Connecting with Nature in our Built Up Spaces

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”

John Muir

The feeling of wellbeing when we go out for a walk, sit in the garden or if we are more active – climb a mountain, sail on the seas – is immeasurable. But researchers have tried to do just that to help town planners and other policy makers realise the importance of nature in our daily lives. Graduate student Lam Huynh from the Graduate Program in Sustainability Science at the University of Tokyo and team conducted a systematic literature review of 301 academic articles exploring the connections between nature and human well-being. 

They were looking for patterns, links which can be identified in the hundreds of diverse studies they looked at.

Lam Huynh explained:

“We identified 227 unique linkages between a single CES (such as recreation or aesthetic value) and a single constituent of human well-being (such as connectedness, spirituality, or health). We knew that there are many linkages, but we were surprised to find quite so many of them. “Then, through further critical reading, we could identify major commonalities.”

As well as the positive influences found, the researchers also discovered negative ones, such as annoyance at the noise of wildlife or when an ecosystem is being destroyed by human action. The highest positive contributions were to both mental and physical health, which were generated mainly through recreation, tourism and aesthetic value. The researchers acknowledge that there may be links and connections they have missed

Alexandros Gasparatos, associate professor at the Institute for Future Initiatives (IFI) at the University of Tokyo, said:

“We hypothesize that missing pathways and mechanisms could be present in ecosystem-dependent communities, and especially traditional and Indigenous communities, considering their very unique relations with nature.”

And Huynh continued:

“Another of the knowledge gaps we identified is that the existing literature on these nonmaterial dimensions of human-nature relationships mainly focuses on the well-being of individuals rather than on collective (community) well-being. This significant gap hinders our capacity to identify possible synergies and trade-offs in ecosystem management research and practice.”

Of all the pathways linking a single cultural ecosystem service to a single constituent of well-being captured from the academic literature, 86.3% represented positive contributions compared to just 11.7% negative contributions. Image credit: ©2022 Nicola Burghall

The study was funded by Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research A (22H00567) from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). With additional funding the team will now look at the provision of natural spaces to human well-being in the urban areas of Tokyo.

Autumn in Linlithgow image credit Noel Donaldson

The great Scottish town planner –  biologist, sociologist, conservationist, educationist, and ecologist – Patrick Geddes (1854 – 1932) said:

‘How many people think twice about a leaf? Yet the leaf is the chief product and phenomenon of Life: this is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves.’

In town planning he believed that access to natural spaces was essential for our well being and for the appearance of those spaces. When will we learn to take heed of the power of nature to improve all our lives ?

You can learn more about Patrick Geddes here in the National Library of Scotland: Patrick Geddes

Click on this link to access the article: Linking the nonmaterial dimensions of human-nature relations and human well-being through cultural ecosystem services

Image credit Rosie Hopkins

2 replies »

  1. What a worthwhile piece of research noting the importance of noticing. The Patrick Geddes quote is a joy – simple wisdom!

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