Every Day is Earth Day – Navigating the New Realities

By Peiwen Yu


When one door closes, a window opens. The stillness of the world during pandemic shutdown offers a magical moment of pause. When the world slows down, we have the time and brain bandwidth to reflect, explore, reconnect, and reevaluate some of the important things in life and work.

The coronavirus pandemic has upended our lives. Under the new reality, we shelter at home and practice social distancing to flatten the curve of the outbreak. Authorities around the world implemented lockdown measures that have brought much of global economic activity to a halt. The side effect of such slowdown of human activity created a greener reality – the skies are clearing of pollution, wildlife is returning to newly clear waters, a host of flights have been scrapped and crude oil is so worthless that the industry would have to pay you to take it off their hands. In April, we welcomed the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, wishing we are taking the steps toward a greener future, and it wasn’t the catastrophic health crisis that actually improved the environment this month.  

Images: Coronavirus pandemic leading to a huge drop in air pollution (sources: the guardian and gardendrum.com)

Since started working from home in March, my daily routine started to involve regular digital detox needed by the long hours of video conference and online collaboration. Such change made me reconnect with my life differently, by seeking nourishing experience in preserving human health and happiness. Collectively, we can also exercise our responsibility to act for environmental health. We can use this solitary time to reassess our current habits and develop new ones that are better for ourselves and the planet. Inspired to do my bit, I listed some achievable habits below.

  • Walk, run or hike the Earth
  • Stay in touch with the Earth by gardening
  • Enjoy the meditative qualities of nature
  • Go plant-based and cook at home
  • Switch to the green power provider
  • Do artwork to capture the exquisite beauty of the everyday world

In featuring some healthy activities a group of Houston-based designers took on in the Earth Day month, we hope to find a path forward, keeping sustainable habits that will stick, even after our global health crisis subsides. Time to get creative!

During the quarantine time, freelance designer and landscape architect Cindy Tong transformed her new home’s garden courtyard with flowers, creating a tranquil and beautiful corner of her living space, and attracting wildlife! Urban community and patio gardens in Houston has always been a lush scene. As Houstonian’s attitude change towards urban life, Kinder Institute’s research data indicate that more than 40% of residents prefer the mixed-use option as supposed to a “single-family” residential area EVEN in the farthest parts of the metro region. If the density is a steady trend for the future, pockets of the urban garden and green space will captivate a network of microenvironments with green, healing, and habitat benefits, being able to produce fruits and vegetables for the kitchen.

Images: Cindy’s home garden design sketch and installation (sources: Cindy Tong)

When stuck in my house working remotely, I stocked up watercolor papers and started painting again. The quarantine time new social reality has largely reduced face to face interaction. Gatherings at workplaces, bars, restaurants, theaters, and museums are fading out from our memories and replaced by events held on Zoom or over video chats. That’s a lot of activities for the internet!  I don’t know if the overwhelming amount of virtual socializing will salvage our anxiety, or make it worse. I took 15 minutes each day to paint a lovely scene with ink and watercolor while I had to clear my head after a long day of working and conference calls. They represent the places I discovered in my neighborhood during the lockdown time – gardens, landscape, icehouse, and urban streets, where I typically would walk by without paying attention and appreciating their beauty before the world has slowed down. I called the painting series “Color of the Shadows” – a reconnection with my early year watercolor practice and the idea of always finding colors in seemingly dark shadows. I haven’t had time to keep up such a painting habit for over 10 years! The painting experience discovering rich color tones in dark shadows allowed me to explore the profound senses of the everyday still life with emotion and personal impression.

Images: left: the doorway of a closed bar; right: the main street in front of my office building becoming a quiet corridor without much activities


Images: left: my neighborhood mini-library “be a book nut”; right: the quiet West Alabama Ice House during shut down

Images: left: one of the quiet coffee shops without customer; right: one of the empty restaurants that closed their dining rooms

Images: quiet front doors of residences in my neighborhood

Images: a pocket prairies garden nearby Menil Collection

Time became your friend when the pandemic interruption shut down the world for a few months, likely to follow by a shifted reality of social, work, business, economy, and even political relationships in the next few years. Such a pause of constantly reacting to a busy world without necessarily making a connection to the most important things can do us a whole lot of good – to think and strategize for the future of individuals and the planet. Will the online steaming be replaced by deep reading? Will our decisions on health and happiness pursuits be wiser? Will the world’s superpowers finding a smarter way of collaboration and move forward to construct a peaceful future together? Will more world cultural landmarks be well preserved and integrated into our living experiences? Technology has been advanced so fast to the extent that humanity falls behind.  I hope the precious stillness we found in the crisis propels us to move forward, finding nourishment and momentum.

Watercolor paintings in the article by Peiwen Yu

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