or participation, connected to many themes
Nature, health, social housing, landscape design, national and local government priorities, citizen science, food growing, equality, business, confidence and capacity building, economics, child development, multicultural heritage, tourism, education, community development, the arts, wisdom, having fun and so on are all linked. Engaging people in cities is a multi-faceted challenge. Listening to this long list you may well ask – is this really about nature? The answer is very much yes. To be at the heart of where millions of people live, synthesis has to be the keyword for effective involvement. Working with complexity, being creative shape-shifters, leaving no missing links is in fact the faster route to a solution. Thank you for listening.
Campaign for London National Park city
See the website for details about this extraordinary vision
The campaign to make London a National Park City proposes a vision of everyday wildness that links the most built up areas with green spaces of outstanding quality. Judy us a member of its Steering Group.
Blue Planet - The Art of Nature Event 4 - 12 to 13 May 2015
Judy will be speaking at this event about "Flow Continuity and Presence - a Chinese way of seeing"
The Art of Nature is an initiative bringing artists, environmentalists and community together, organised by the UNESCO UK MAB (Man and the Biosphere) Urban Forum. Judy Ling Wong is the Lead for the Art of Nature Initiative and the Vice-Chair of the Urban Forum.
Network Ecologies Symposium - University of Hull - Scarborough Campus (4-6 June 2015)
Judy spoke at this event on the significance and contribution of networks in integrating art and nature on 4th June 2015
The inaugural international Network Ecologies symposium of 2015 will bring together a host of diverse and inspirational speakers from across the world in an attempt to address the role that artistic producers can play in raising awareness of environmental problems within contemporary culture. This interdisciplinary symposium is therefore interested in breaking down the categorical distinctions existent between art, science and politics, in an attempt to identify novel approaches and methodologies, which have the potential to transform how environmental discourse is represented in the social imagination.
Key themes of the conference included:
- Thinking ecologically: collaboration and the importance of networks in environmentalism.
- Artistic/creative ways of advocating public policy reform, campaigning for degrowth or addressing the post-carbon economy.
- The scientist as activist: D.I.Y. Bio, Bio-Hacking or historic examples of environmental scientists acting as political figures i.e. Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner etc.
- The function of photography/images in shaping environmental policy/discourse, or as ‘greenwashing’ in the corporate sector.
- The artist as environmental activist: blurring the boundaries between art and environmental politics through activities such as détournement, hacking, subvertising, pamphleteering, self-publishing or through performativity.
- Site specificity and the importance of locality and place in shaping the environmental imagination; conversely, global warming as a non-local phenomenon.
Pools of Consciousmess – Chelsea Fringe Float a Lotus 23 May 2015
A Gardens of Consciousness activity at the Diana Memorial Fountain - South Kensington Gardens London
The lotus flower rises from the depths of a muddy river, blooms and thrives. It is a symbol of rebirth, growth and purification of spirit; a new way of thinking and being. In ancient tradition, the colour of the lotus flower has profound significance. Submit a thought, hope or prayer by selecting a lotus flower that represents you and then sharing your words. You are invited to participate.