Free: Watch Our Planet, a Groundbreaking Nature Documentary Series Narrated by David Attenborough

The nature doc­u­men­tary series Our Plan­et opens with a star­tling­ly stark obser­va­tion cour­tesy of broad­cast­er, biol­o­gist, nat­ur­al his­to­ri­an, and author Sir David Atten­bor­ough:

Just 50 years ago, we final­ly ven­tured to the moon…

Since then, the human pop­u­la­tion has more than dou­bled…

(and) In the last 50 years, wildlife pop­u­la­tions have, on aver­age, declined by 60 per­cent.

The twelve-episode series, nar­rat­ed by Atten­bor­ough, is the result of a four-year col­lab­o­ra­tion between Net­flix, Sil­ver­back Films and the World Wildlife Fund. The cre­ators aren’t shy that it’s a race to beat the clock:

For the first time in human his­to­ry, the sta­bil­i­ty of nature can no longer be tak­en for grant­ed.

Rather than take view­ers on a doom scroll of glob­al pro­por­tions, they cul­ti­vate their con­ser­va­tion­ist impuls­es with gor­geous, nev­er-before-filmed views of ice caps, deep ocean, deserts and dis­tant forests.

The high def footage of the mul­ti­tudi­nous crea­tures inhab­it­ing these realms is even more of a hook.


Whether the frame is filled by a Philip­pine eagle chick, a herd of migrat­ing ele­phants, a hunt­ing Ben­gal tiger or a male orchid bee per­fum­ing him­self to bet­ter his chances of attract­ing a mate, Our Plan­et’s non-human stars are con­sis­tent­ly cap­ti­vat­ing.

Some of the footage speaks direct­ly to the hard­ships these crea­tures are expe­ri­enc­ing as the result of cli­mate change, dwin­dling habi­tats, and oth­er hav­oc wreaked by our species.

Field pro­duc­er Ed Charles said Atten­bor­ough remarked that the plight of a starv­ing polar bear and her cubs pad­dling around the Arc­tic Ocean in search of food was “a real heart­break­er, and that it would cap­ture peo­ple’s imag­i­na­tions:”

This moth­er and her cubs should have been hunt­ing on the ice, even bro­ken ice. That’s where they’re supreme­ly adapt­ed to be, but we found them in water that was open for as far as the eye could see. That’s the real­i­ty of the world they live in today. Nature can be bru­tal. But to see this fam­i­ly with the cub, strug­gling due to no fault of their own, it makes it very hard.

Giv­en how many non-human crea­tures’ fates hinge on human action, and the film­mak­ers’ goal of help­ing us “tru­ly under­stand why nature mat­ters to us all, and what we can do to save it, (so) we can cre­ate a future where nature and peo­ple thrive”, it’s awful­ly sport­ing of Net­flix to bring the series out from behind its sub­scrip­tion pay­wall.

The first sea­son can cur­rent­ly be enjoyed for free on YouTube here.

The film­mak­ers also pro­vide a num­ber of free edu­ca­tion­al resources for schools and younger view­ers.

Not that we adults should sit back and wait for the younger gen­er­a­tion to bail us out of this seem­ing­ly insol­u­ble mess.

Our Plan­et’s web­site shares ways in which all of us can take an active role in sav­ing and restor­ing pre­cious parts of the plan­et our species has near­ly destroyed.

Again, it’s bet­ter than doom scrolling.

Con­sid­er our remain­ing jun­gles and rain­forests, “a nat­ur­al ally in the fight against cli­mate change” due to the incred­i­ble diver­si­ty of life they har­bor.

They help reg­u­late glob­al weath­er, cool the plan­et by reflect­ing the sun’s heat, gen­er­ate and send out vast amounts of water, and remove car­bon from the atmos­phere.

Atten­bor­ough points out that humans have cleared jun­gle and for­est suf­fi­cient to meet­ing all future human demand for food and tim­ber. The trick will be learn­ing how to use this pre­vi­ous­ly cleared land more effi­cient­ly while prac­tic­ing envi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship.

Indi­vid­u­als can start by edu­cat­ing them­selves and hold them­selves to a high stan­dard, refus­ing to buy any item whose pro­duc­tion is tied to defor­esta­tion.

Gov­ern­ments can offer finan­cial incen­tives to com­pa­nies with a proven com­mit­ment to using this land in thought­ful, eco­log­i­cal­ly sus­tain­able ways.

Rather than suc­cumb to over­whelm­ing despair, take heart from inno­va­tors breath­ing new life into a defor­est­ed part of Brazil sev­en times the size of the Unit­ed King­dom.

Eco­log­i­cal con­cerns did not seem near­ly so press­ing when vast amounts of rain for­est once occu­py­ing this land were cleared in order to pas­ture cat­tle. A lack of fore­sight and sus­tain­able prac­tices led it to become so degrad­ed it could no longer sup­port graz­ing.

(Cat­tle aside, birds, insects, mam­mals, plants and oth­er for­mer inhab­i­tants were also SOL.)

Rather than cut down more pre­cious jun­gle, trail­blaz­ing envi­ron­men­tal vision­ar­ies are pro­mot­ing regen­er­a­tion with native seedlings, plant­i­ng fast-grow­ing, super-effi­cient crops, and restor­ing the jun­gle adja­cent to grow­ing areas as a form of nat­ur­al pes­ti­cide.

That pro­vides a glim­mer of hope, right?

The 97-year-old Atten­bor­ough can even get on board with eco­tourism, a risky move giv­en how a large car­bon foot­print can trans­late to a dim pub­lic view.

Per­haps he’s bank­ing that first-hand encoun­ters with won­ders once encoun­tered only in doc­u­men­taries could help keep the plan­et spin­ning long after we’re no longer here to bear wit­ness.

Watch the first sea­son of Our Plan­et for free here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

David Atten­bor­ough Reads “What a Won­der­ful World” in a Mov­ing Video

How Sounds Are Faked For Nature Doc­u­men­taries: Meet the Artists Who Cre­ate the Sounds of Fish, Spi­ders, Orang­utans, Mush­rooms & More

Watch Young David Atten­bor­ough Encounter Ani­mals in Their Nat­ur­al Habi­tats: Video from the 1950s and 1960s

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Cool Science of Snowflakes in 4 Minutes, with Brian Cox


From the Roy­al Soci­ety comes a short primer on snowflakes. Nar­rat­ed by physi­cist Bri­an Cox, the video explains how they form, and why no two snowflakes have the exact same dimen­sions. It also recounts how Johannes Kepler devel­oped a ground­break­ing the­o­ry about the hexag­o­nal shape of snowflakes in 1611–one proved right 400 years lat­er. And then comes the kick­er: snowflakes aren’t actu­al­ly white; they’re clear.

Along the way, Cox ref­er­ences the first pho­tographs of snowflakes. You can find our post on those 1885 pho­tographs here.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

via Aeon

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The First Pho­tographs of Snowflakes: Dis­cov­er the Ground­break­ing Micropho­tog­ra­phy of Wil­son “Snowflake” Bent­ley (1885)

Johannes Kepler The­o­rized That Each Plan­et Sings a Song, Each in a Dif­fer­ent Voice: Mars is a Tenor; Mer­cury, a Sopra­no; and Earth, an Alto

Prof. Bri­an Cox Has a Mad­den­ing Con­ver­sa­tion with a Cli­mate Sci­ence-Deny­ing Politi­cian

Hortus Eystettensis: The Beautifully Illustrated Book of Plants That Changed Botanical Art Overnight (1613)

If you made it big in sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry Bavaria, you showed it by cre­at­ing a gar­den with all the plants in the known world. That’s what Johann Kon­rad von Gem­min­gen, Prince-Bish­op of Eich­stätt did, any­way, and he was­n’t about to let his botan­i­cal won­der­land die with him. To that end, he engaged a spe­cial­ist by the name of Basil­ius Besler to doc­u­ment the whole thing, and with a lav­ish­ness nev­er before seen in books in its cat­e­go­ry.

The medieval and Renais­sance world had its “herbals” (as pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture), many of which tend­ed toward the util­i­tar­i­an, focus­ing on the culi­nary or med­ical prop­er­ties of plants; Hor­tus Eystet­ten­sis would take the form at once to new artis­tic and sci­en­tif­ic heights.

When the book came out in 1613, after six­teen years of research and pro­duc­tion, von Gem­min­gen was already dead. But it proved suc­cess­ful enough as a prod­uct that Besler made suf­fi­cient mon­ey to set him­self up with a house in a fash­ion­able part of Nurem­berg for the price of just five copies — five copies of the extrav­a­gant (and extrav­a­gant­ly expen­sive) hand-col­ored edi­tion, at least.

Hor­tus Eystet­ten­sis “changed botan­i­cal art almost overnight,” writes David Marsh in a detailed blog post on the book’s cre­ation and lega­cy at The Gar­dens Trust. “Now, sud­den­ly plants were being por­trayed as beau­ti­ful objects in their own right,” with depic­tions that could attain life size, all cat­e­go­rized in a sys­tem­at­ic man­ner antic­i­pat­ing clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tems to come. Marsh sees the project as exem­pli­fy­ing a cou­ple major cul­tur­al ideas of its time: one was “the collector’s cab­i­net of curiosi­ties or wun­derkam­mer, which helped reveal a gentleman’s inter­est and knowl­edge of the world around him.” Anoth­er was the con­cept of the per­fect gar­den, which “should, if at all pos­si­ble, rep­re­sent Eden and con­tain as wide a range of plants and oth­er fea­tures as pos­si­ble.”

This lev­el of ambi­tion has always had its costs, to the con­sumer as well as the pro­duc­er: Marsh notes that a 2006 repli­ca of Hor­tus Eystet­ten­sis had a price tag of $10,000, though a more afford­able edi­tion has since been made avail­able from Taschen, the major pub­lish­er most like­ly to under­stand Besler’s uncom­pro­mis­ing aes­thet­ic sen­si­bil­i­ty in the craft of books. But you can also read it for free online at an edi­tion dig­i­tized by Teylers Muse­um in the Nether­lands, which, in a sense, brings von Gem­min­gen’s project full-cir­cle: he sought to encom­pass the whole world in his gar­den, and now his gar­den — in Besler’s rich­ly detailed ren­der­ing — is open to the whole world.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The New Herbal: A Mas­ter­piece of Renais­sance Botan­i­cal Illus­tra­tions Gets Repub­lished in a Beau­ti­ful 900-Page Book

Behold 900+ Mag­nif­i­cent Botan­i­cal Col­lages Cre­at­ed by a 72-Year-Old Wid­ow, Start­ing in 1772

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Walking Fosters Creativity: Stanford Researchers Confirm What Philosophers & Writers Have Always Known

Image via Diego Sevil­la Ruiz

A cer­tain Zen proverb goes some­thing like this: “A five year old can under­stand it, but an 80 year old can­not do it.” The sub­ject of this rid­dle-like say­ing has been described as “mindfulness”—or being absorbed in the moment, free from rou­tine men­tal habits. In many East­ern med­i­ta­tive tra­di­tions, one can achieve such a state by walk­ing just as well as by sit­ting still—and many a poet and teacher has pre­ferred the ambu­la­to­ry method.

This is equal­ly so in the West, where we have an entire school of ancient philosophy—the “peri­patet­ic”—that derives from Aris­to­tle and his con­tem­po­raries’ pen­chant for doing their best work while in leisure­ly motion. Friedrich Niet­zsche, an almost fanat­i­cal walk­er, once wrote, “all tru­ly great thoughts are con­ceived by walk­ing.” Niet­zsche’s moun­tain walks were ath­let­ic, but walk­ing—Frédéric Gros main­tains in his A Phi­los­o­phy of Walk­ing—is not a sport; it is “the best way to go more slow­ly than any oth­er method that has ever been found.”

Gros dis­cuss­es the cen­tral­i­ty of walk­ing in the lives of Niet­zsche, Rim­baud, Kant, Rousseau, and Thore­au. Like­wise, Rebec­ca Sol­nit has pro­filed the essen­tial walks of lit­er­ary fig­ures such as William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, and Gary Sny­der in her book Wan­der­lust, which argues for the neces­si­ty of walk­ing in our own age, when doing so is almost entire­ly unnec­es­sary most of the time. As great walk­ers of the past and present have made abun­dant­ly clear—anecdotally at least—we see a sig­nif­i­cant link between walk­ing and cre­ative think­ing.

More gen­er­al­ly, writes Fer­ris Jabr in The New York­er, “the way we move our bod­ies fur­ther changes the nature of our thoughts, and vice ver­sa.” Apply­ing mod­ern research meth­ods to ancient wis­dom has allowed psy­chol­o­gists to quan­ti­fy the ways in which this hap­pens, and to begin to explain why. Jabr sum­ma­rizes the exper­i­ments of two Stan­ford walk­ing researchers, Mar­i­ly Oppez­zo and her men­tor Daniel Schwartz, who found that almost two hun­dred stu­dents test­ed showed marked­ly height­ened cre­ative abil­i­ties while walk­ing. Walk­ing, Jabr writes in poet­ic terms, works by “set­ting the mind adrift on a froth­ing sea of thought.”

Oppez­zo and Schwartz spec­u­late, “future stud­ies would like­ly deter­mine a com­plex path­way that extends from the phys­i­cal act of walk­ing to phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes to the cog­ni­tive con­trol of imag­i­na­tion.” They rec­og­nize that this dis­cov­ery must also account for such vari­ables as when one walks, and—as so many notable walk­ers have stressed—where. Researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan have tack­led the where ques­tion in a paper titled “The Cog­ni­tive Ben­e­fits of Inter­act­ing with Nature.” Their study, writes Jabr, showed that “stu­dents who ambled through an arbore­tum improved their per­for­mance on a mem­o­ry test more than stu­dents who walked along city streets.”

One won­ders what James Joyce—whose Ulysses is built almost entire­ly on a scaf­fold­ing of walks around Dublin—would make of this. Or Wal­ter Ben­jamin, whose con­cept of the flâneur, an arche­typ­al urban wan­der­er, derives direct­ly from the insights of that most imag­i­na­tive deca­dent poet, Charles Baude­laire. Clas­si­cal walk­ers, Roman­tic walk­ers, Mod­ernist walkers—all rec­og­nized the cre­ative impor­tance of this sim­ple move­ment in time and space, one we work so hard to mas­ter in our first years, and some­times lose in lat­er life if we acquire it. Going for a walk, con­tem­po­rary research confirms—a mun­dane activ­i­ty far too eas­i­ly tak­en for granted—may be one of the most salu­tary means of achiev­ing states of enlight­en­ment, lit­er­ary, philo­soph­i­cal, or oth­er­wise, whether we roam through ancient forests, over the Alps, or to the cor­ner store.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

via The New York­er/Stan­ford News

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why You Do Your Best Think­ing In The Show­er: Cre­ativ­i­ty & the “Incu­ba­tion Peri­od”

The 10 Para­dox­i­cal Traits of Cre­ative Peo­ple, Accord­ing to Psy­chol­o­gist Mihaly Csik­szent­mi­ha­lyi (RIP)

Cre­ativ­i­ty, Not Mon­ey, is the Key to Hap­pi­ness: Dis­cov­er Psy­chol­o­gist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s The­o­ry of “Flow”

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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The Surprising Map of Plants: A New Animation Shows How All the Different Plants Relate to Each Other

Are pinecones relat­ed to pineap­ples? This was the unex­pect­ed ques­tion with which my wife con­front­ed me as we woke up this morn­ing. As luck would have it, Dominic Wal­li­man has giv­en us an enter­tain­ing way to check: just a few days ago he released his Map of Plants, through which he gives a guid­ed tour in the video from his Youtube chan­nel Domain of Sci­ence. Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Wal­li­man’s maps of biol­o­gy, chem­istry, med­i­cine, quan­tum physics, quan­tum com­put­ing, and doom, all of which may seem more com­plex and daunt­ing than the rel­a­tive­ly famil­iar plant king­dom.

But if you com­pare the Map of Plants to Wal­li­man’s pre­vi­ous cre­ations, down­load­able from his Flickr account, you’ll find that it takes quite a dif­fer­ent shape — and, unsur­pris­ing­ly, a more organ­ic one.

It’s a help to any­one’s under­stand­ing that Wal­li­man shot sec­tions of his explana­to­ry video at the Roy­al Botan­ic Gar­dens, Kew, which affords him the abil­i­ty to illus­trate the species involved with not just his draw­ings, but also real-life spec­i­mens, start­ing at the bot­tom of the “evo­lu­tion­ary tree” with hum­ble algae. From there on, he works his way up to land plants and bryophytes (most­ly moss­es), vas­cu­lar plants and ferns, and then seed plants and gym­nosperms (like conifers and Gink­go).

It is in this sec­tion, about six and a half min­utes in, that Wal­li­man comes to pinecones, men­tion­ing — among oth­er notable char­ac­ter­is­tics — that they come in both male and female vari­eties. But he only reach­es pineap­ples six or so min­utes there­after, hav­ing passed through fun­gi, lichens, angiosperms, and flow­ers. Belong­ing to the mono­cots (or mono­cotyle­dons), a group that also includes lilies, orchids, and bananas, the pineap­ple sits just about on the exact oppo­site end of the Map of Plants from the pinecone. The sim­i­lar­i­ty of their names stems from sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry colonists in the new world encoun­ter­ing pineap­ples for the first time and regard­ing them as very large pinecones — an asso­ci­a­tion vis­i­bly refut­ed by Wal­li­man’s map, but for­ev­er pre­served in the lan­guage nev­er­the­less.

Relat­ed con­tent:

1,100 Del­i­cate Draw­ings of Root Sys­tems Reveals the Hid­den World of Plants

The New Herbal: A Mas­ter­piece of Renais­sance Botan­i­cal Illus­tra­tions Gets Repub­lished in a Beau­ti­ful 900-Page Book

Behold 900+ Mag­nif­i­cent Botan­i­cal Col­lages Cre­at­ed by a 72-Year-Old Wid­ow, Start­ing in 1772

Behold an Inter­ac­tive Online Edi­tion of Eliz­a­beth Twining’s Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al Orders of Plants (1868)

The Bio­di­ver­si­ty Her­itage Library Makes 150,000 High-Res Illus­tra­tions of the Nat­ur­al World Free to Down­load

Björk Takes You on a Jour­ney into the Vast King­dom of Mush­rooms with the New Doc­u­men­tary Fun­gi: Web of Life

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Björk Takes You on a Journey into the Vast Kingdom of Mushrooms with the New Documentary Fungi: Web of Life

As far as nar­ra­tors of doc­u­men­taries that offer a hyp­not­i­cal­ly close view of nature, David Atten­bor­ough has long stood unop­posed. But just this year, a rel­a­tive­ly young chal­lenger has emerged: the Ice­landic musi­cian-actress Björk Guð­munds­dót­tir, much bet­ter known by her giv­en name alone. “The liv­ing world is con­nect­ed by a vast king­dom of life we are only just begin­ning to dis­cov­er,” she says, her dis­tinc­tive accent and cadence rec­og­niz­able at once, in the trail­er above for the doc­u­men­tary Fun­gi: Web of Life. And she empha­sizes that fun­gi — known or unknown, preva­lent or at risk of van­ish­ing alto­geth­er — are so much more than mush­rooms.”

Nature doc­u­men­taries exist in part to cor­rect just such care­less con­fla­tions, and oth­er mis­con­cep­tions besides. But Fun­gi: Web of Life has larg­er ambi­tions, fol­low­ing biol­o­gist Mer­lin Shel­drake “as he embarks on a jour­ney through the ancient Tarkine rain­for­est of Tas­ma­nia,” writes Colos­sal’s Kate Moth­es. “Time­lapse cin­e­matog­ra­phy reveals up-close details of rarely seen fun­gal phe­nom­e­na, from the dis­per­sion of spores to vast sub­ter­ranean net­works known fond­ly as the ‘wood wide web.’ ” Shel­drake “vis­its sci­en­tists and design­ers at the fore­front of their fields, dis­cov­er­ing nev­er-before-seen species and learn­ing from myceli­um to cre­ate new, sus­tain­able prod­ucts and envi­ron­men­tal solu­tions.”

The young, fun­gi-ded­i­cat­ed Shel­drake is the kind of pro­tag­o­nist for whom doc­u­men­tar­i­ans hope. And the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Björk in a project like this isn’t as much of a fluke as some may assume, giv­en the pres­ence of a stand­out track called “Fun­gal City” on her most recent album, Fos­so­ra. Its visu­als, writes Ryan Wad­doups at Sur­face, “paint a hyper-vivid por­trait of Björk ful­ly immersed in her mush­room era,” which began when “she returned to her home­town Reyk­javik to record dur­ing lock­down” in the time of COVID. “To dis­tract her­self, she watched nature doc­u­men­taries like Netflix’s Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi, becom­ing enam­ored with its mag­i­cal time lapse footage of mush­rooms slow­ly over­tak­ing their sur­round­ings” — not that she’s the first musi­cian with avant-garde asso­ci­a­tions to devel­op such inter­ests.

Björk’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Fun­gi: Web of Life may also bring to mind that of Ste­vie Won­der in the now-obscure 1979 doc­u­men­tary The Secret Life of Plants. But Won­der pro­vid­ed only music to that film, not nar­ra­tion, while Björk seems to have done the oppo­site. It may be that her songs, which tend to have a cer­tain psy­che­del­ic effect in them­selves, would have dis­tract­ed from the won­ders of the fun­gal realm on dis­play. If you seek admis­sion to that realm, Moth­es notes that “Fun­gi: Web of Life is cur­rent­ly show­ing in five the­aters across North Amer­i­ca, includ­ing IMAX Vic­to­ria at the Roy­al B.C. Muse­um, with numer­ous releas­es sched­uled across the U.S. and the U.K. next year.” You can find a screen­ing at the film’s web site — and why not sched­ule a din­ner of champignons à la provençale there­after?

Bonus: Below you can watch biol­o­gist Mer­lin Shel­drake eat mush­rooms sprout­ing from his book, Entan­gled Life. Enjoy.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Mush­room Time-Laps­es Are Filmed: A Glimpse Into the Pio­neer­ing Time-Lapse Cin­e­matog­ra­phy Behind the Net­flix Doc­u­men­tary Fan­tas­tic Fun­gi

A Young Björk Decon­structs (Phys­i­cal­ly & The­o­ret­i­cal­ly) a Tele­vi­sion in a Delight­ful Retro Video

Death-Cap Mush­rooms are Ter­ri­fy­ing and Unstop­pable: A Wild Ani­ma­tion

Hear 11-Year-Old Björk Sing “I Love to Love”: Her First Record­ed Song (1976)

The Beau­ti­ful­ly Illus­trat­ed Atlas of Mush­rooms: Edi­ble, Sus­pect and Poi­so­nous (1827)

Watch Björk, Age 11, Read a Christ­mas Nativ­i­ty Sto­ry on an Ice­landic TV Spe­cial (1976)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Central Park Was Created Entirely By Design & Not By Nature: An Architect Breaks Down America’s Greatest Urban Park

New York­ers have a vari­ety of say­ings about how they want noth­ing to do with nature, just as nature wants noth­ing to do with them. As a coun­ter­point, one might adduce Cen­tral Park, whose 843 acres of trees, grass, and water have occu­pied the mid­dle of Man­hat­tan for a cen­tu­ry and a half now. Yet that “most famous city park in the world,” as vet­er­an New York archi­tect Michael Wyet­zn­er puts it in the Archi­tec­tur­al Digest video above, is both nature and not. Though Cen­tral Park may feel as if it has exist­ed since time immemo­r­i­al, organ­i­cal­ly thriv­ing in its space long before the tow­ers that sur­round it, few large urban spaces had ever been so delib­er­ate­ly con­ceived.

In the video, Wyet­zn­er (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his expla­na­tions of New York apart­ments, sub­way sta­tions, and bridges, as well as indi­vid­ual works of archi­tec­ture like Penn Sta­tion and the Chrysler Build­ing) shows us sev­er­al spots in Cen­tral Park that reveal the choic­es that went into its design and con­struc­tion.

Many were already present in land­scape archi­tects Fred­er­ick Law Olm­st­ed and Calvert Vaux’s orig­i­nal plan, which they sub­mit­ted to an open design com­pe­ti­tion in 1857. Of all the entries, only theirs refused to let the park be cut apart by trans­verse roads, opt­ing instead to round auto­mo­bile traf­fic under­ground and pre­serve a con­tin­u­ous expe­ri­ence of “nature” for vis­i­tors. (If only more recent urban parks could have kept its exam­ple in mind.)

Cen­tral Park would be wel­come even if it were just a big of expanse of trees, grass, and water. But it also con­tains many dis­tinc­tive built struc­tures, such as the much-pho­tographed mall lead­ing to Bethes­da Ter­race, the “sec­ond-old­est cast-iron bridge in the Unit­ed States,” the dairy that once pro­vid­ed fresh milk to New York’s chil­dren, and Belvedere Cas­tle. That last is built at three-quar­ters scale, “which makes it appear fur­ther away than it actu­al­ly is, and gives it this sort of mag­i­cal fairy-tale qual­i­ty,” the same trick that the builders of Dis­ney­land would employ inten­sive­ly about a cen­tu­ry lat­er. But the pri­or­i­ties of Walt Dis­ney and his col­lab­o­ra­tors dif­fered from the design­ers of Cen­tral Park, who, as Vaux once said, put “nature first, sec­ond, and third — archi­tec­ture after a while.” If a mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial deal could be struck between those two phe­nom­e­na any­where, sure­ly that place is New York City.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Lost Neigh­bor­hood Buried Under New York City’s Cen­tral Park

An Archi­tect Breaks Down the Design of New York City Sub­way Sta­tions, from the Old­est to Newest

An Immer­sive Archi­tec­tur­al Tour of New York City’s Icon­ic Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal

Behold the New York City Street Tree Map: An Inter­ac­tive Map That Cat­a­logues the 700,000 Trees Shad­ing the Streets of New York City

Archi­tect Breaks Down Five of the Most Icon­ic New York City Apart­ments

A Whirl­wind Archi­tec­tur­al Tour of the New York Pub­lic Library — “Hid­den Details” and All

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Open Planet Lets You Download & Use 4,500 Free Videos That Document Nature & Climate Change

Plas­tic pol­lu­tion in the Red Sea

A melt­ing glac­i­er in Ice­land

Trees scorched by a wild­fire in Aus­tralia…

As the effects of cli­mate change become increas­ing­ly dire, we’ve grown accus­tomed to such grim­ly sober­ing visions.

Some look away.

Oth­ers work to height­en aware­ness of these clear and present envi­ron­men­tal dan­gers.

And some strive to imple­ment inno­v­a­tive solu­tions before it’s too late:

Solar pan­els in Cos­ta Rica

Bub­ble bar­ri­ers fil­ter­ing plas­tic refuse from Amsterdam’s canals…

Sus­tain­able agro­forestry in the Ama­zon.

A class­room full of desks con­struct­ed from recy­cled one-time use plas­tics in India…

The cre­ators of Open Plan­et, a soon-to-launch free footage library, hope to sup­port change-mak­ing orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als by sup­ply­ing video that can be edit­ed togeth­er into nar­ra­tives to “inspire opti­mism and action in this deci­sive decade for our plan­et.”

Car­o­line Petit, who pri­or­i­tizes edu­ca­tion and aware­ness in her posi­tion as Deputy Direc­tor for the Unit­ed Nations Region­al Infor­ma­tion Cen­tre for Europe, hails Open Plan­et for sup­ply­ing world­wide free access to high-qual­i­ty, accu­rate footage:

At this halfway point of the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, it is cru­cial to pro­vide all pos­si­ble tools to super­charge the break­throughs need­ed to achieve them. Cap­tur­ing hearts and minds to moti­vate action is one pow­er­ful way to do so.

Enlist­ing some non-humans play­ers to help achieve that end is a sound idea.

Behold a Nepal Gray Lan­gur moth­er and baby hang­ing out in the tree­tops…

Chee­tah cubs play­ful­ly spar­ring with each oth­er in Kenya’s Masai Mara Nation­al Reserve…

A group of Pash­mi­na goats peace­ful­ly graz­ing on wild sea buck­thorn berries on the high plateaus of Ladakh.

Open Plan­et’s 4,500 clip strong col­lec­tion also teems with pho­to­genic birds, insects, and marine life, with more being added all the time.

Stu­dio Sil­ver­back, which is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Carnegie Mel­lon University’s CREATE Lab on this project, cre­at­ed some of the footage specif­i­cal­ly for the plat­form.

The remain­der has been donat­ed by out­side film­mak­ers, broad­cast­ers, and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies who are cred­it­ed in their clips’ con­tent details.

In advance of its 2024 glob­al launch, Open Plan­et has released a most­ly uplift­ing 74-clip spot­light col­lec­tion drawn from over 2000 pieces of footage filmed in India

A look at the plat­for­m’s search­able fil­ter themes reminds us that the pic­ture is not so over­whelm­ing­ly rosy, but also makes a strong case that change is pos­si­ble:






Extreme Weath­er


Human Health

Land Man­age­ment

Nat­ur­al Dis­as­ters





Sus­tain­able Future


Explore Open Planet’s footage library and cre­ate a free account to down­load the clips of your choice here. The videos are free to use for edu­ca­tion­al, envi­ron­men­tal and impact sto­ry­telling.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch 50 Hours of Nature Sound­scapes from the BBC: Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Proven to Ease Stress and Pro­mote Hap­pi­ness & Awe

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

Frank Capra’s Sci­ence Film The Unchained God­dess Warns of Cli­mate Change in 1958

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.