Communing through nature in a man-made mecca

Words and visuals: Amber marsh

My friend Danielle and I had just arrived in Portillo, Chile a couple of hours earlier. We were adjusting to an altitude of 9,450ft after coming in from Santiago, situated at a mere 1,870ft. We had made our way there via Los Caracoles Pass, one of the craziest roads I had ever driven. The man driving us there passed every bus, car, semi on every blind corner. Needless to say, after a drive like that, the lodge was a welcoming sight.

Portillo is set in the Andes mountains and is the place to go for snowboarding in the summer. There were quite a few people traveling to Portillo from the US and Canada, and a lot of young Chileans up for weekend adventures. Also visiting was Niki Choo, a Guyanese Canadian traveling all over South America as a solo female backpacker. Niki, Danielle and I became friends quickly, and have since remained in contact.

Since I met Niki, she’s gotten an MBA and a Masters in Human Development and Psychology. She’s worked as a white water rafting guide and as a financial analyst. In her downtime, she’s a triathlon running machine. She’s also interested in creating more well-rounded humans, which is part of what landed her in San Francisco, co-founding a startup called Campsyte.

Originally, Campyste was a modular office space built with shipping containers in an otherwise vacant San Francisco parking lot. Zoning regulations meant they ultimately had to remove the shipping containers, so Campsyte was suddenly sitting on an empty lot. Which left them wondering: what can we do with this space?

From her studies, Niki knew that access to nature and opportunities for social interaction are two key elements of our overall well-being. Unfortunately, though, the way we orient cities doesn’t always prioritize access to nature. Many cities have one large park, as opposed to many smaller, more dispersed parks, which reduces the convenience of spending time in nature for those who do not live close by. Further, with urbanization and the influx of young professionals moving to cities, socializing often takes place indoors, at bars and restaurants.

But perhaps Campsyte could help fix some of these problems. What would it mean to provide opportunities for connecting with each other and with nature within the urban environment?

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These ideas – of trying to inspire people to connect outdoors, the challenges of limited access to green space and today’s method of socialization – culminated in the creation of the Campsyte ‘Outcamp’. Originally conceived of as an outdoor working space, it was built on the company’s empty lot using retro-styled campers. The space now includes a Tentsile tent – an off-the-ground tent, kind of like a hammock – a camp kitchen for brewing your own coffee, a firepit, trees, twinkle lights, sail sheets, a gorgeous mural and outdoor tables. Snacks, Kombucha, cold brew and beers complete the experience, allowing it to appeal to social-oriented communities living in and moving to the city.

As Outcamp got off the ground, the Campsyte team realized that people really loved the space and just wanted to hang out there. People were telling their friends about it and word about the space was spreading organically. So, Campsyte started leasing out the space for events, meetings, and social gatherings. It has since become much more than a workspace: it’s a place where people can relax, connect and enjoy being outside.

Looking forward, Campsyte hopes to build on the success of Outcamp by offering a marketplace of peer-to-peer rentals for outdoor space, in San Francisco and beyond. By allowing people to rent each other’s green spaces in cities, they hope to make nature more accessible, closer to home.

After all, as Niki points out, “spending more time in nature allows us to do better, and make better decisions about our world.” Making nature more accessible and building happier cities is what Campsyte is all about.

Amber Marsh is a graphic designer with a specialization in outdoor industries. As a designer, she is focused on connecting people with nature, each other, and bringing people together through the outdoors by making nature a more inclusive and welcoming place for all to benefit.

Find out more about Campsyte at https://www.campsyte.com/