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Experts’ versus laypersons’ perception of urban cultural ecosystem services


Experts focus on practical value of, laypersons on enjoyment and emotional connection to, urban green space

Researchers in Germany examined differing perceptions of urban cultural ecosystem services (CES) as they apply to urban green space management. CES are the nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These benefits include spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection, recreation, and aesthetic experiences.

Berlin, the site of this research, has more than 45% of its area covered by green and recreational areas. Based on its greenness and its high and diverse population, Berlin was considered an appropriate location to study different needs and wishes for how green space might be used.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with three different groups to obtain their perceptions about how green space should be used in Berlin. A total of 41 individuals were interviewed – nine professionals from planning and decision-making positions with the city of Berlin; ten active professionals with organizations concerned with how greenspace is used in the community; and twenty-two laypersons. Interviewees in the first two groups (the “expert” groups) were asked to share their professional views (versus personal evaluations) on urban green space utilization. The laypersons interviewed were asked to focus on personal benefits associated with green space.

A concern frequently addressed by interviewees was alienation from nature, especially for children. They spoke about the need for engaging people — especially the younger generation — in activities outside in nature. Contact with nature and using all the senses in experiencing nature were noted as important factors in promoting awareness of nature and sustainability.

There were some differences and some similarities between laypersons’ and experts’ understanding of urban CES. For similarities, both experts and laypersons saw recreational values from nature as the most important benefit. Differences included laypersons citing “aesthetic values of nature” second most often, while only 5% of all experts’ statements noted this as a value. Interviewees in the “expert” groups tended to emphasize group-specific needs and uses of nature more so than the interviewed laypersons did. Additionally, “experts” emphasized benefits associated with “human interactions” while laypersons emphasized benefits associated with “emotional connections to nature.” The experts’ perceptions of nature were generally more practical and management-centered, while laypersons tended to focus on the enjoyment of nature.

The results of this study indicate that laypersons and experts may not share a common understanding about how to use urban green space. Based on these findings, the authors call for a recognition of differing perceptions in making decisions and setting goals for the management of urban green.


Riechers, M., Noack, E.M., Tscharntke, T., (2016). Experts’ versus laypersons’ perception of urban cultural ecosystem services. Urban Ecosystems, 1-13.


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