Ecological and individual factors drive variation in the psychological outcomes of city park users

Ashlea Hunter

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    Abstract

    Contact with urban greenspaces (UGSs) may overcome the stressors of urban living through supporting beneficial psychological outcomes to UGS users (e.g. affective wellbeing). However, UGSs are not homogeneous, varying in social and ecological qualities (i.e., characteristics) like species diversity and governance. Moreover, UGS users are also varied. To inform evidence-based planning, design and management of UGS ecology that supports beneficial psychological outcomes to users, it is pivotal to determine factors that drive variation across specific psychological outcome metrics.
    Thirty city parks (Sydney, Australia) were selected for social and ecological sampling (Spring, 2013). Field sampling of park plant and bird assemblages, and a desktop study, were used to collect information on the ecological characteristics of parks (e.g. species diversity). In situ social surveys with n = 813 park users collected information on individual factors, including n = 13 psychological outcome metrics relating to park visits, socio-demographics, park use, perceived levels of park plant/bird species richness, and subjective wellbeing.
    Using a social-ecological systems theoretical framework, I took a multidisciplinary, multi-method approach to determine whether the type and strength of psychological outcomes reported by park users were related to variables characterising park ecology and/or individual factors characterising park users.
    Parks varied in ecological complexity from low to high, resembling habitats as varied as football fields to rainforests. Park users’ psychological outcomes also varied substantially across parks. Individual and/or ecological factors with the strongest explanatory power varied across psychological outcome metrics. Perceived and sampled measures of plant and bird species richness generally corresponded, suggesting that psychological outcomes reported by park users could be associated with ecologically sampled levels of park species diversity. Indeed, park users’ perceived levels of species diversity were consistently positively associated with park users reporting more beneficial psychological outcomes. Hence, when managing park plant and bird assemblages, I found strong support for aligning biodiversity conservation with supporting more beneficial psychological outcomes to park users. However, while species diversity was sometimes associated with psychological outcome metrics, more often than not, other ecological variables characterising park plant and bird assemblages had stronger associations, and individual factors were sometimes significant predictors. Therefore, there is a need to consider individual factors, and to characterise park plant and bird species assemblages beyond total species counts, when analysing factors that drive variation in specific psychological outcome metrics reported by park users.
    Park planners may have considerable influence on the psychological outcomes of park users, depending on the type of vegetation mandated in park management plans and how park bird assemblages are managed. Concurrent improvement in the ecological condition of parks, and psychological outcomes of park users, may be achieved through local citizen input to park management plans and ongoing park maintenance. I advocate the provision of locally accessible parks that host high to low ecological complexity either across, or within, individual sites. This management approach may enable different types of park users to access the types of parks from which they psychologically benefit the most, depending on their impetus for park use and life stage.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Luck, Gary, Co-Supervisor
    • Howard, Jonathon, Principal Supervisor
    • Bagot, Kathleen, Co-Supervisor, External person
    • Pope, Alun, Co-Supervisor, External person
    Award date22 Aug 2019
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publisher
    Publication statusPublished - 03 Sep 2019

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