Access to nature is growing harder for urban folks to find, with relatively wild places few and far between.
Now, researchers with the University of Washington, in Seattle, have found that not all forms of nature equally benefit human well-being.
Wildness is especially important for both physical and mental health, the new study finds.
“It was clear from our results that different kinds of nature can have different effects on people,” said lead author Elizabeth Lev, a graduate student in the UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. “The wilder areas in an urban park seem to be affording more benefits to people—and their most meaningful interactions depended on those relatively wild features.”
The research team focused on Discovery Park, a 500-acre park that is a 20-minute drive from downtown Seattle.
The park’s advisory board asked the study team to pinpoint the most important elements of a park visit.
Senior study author Peter Kahn said, “We looked at Discovery Park, but this is about the entire planet.”
Kahn is a UW professor of environmental and forest sciences and psychology.
“Everywhere, development is chipping away at wild areas. Humanity has caused so much destruction and there’s no stopping it—unless we stop,” he said in a university news release. “We’re trying to show that if you’re going to develop an area, you at least need to understand the human costs.”
For the study, hundreds of park-goers were asked to provide a written summary about a meaningful interaction with nature experienced at the park.
The qualitative data was then coded into different categories.
After analyzing submissions from 320 participants, the researchers discovered a pattern. Most notably, interactions including wildlife encounters, walking along a water’s edge or gazing at a scenic view were most important.
“We’re losing the language of interaction with nature and as we do, we also lose the cultural practice of these deep forms of interaction with nature, the wellsprings of human existence,” Kahn said.
The study was published recently in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Cities.