New study shines light on spaces’ benefits to city dwellers
Think about the last time you went to a park: Why did you go there, what did you enjoy, and what purpose did your visit serve?
Today as always, parks make life better: According to the National Recreation and Park Association, three in four Americans live within walking distance to a park, Americans on average visit their local park more than twice a month, and nine in 10 Americans agree that parks are an important public service. But exactly how and why public parks improve our lives is the subject of a new international study out of Switzerland’s University of Geneva (UNIGE).
A team of a dozen researchers across the world—including one from Saint Mary’s College of California in Moraga—looked at parks in four Asian mega-cities to see if they could more scientifically calculate how people felt about their open spaces, why they value them, and what motivates them to visit. Researchers fanned out to parks in Chennai (India), Singapore, Manila (Philippines), and Shanghai (China). Instead of asking visitors open-ended questions, the researchers focused on nine documented public-service sociological needs developed by one of the study’s co-authors.
“There are many theories that try to define human well-being,” said Dr. Marlyne Sahakian, a UNIGE sociology professor and the study’s lead author. “Instead of using subjective notions such as happiness, we used a list of nine ‘protected needs’ that has recently been developed by colleagues from the [Switzerland] University of Basel. These needs correspond to what society can offer the population through the public sector.”
The nine “protected needs” are:
- The availability of goods that satisfy vital needs.
- Turning your own idea of everyday life into reality.
- Living in a pleasant environment.
- Growing as a person.
- Doing activities that you value.
- Being part of a community.
- Taking part in decisions about the future of society.
- Being protected by society.
While respondents touched on the wide variety of these points, three of the identified needs—living in a pleasant environment, growing as a person, and being part of a community—were the most frequent responses from park users, helping researchers target how public parks make a specific difference in people’s lives.
“This has implications for city planning measures designed to ensure everyone’s sustainable well-being for today and tomorrow,” said Sahakian.
What needs do you meet by enjoying a public park? And did you know licensed California professionals create them? Licensees of the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Landscape Architects Technical Committee design beautiful and environmentally responsible parks and outdoor spaces of campuses, recreational facilities, businesses, private homes, and more, and landscape-specialty licensees of the Contractors State License Board construct, maintain, repair, and install landscape designs and elements. For more information about landscape architects, visit www.latc.ca.gov; for information about landscape contractors, visit www.cslb.ca.gov; to check a professional’s license, visit search.dca.ca.gov.