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Tucked away a short ride from the heart of Philadelphia lies a beautiful and expansive open space that quickly entraps visitors in a feeling of deep relaxation and utter freedom. Partly provided by the bright, colorful foliage and partly fostered through the diverse landscapes that call to a younger self full of adventure, this feeling takes over as hour after hour passes without notice. Suddenly the day comes to a close and you reluctantly, but refreshed, head back home with a new understanding of the power of natural elements to restore and indeed add meaning to our lives. All this with a trip to this week’s sustainable space, the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania.
The arboretum’s history stems back to 1887, when the lands made up Compton, the summer home of siblings John and Lydia Morris. Despite poor soil and even worse drainage on their land, they developed a beautiful and diverse landscape through hard work and careful attention. The siblings, devoted to preservation of their land, traveled across the US, Europe, and Asia spreading their knowledge of horticulture and gaining wisdom from those they met. Knowing the power of education, the siblings planned a school at Compton focused on horticulture. In 1932 the lands became the Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania and the Morris’ vision was realized. Today at the arboretum, “Science, art, and humanities are pursued through a variety of research, teaching, and outreach programs that link the Arboretum to a worldwide effort to nurture the earth's forests, fields and landscapes.” The goal for the arboretum certainly conveys a sense of interdisciplinary sustainability, and indeed one much like what we seek at PPEH.
Today the arboretum’s 92 acres, home to 12,000 plants, trees, and flowers, host over 100 classes and 130,000 visitors a year. Stressed before midterms, I set out to explore the vast site this past October. Whether walking Out on a Limb (see images below), through forests, in gardens, up hills, or around the museum, I found myself relaxed, care-free, and recovered. The elements that are so central to our existence - trees that breath our CO2, bees that pollinate our flowers, wetlands that filter are water - are often far from it. But at the Morris Arboretum you come closer to these elements, gaining a new appreciation for preservation as well as a strong motivation to work against the typical division of urban and natural boundaries for a more holistic and integrative experience. In this way, Morris Arboretum serves as a sustainable space, providing direct benefits to all those who interact with it as well as motivating new action to create such spaces throughout our cities and thereby developing more sustainable lives.