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Variation in experiences of nature across gradients of tree cover in compact and sprawling cities


For city residents, connectedness to nature is stronger in greener neighborhoods

This study addresses concerns relating to urbanization and the “extinction of experience” with the natural world. “Extinction of experience” is defined in terms of two major components: (1) the physical decline in the quality and quantity of nature in cities and (2) changes in human behavior associated with an urban lifestyle often with reduced engagement with nature.

The aim of this study was to explore possible connections between city dwellers’ experience and orientation towards nature and the availability of nature in their urban environment. The study was conducted in two cities with contrasting urban designs: Brisbane, Australia with a sprawling design and Cranfield Triangle, U.K. consisting of three compact urban centers. Brisbane has considerable amounts of public green space distributed throughout the city. Cranfield Triangle is more densely populated and is surrounded by open countryside. The residential lot sizes in Cranfield Triangle are considerably smaller than the lot sizes in Brisbane.

Study participants from both cities completed an online urban lifestyle survey. Participants provided socio-demographic information as age, gender, and income, respondents as well as a measure of their orientation to nature based on the Nature Relatedness scale which addresses one’s cognitive, affective, and experiential relationship with the natural world. For each respondent, the frequency, duration, and intensity of “nature dose” were calculated. Frequency and duration measures were based on self-reported access and use of private gardens and public green space. Intensity measures were based on tree cover around the home. Regression analyses focused on examining the association between neighborhood tree cover intensity and the frequency and duration of nature exposure within private gardens and in public green spaces.

Lower levels of neighborhood tree cover were associated with a fewer visits to private and public green spaces; a similar pattern was found for the duration of time spent in private and public green spaces for Brisbane. Residents of both locales demonstrated similar levels of nature relatedness, and there was a weak but positive association between tree cover and Nature Relatedness. The overall conclusion offered by the researchers is that nearby green space is important for providing daily experiences with nature. Also noted is the fact that neither city design (sprawling or more compact) was immune from extinction of experience from nature. These findings provide support for providing more trees and other types of vegetation to nature-poor neighborhoods to promote connectedness to nature.


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.


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