Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Natural Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

Abstract

Recognition that city-dwelling people can benefit from contact with nature is not new. The urban open air movement of the 19th century advised retention of greenways and development of urban parks and gardens to stop disease spread through lack of fresh air, poor sanitation and overcrowding. Now, in the early 21st century, urban green spaces are under threat from inner city infill projects and clearing of remnant vegetation to accommodate suburban sprawl.

While much literature discusses positive health benefits of contact with nature, few studies explore explicit pathways between urban green space and health, despite mounting concern that disassociation between people and nature in urban communities may be detrimental to physical and mental health. This study explored how people’s attitudes toward nature might influence perceptions of nearby green spaces and feelings of attachment to living in their neighbourhood, and in turn, whether people with positive attitudes towards nature and positive perceptions of nearby green space would report better health.

A mixed method research design was adopted in this study. Exploration of research questions required objective measurement of relationships between different aspects of health and nature, and interpretation of the subjective meanings people attach to those relationships. Study design involved distribution of a cross-sectional survey to residents in four neighbourhoods in Perth, Western Australia with respondents invited to participate in a semi-structured interview. Neighbourhoods were selected based on location (either an inner or outer suburban area), age of neighbourhood (established or new), diversity of nearby green space, and socio-demographic characteristics. Data from 440 surveys and 25 interviews were analysed.

Attitudes towards urban nature were diverse and it was clear that feelings about natural environments strongly influenced preference and perceptions of useable green spaces, and for some people, their choice of neighbourhood. In essence, people who enjoyed spending time in nature were more inclined to seek green spaces within their neighbourhood environment that provided complexity and opportunities for exploration or escape. Those who professed little connection to nature and saw bushland areas as untidy, uninviting or unsafe, tended to be more concerned about aesthetic and functional aspects of green space design and preferred to visit ‘civilised’ parks and gardens with manicured lawns, formal paths and playgrounds.

Green spaces were important sites for physical activity, relaxation and social interaction and proximity to useable green space was a significant factor in predicting better selfreported health. In addition, neighbourhoods with trees and greenways were described as healthier places to live. People who lived in close proximity to parks and green spaces where social interaction regularly occurred, who reported that diverse green spaces and bushland areas were being retained in their neighbourhood, who cared about environmental issues and were interested in being involved in conservation activities, were more likely to report better physical function, general health, mental health and feelings of vitality. People who regularly visited nearby green spaces described feeling happier and more satisfied with living in their neighbourhood.

Encouraging people to regularly visit and become actively involved in caring for local nature reserves and parklands can play an important role in health promotion and preventive health strategies. Conservation, useability and management of diverse green spaces must be considered as a critical element of urban planning. This will only occur with continuing recognition of the health benefits that can be achieved by retaining diverse, quality green spaces within suburban neighbourhoods.

LCSH Subject Headings

Urban parks -- Social aspects -- Western Australia

City planning -- Health aspects -- Western Australia

Parks -- Western Australia – Wanneroo

Parks -- Western Australia -- Subiaco

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