City forest or cherry tomatoes on the balcony? In the city, not all “types” of nature are created equal

If heat waves, pollution peaks and successive confinements help to make us jointly aware of the importance of nature – and in particular the plants – for the city’s residents, the question of the “nature types” that exist in the city. city ​​and their effects have rarely been explored.

Does growing cherry tomato plants on the balcony induce the same benefits in terms of well-being as a walk in a public garden? Will this walk have effects similar to those of a walk in the woods?

Well-being and nature in the city

In September 2020, we conducted a questionnaire survey of a representative sample – in terms of age, gender, income level and place of residence – of 2,500 people over the age of 15 living in France in the high to medium density urban area.

One of the aims of the study was to test a model of the influence of nature on the well – being of urban dwellers near the place of residence. Following on from the WHO, we adopted a holistic view of well-being as a quality of life and used the organization’s questionnaire to measure it.

From this perspective, well-being is defined on the basis of a number of dimensions, including in particular the emotional and cognitive feeling, but also the physical – not feeling pain, feeling full of energy for example – and the social feeling of person, as well as their assessment of quality of their habitat and the level of resources – especially in economic, temporal and informative terms – available to them.

The questionnaire consisted of 88 questions, and the questionnaire successively asked the respondent about his well-being over the past week, the quality and the “type” of nature closest to his residence – the balcony decorated with flowers or a kitchen garden. , to the forest. – on its frequency of exposure to different types of nature – from the sight of natural elements to the showing of a film integrating such elements – and its regularity in more or less intense activities – from nap on the run – in nature, – and this always during the last week.

What nature at the bottom of your home?

Although the influence of the respondents’ income, age and state of health – factors that are known to have a decisive influence on well-being – is taken into account – structural equation modeling shows a connection from the perceived characteristics of nature near the place of residence to well-being of city dwellers.

The natural environment, whether it is a planted promenade, a public garden or a forest – when it is assessed as safe, aesthetic, well-kept, clean and equipped with adapted facilities – contributes to a positive assessment of the living environment. , but also of the physical health and the “resources” available.

By promoting so-called soft or contemplative physical activities – observing nature, strolling, resting, meeting friends, taking the dog out, for example – the quality of these spaces also indirectly contributes to mental well-being by reducing stress and promoting social contacts and the joy of living.

An obvious fact that deserves to be remembered

Published in Health & Place, these findings, which confirm a 2016 WHO report on the health of the city’s residents, may seem obvious: yes, a well-maintained, safe and comfortable-looking park is much more beneficial to well-being. to be nothing more than a wasteland left for dandelions and plastic waste.

Those who cycle from one city to another, however, will note that such a reminder is probably not useless, as it is understood, moreover, that this maintenance has a cost and can therefore lag behind with other much more urgent priorities.

This first result regarding the importance of natural characteristics close to the place of residence points to another result, this less expected one: no, not all natures are created equal.

City forest or cherry tomatoes on the balcony?

Respondents’ responses to the “types” of nature present near their residence in the city revealed three types of environment: a “near” nature, the terrace, the balcony decorated with flowers, or a kitchen garden or roof garden; a “domesticated” nature, including city parks, public gardens, playgrounds; and finally another slightly or less “domesticated”, that of forests, woods, meadows or roadside brush.

City parks do not exhibit the same beneficial effects on mental well-being as forests, forests, meadows or the presence of a green balcony. Photo: Ekaterina Pokrovsky / Shutterstock.

Admittedly, these three environments promote exposure to nature, in itself a factor of well-being; but the contribution of parks and gardens seems much more marginal than nearby or less domesticated nature. Forests, forests and meadows, as the presence of a balcony or terrace decorated with plants, encourage gentle and contemplative activities in or with this nature and thus contribute to mental well-being.

This phenomenon has not been observed with such a large size for parks, gardens and play areas in the city. Without being absent, these restorative effects in these spaces are undoubtedly dampened by the high number of visitors that they benefit from.

With the limit attached to the sample itself – if you are under 15, access to parks and gardens in the city undoubtedly fully contributes to your well-being – these conclusions encourage both urban projects to forest… rather than growing cherry tomatoes on your balcony, if you are so lucky to have one.

About the authors:
Florence Allard-Poetry. University Professor of Management Science, Vice President of the Sciences-Society, Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne University (UPEC).
Justine Massu. Doctor of Organizational Psychology, Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne University (UPEC).
Lorena Bezerra de Souza Matos. Lecturer in Management Science, Gustave Eiffel University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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