Shades of Green: Measuring the Ecology of Urban Green Space in the Context of Human Health and Well-Being

Topics: Ecology, Landscape, Urban studies and planning Pages: 32 (9728 words) Published: April 9, 2013
Shades of Green: Measuring the Ecology of Urban Green Space in the Context of Human Health and Well-Being Anna Jorgensen and Paul H. Gobster


In this paper we review and analyze the recent research literature on urban green space and human health and well-being, with an emphasis on studies that attempt to measure biodiversity and other green space concepts relevant to urban ecological restoration. We first conduct a broad scale assessment of the literature to identify typologies of urban green space and human health and well-being measures, and use a research mapping exercise to detect research priorities and gaps. We then provide a more in-depth assessment of selected studies that use diverse and innovative approaches to measuring the more ecological aspects of urban green space and we evaluate the utility of these approaches in developing urban restoration principles and practices that are responsive to both human and ecological values. KEYWORDS

biodiversity, green infrastructure, proxy measures, research mapping, scenario manipulation, urban ecological restoration

Western ideas about the benefits of nature to human health and wellbeing go back at least two centuries, but until the emergence of landscape perception and assessment research in the 1960s these benefits were considered too subjective to measure. Kaplan et al. (1972) were among the first to measure people’s preferences for natural over urban scenes, and before long investigators were developing models to predict green space preferences based upon the biophysical, psychological, and artistic properties of vegetation and other landscape elements (Daniel 2001). These included psycho-evolutionary models that suggested that humans prefer savanna-like landscapes characterized by open glades with smooth ground texture, framed by clumps of mature trees (e.g., Ulrich 1986), and that vegetation types associated with more biodiverse landscapes such as rough ground cover, woodland edge, or scrub were generally lower in preference (Parsons 1995). Nassauer’s (1995) work, suggesting that preferences for “messy ecosystems” could be enhanced by placing landscapes within “orderly frames,” Nature and Culture 5(3), Winter 2010: 338–363 © Berghahn Journals doi:10.3167/nc.2010.050307


helped to move the discussion on beyond the relative merits of scenic as opposed to ecological aesthetics. Research on urban green spaces and human health and wellbeing has steadily expanded beyond its original focus on landscape preference, and social scientists and public health researchers have been studying how various aspects of human health and well-being are affected by exposure to green spaces (e.g., Bell et al. 2008; Maller et al. 2002; Tzoulas et al. 2007). While the scope of this research has been diverse, the main focus has been on the human side of the equation, to understand the benefits and outcomes that green space has for people measured at psychological, social, and physiological levels of concern. The green side of the equation—the measurement of green space qualities and characteristics—has sometimes also been an important part of this work, but many questions remain about the nature of green space as it relates to human health and well-being (Frumkin 2001, 2006; Velarde et al. 2007). What are the key green space characteristics that generate desired health and well-being outcomes? Do different characteristics of “green” play differential roles with respect to various human benefits? How can an enhanced understanding of these characteristics and their beneficial properties be integrated with other contemporary green space agendas including ecological restoration and the creation of multifunctional green infrastructure? In this paper we take a first step in addressing these questions by examining how researchers have measured predominantly urban green space in the context of human health and well-being with...
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