Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature


Friday, December 15th, 2017

Seminar: Humans in a green city: who notices, who connects, who feels a health benefit?


Dr Jo Birch (IWUN Project) and Dr Clare Rishbeth (IWUN Project)

This talk presents early findings from the IWUN project – Improving Wellbeing Through Urban Nature.  As one of four research strands within the project, our approach is a qualitative focus on cultures and values of urban nature and wellbeing.  Whilst a body of statistical evidence exists and continues to be generated around urban environments’ influences on human health, there is a need to address questions of what influences, which people and in what ways?  Our position in using qualitative research sits S 2 Health in Place paper JB CR Dec 2017 FINAL  alongside an increasing move to expand the range of evidence used to inform what works in health (Meyrick 2006; Jones 2007; Greenhalgh 2016).  Our work uses story-based research that is viewed as increasingly beneficial: not only in exploring detail and nuances of the health benefit of urban nature but also in growing empathy and understanding for those who involved in environments health and social care.

The data generated from our research strand comes from story-based interviews and arts workshops with Sheffield residents from diverse backgrounds (especially differentiated by age, gender, culture and ethnicity, residential location and mental health histories) to explore nature and wellbeing relationships.

Importantly, we are finding that people who live in cities are clearly using not only spaces but experiences of nature to help their sense of mental wellbeing.   People who feel a health benefit are from different socioeconomic areas of the city, from different ethnic and cultural groups and are of different ages.    People who tell fewer stories of nature connection are those who live in more deprived urban areas and those who had little outdoor time when younger. We find green space can provide mental health benefits for urban residents, yet it is a mix of qualities of those spaces, personal history as well as other forms of nature connection and green infrastructure that work.   Different kinds of nature noticing and connection are expressed among different age groups, with implications for how spaces and experiences may shape better health outcomes across the life course.  So far, we have personal stories from 45 people that illustrate qualities of connection and, importantly, disconnection from nature as well as clearly articulated use of nature for personal mental health benefit.

These stories reveal important messages for policy making decisions and practice to be carried out in a cross-sector approach among those involved in a city’s infrastructure: health, social care environment, planning, education as well as charitable organisations.

Download the slides:  HERE