Nature access versus nature connection

Urban environments shape and define us more and more. From a past embedded in the natural world, our innate design skills, driven by an imaginative mind, have allowed us to settle and farm the land. Then, further advances saw people leave the fields and villages for a contrasting life in towns and cities where most of us now live. This growing disconnection from nature can be linked to the wider state of nature and research has also shown a health gap between people living in rural and urban locations. It has been suggested that the reason for this difference is down to environmental factors such as pollution and unhealthy behaviours. However, recent studies have found a strong link between health and the availability and access to green spaces.

It seems that access to more urban parks is a priority. However, a recent research paper by Lin and colleagues suggests that there’s more to the story. They note that most research focuses on the availability of, and access to, green spaces. The more green space there is, the easier it is to get to, the more it will be used. However, their work found an important factor to be nature connectedness, rather than simply the amount of green space available.  People who feel connected with nature seek out natural places. Therefore, they suggest that rather than urban planners focussing solely on the availability and amount of green space, there is a need to also consider residents connection to nature. For nature to be relevant, urban dwellers need information about nature and activities to foster engagement with it – but more work is needed to understand how best to increase a connection to nature, especially in an urban environment away from wild landscapes. For those tied to urban living, the local park is often the most accessible place to renew or establish a relationship with nature, for even the most modest green space has wilderness in each tree and each leaf untouched by human activity – journeys of discovery are not just to wild landscapes, but finding wilderness in simple places close to home.

Emerging oak leaves

An Emerging Wilderness of Oak

To sum up, urban parks and greater space for nature makes sense. However, for our well-being and for the sake of nature, there is also a need to facilitate a connection to the everyday urban nature we already have, as global conservation is built upon the attitudes of increasingly urban dwellers.

Lin BB, Fuller RA, Bush R, Gaston KJ, Shanahan DF (2014) Opportunity or Orientation? Who Uses Urban Parks and Why. PLoS ONE 9(1): e87422. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087422

Also see:

Dunn, R. R., Gavin, M. C., Sanchez, M. C., & Solomon, J. N. (2006). The pigeon paradox: dependence of global conservation on urban nature. Conservation Biology, 20(6), 1814-1816.


About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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