Connection to nature in cities

Shanahan, D.F., Cox, D.T.C, Fuller, R.A., Hancock, S., Lin, B.B., Anderson, K., Bush, R. & Gaston, K.J. (2017) Variation in experiences of nature across gradients of tree cover in compact and sprawling cities. Landscape and Urban Planning 157, 231-238. (Image from Shutterstock) shutterstock_309919712

Urban environments are expanding globally, and by 2050 nearly 70% of the world’s population will live in towns and cities, where opportunities to experience nature are more limited than in rural areas. This transition could have important implications for health and wellbeing given the diversity of benefits that nature delivers. Despite these issues, there is a lack of information on whether or how the experience of nature changes as green space becomes less available. We explore this question for residents of two case study cities of varying urban designs, sprawling (Brisbane, Australia) and compact (three English towns, U.K). Second, we examine how people’s feelings of connection to nature (measured using the Nature Relatedness scale) vary across this same gradient of nature availability. Despite climatic and cultural differences we found substantial similarities between the two locations. Lower levels of neighbourhood tree cover were associated with a reduced frequency of visits to private and public green spaces, and a similar pattern was found for the duration of time spent in private and public green spaces for Brisbane. Residents of both urban areas showed similar levels of nature relatedness, and there was a weak but positive association between tree cover and Nature Relatedness. These results suggest that regardless of the style of urban design, maintaining the availability of nature close to home is a critical step to protect people’s experiences of nature and their desire to seek out those experiences.