Environmental Futures Centre, School of Environment
Invited talk at Japanese Geoscience Union 2013
Appreciation of Informal Urban Greenspace
by Japanese and Australian Residents
What is informal urban greenspace?
Vegetated urban space:
1. Human-modified (anthropogenic)
2. Dominated by spontaneous
vegetation (not planted)
3. Not recognised or managed as
• recreational space
• agricultural space
• conservation space
no gardens, parks etc.
Typology of informal urban greenspace
Street verge Gap
Railway Brownfield Waterside
Structural Microsite Powerline
Why is informal greenspace important?
• Walking, exercise
• Nature experience
• Enjoying the scenery
• Gardening …
• Animal/plant habitat
• Eco-services (e.g. O2 production)
• Urban landscape appreciation
• Growing/dense cities
• Shrinking cities
Two cities: case study locations
Location Brisbane Sapporo
Founded 1824, city status 1902 1868, city status 1922
Population 1,07 mil. (2010) 1,3 mil. (2031) 1,9 mil. (2011) 1,8 mil. (2030)
Pop. density 770/km2 (peak >5,000/km2) 1,700/km2 (peak >8,000/km2)
Park space 32m2 per person 12m2 per person
Study & questionnaire design
• Letterbox-drop mail-back questionnaire
• ~2000 households per city
• In 400m radius of 121 sites on grid
• Information sheet & overview of IGS types
• Main sections
1. IGS known in neighborhood
2. IGS use
3. IGS use as child or teenager
4. IGS appreciation
5. Attitude towards urban nature
• Response rate:
6% Brisbane, 8% Sapporo
Brisbane n=121, Sapporo n=163
None Few (1-5) Some (5-10) Many (over 10)
Residents’ perception of IGS
How many informal greenspaces do
you know of in your neighbourhood?
Residents’ perception of IGS (2)
What types of IGS do you know?
77% Lots 72%
56% River banks 66%
54% Street verges 61%
Residents’ perception of IGS (3)
Better Both Worse Neutral
Would you say informal greenspace
makes your daily life better or worse?
Residents’ perception of IGS (4)
Benefits of informal greenspace
Similarities Sap. Bris.
“Every bit of green in the city is good” 67% 75%
“Plants filter air and produce oxygen” 49% 74%
“Grasses, trees and flowers are nice
to look at” 46% 73%
“It provides a place to relax” 27% 39%
Differences Sap. Bris.
“Wildlife can live in them” 39% 89%
“It makes the neighborhood more
interesting” 24% 66%
Residents’ perception of IGS (5)
Problems of informal greenspace
Similarities Sap. Bris.
“Littering” 91% 87%
“Full of weeds” 59% 58%
“Breeding ground for pest animals” 36% 39%
“Attracts unwanted individuals” 31% 32%
Differences Sap. Bris.
“Vandalism” 18% 58%
“Looks filthy and unorderly” 43% 27%
Residents’ use of informal greenspace
Do you use IGS for recreational activities?
2. Enjoying the view
3. Observing plants/animals
4. Walking the dog
• “Close to home” top use reason
• >70% report no use problems
Residents’ use of IGS in childhood
Did you use IGS as a child or teenager?
>70% used IGS daily or weekly
Most popular activities
• Playing games
• Observing plants and animals
• Secret hiding place from adults
Residents’ use of IGS in childhood (2)
No ball play!
>75% report no use problems
Reasons for using IGS
• Near home
• Wild & exciting
• No use restrictions
• No nice parks (Sapporo)
• Not crowded (Brisbane)
Residents’ voices: reflection on IGS
“It’s real, not fake like a park.” – Male, 41, Brisbane
Residents’ voices: reflection on IGS (2)
“We live in a very organised
world – it’s good when nature
takes over and reminds us that
we only have temporary use of
the space. In the urban
environment, man usually wins
the battle against nature, so it is
nice to see nature fighting
back where it can.”
– Female, 62, Brisbane
Residents’ voices: reflection on IGS (3)
“There is nothing
pleasant, calming or relaxing in
looking at a bit of a mess. […] It’s
the abandoned element I don’t
– Female, 55, Brisbane
“Space that’s unmaintained and
where people’s eyes don’t reach
– Male, 45, Sapporo
Residents’ voices: reflection on IGS (4)
“Children can experience
nature, come in touch with all
kind of living things, learn about
the preciousness of life. It’s also
a great chance for them to make
up their own games and rules
rather than just use the play tools
they are given.”
– Female, 39, Sapporo
Residents’ voices: reflection on IGS (5)
“A neutral zone that belongs to nobody is
room, margins, interstices, space. A life
like in the city, where man-made objects
are surrounded by nothing but artificial
greenspace, is suffocating.”
– Male, 45, Sapporo
“Unlike maintained greenspace, it has
something you can grasp with all five
senses, and I don’t want it to disappear.”
– Female, 35, Sapporo
Preliminary analysis results
? Local IGS
? Resident attitude
Building a tree house as child
< 200 200 -
Yearly income in Mio. Yen
Summary: appreciation of IGS
People know, appreciate & use IGS
Important role for children’s play
Potential benefits & problems
New field – policy implications
Thank you! Questions…?
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This presentation is available @ Slideshare!
Appreciation of Informal Urban Greenspace by Japanese and Australian Residents – by Christoph Rupprecht. Based on a talk given at Japanese GeoScience Union Conference 2013.
Three basic criteria. To better understand informal urban greenspace, I created a typology.
Different types exist, such as street verges, vacan lots or railway verges. Theyvary in maintenance level, ownership, shape, size and accessibility. But why is IGS important?
Three reasons: urban recreation, city planning and urban ecosystems. And of course: most people now live in cities.
Case comparison study: two cities very similar in some aspects, but different in others. Both cities are young coastal cities with a clear urban core. Sapporo has higher pop. density and less park space. Next, research design.
Research designed to cover large geographical area. Survey kit included overview sheet and detailed explanation of IGS with photo examples. Low response rate. To start, we need to ask if residents know IGS in their area.
Over 80% of respondents in Sapporo know IGS, over 90% in Brisbane. What types?
The IGS types residents know best in both cities are the same. If most residents know of IGS in their neighborhood, do they like it?
Overwhelmingly positive opinion in Brisbane, mixed to positive opinion in Sapporo. However: Negative opinion below 10% in both cities!
Perceived benefits show some similarities (e.g. ecosystem services, scenery) and some differences (e.g.). Overall, Brisbane residents named a much larger number of benefits.
Again, some similarities: most common issue is littering, but “unwanted individuals” also perceived as a problem. Differences in vandalism (human action related) and scenery. Again, Brisbane residents had a higher number of answers. People are reporting benefits and problems – are they using IGS?
Clear difference in adult recreational use. Reported activities, however, are the same in both cities. Users from both cities say they use IGS because it is close to home, and most report no problems. But what about use during childhood?
In comparison, large majority of residents in both cities used IGS as a child or teenager, most of them daily or weekly. Popular activities are similar.
Residents report mostly no problems during childhood use. They used IGS, because it was close to home (same reason for adult use), because it is wild and exciting and because there are no use restriction like in parks. Next: reflections of the survey respondents as qualitative answers.
The respondents provided detailed, well-thought out comments on informal greenspace. Several themes stood out: comments on the use of IGS, about the role of IGS for children, and about the relationship of humans, nature and IGS in the city. Rather than analysing them, I want to let the comments of the residents speak for themselves.
IGS is seen in the context of a struggle between nature and the human, ordered world. (quote)
Residents also voiced their concern, be it about the look of IGS or its safety. (quote)
Many residents reflected on their childhood IGS experience, and pointed out how important IGS is for children.
Finally, residents tried to explain why they are fascinated by IGS. For some, it was the philosophical problem of human control over nature, and what we loose by controlling it. (quotes). Before coming to the end of the presentation, I want to share some preliminary analysis results.
In the data I have shown you, we have seen a number of similarities between Sapporo and Brisbane residents, but also a number of differences, for example in the evaluation and use of informal greenspace. Lets look at some factors that might explain some differences. These results are only preliminary, and more analysis is needed. Cultural factors may be one reason, as in the example of building a tree house in IGS as a child. There was also a bias towards high income earners in Brisbane respondents. Age and sex do not seem to play a large role. Local IGS characteristics (such as cover % and type) as well as general resident attitude toward urban nature have to be examined further. So to summarise: (next slide)
The four main points are this: 1. residents know, appreciate and use IGS. 2. IGS has a very important role for children’s play. 3. Residents perceive a number of benefits of IGS, but also point out problems – we need more research. That brings us to the last point: 4. IGS is emerging as a new field of urban landscape study, and there are a number of policy implications: climate adaptation, child-friendly cities and birth rate, urban planning.
Thank you very much for your attention! If you are interested in this topic, feel free to follow me on my research blog, twitter or on Google+. You can also find this presentation and another presentation focusing on the qualitative comments of residents at Slideshare. I also have a handout available with the IGS typology. Questions?