16 Jan 2019

Our relationship with urban green spaces

From Our Changing World, 7:06 pm on 16 January 2019

In this University of Otago science communication podcast, student Karthic Sivanandham explores a researcher’s quest to discover how people relate to urban green spaces.

Urban green space comes in many forms - parks, gardens, town belts and bush remnants

Urban green space comes in many forms - parks, gardens, town belts and bush remnants Photo: Karthic Sivanandham

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Old trees stood tall, letting the sunshine through their leaves. Melodious bellbird calls, sounds of a mild breeze and a tiny stream that fill the air are broken by a sharp ‘whiz’- a keruru has just landed on a tree nearby.

Immersive natural sight and sound like this can be experienced at the heart of many New Zealand cities, where little pockets of nature, the urban green spaces, thrive.

Public spaces such as the botanic gardens, recreational parks, woodlands that are located well within city limits are all urban green spaces. With walking paths, lawns and benches surrounded by trees and bushes, these places provide people an opportunity for recreation, relaxation and a chance to appreciate nature.

Audrey Heyzer is based at the University of Otago, researching how people perceive the urban green spaces around them. Her PhD thesis is titled “Engaging people with biodiversity management: exploring the convergence of cultures” and her research aims to develop a better understanding of what motivates New Zealanders of different ethnicities to use urban green spaces.

In addition, she will be looking at two subgroups, LGBTQ+ and women, on how they relate to urban nature.

Audrey’s research is one of six projects in People, Cities & Nature, a nationwide programme working towards connecting New Zealanders to the country’s native biodiversity. With a bachelor degree in liberal arts, majoring in mass communication, from the National University of Singapore, Audrey went on to work as a research assistant in freshwater ecology.

Part of her job required her to communicate with the people about the environment, which inspired her to explore how she as a scientist can engage with the public and understand their perceptions better.

Audrey is conducting her research with a survey. The survey is interactive and engaging.

After providing basic information, participants pick out green spaces on a map that they usually visit, relative to their residential or workplace location. Then with a set of questions, Audrey explores the reasons for visit (intentional or incidental), mode of transport used to get to the space and the activities carried out - picnic, bird watching, kai collection, exercise etc.

In order to understand the people’s encounter with flora and fauna, Audrey lays out a series of photos. There first of two sets consists of birds and the second plants. These are images of native and introduced species that can be commonly found in urban green spaces all over the country. The five most familiar in each set will be picked out and ranked in the order of familiarity by the participants.

Audrey talks to them about the reasons for their choices, including what birds or plants would people prefer to see more in their neighbourhood. A similar activity with photos is carried out to determine the preferred type of outdoor spaces.

Six different types of green spaces: Garden, Open Public Area, Parkland, Recreational paved, Residential streets and Woodland are provided. In each type a range of photos are shown, varying from a well manicured space to the one that is more wild.

Participants then choose the type of space that appeals to them in each category.

“I believe my interaction as a researcher with the people taking the survey is greatly enhanced with the use of visual tools,” said Audrey. “We hope to get a better sense of people’s use and value of urban green spaces, and the motivations that encourage them to conserve and restore the green spaces.”

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