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Remembering vacant lots: Residents' use of informal urban greenspace as children and teenagers in Japan and Australia


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Contact with nature is vital for the development of children and teenagers. In the past, informal urban greenspaces (IGS) such as vacant lots appear to have been used for such purposes. We need to better understand how previous generations used IGS to make sure young people today can also enjoy its social, mental, emotional and physical health benefits. This study quantitatively compared adult residents’ memories of IGS use in their childhood and teen age years in two geographically and culturally distinct cities: Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan. The results showed most respondents (>70%) remembered using IGS in the past, and preferred it over other greenspace because it was easily accessible. Most (>70%) recalled experiencing no problems (e.g. danger of injury) when using IGS, a contrast to recently increasing parental concern for children’s safety. Such factors may limit present IGS use and prevent it from fulfilling the important role it played for previous generations’ recreation.

Published in: Environment
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Remembering vacant lots: Residents' use of informal urban greenspace as children and teenagers in Japan and Australia

  1. 1. Remembering vacant lots: Residents’ use of informal urban greenspace as children and teenagers in Japan and Australia Christoph Rupprecht Jason Byrne Environmental Futures Research Institute Griffith University Alex Lo The Kadoorie Institute University of Hong Kong
  2. 2. “When I was a child, there were lots of vacant lots and it was normal for kids to play there. Today most of them are hard to get into.” Hiroko, 52, female, from Sapporo
  3. 3. What can informal urban greenspace look like? Street verge Gap Railway Brownfield Waterside Lots Structural Microsite Powerline
  4. 4. Why use informal greenspace to play? Play in parks is limited: strict rules, few animals & plants, prescribed activities. Young people use informal greenspace to avoid rules & find chances to • Play ball, hide and seek, explore • Modify the environment (e.g., build huts, tree houses) • Escape parental oversight (seek privacy) No ball play!
  5. 5. IGS as ‘unclaimed territory’, space of becoming-other Cloke & Jones (2005): Childhood as fundamentally ‘other’ to adulthood: ‘disordered spaces’/IGS offer territory to be different, be a child Children’s real experience Adult constructions of childhood ? Innocence ? Nature Colin Ward (1978) The Child in the City Photo removed for copyright reasons: It shows a child kicking chairs that burn on the lawn between 1960’s style rental apartment blocks.
  6. 6. How to study past experiences? Working with memories Memory as methodology: important points (Philo 2003, Treacher 2000) • Memories: window into the past • Adult imaginations mix with memories of childhood • Nostalgia: everything was better in the past… or was it? • Researchers’ own experience and memories of childhood • Researchers’ point of view: adults looking at childhood (perception)
  7. 7. Research questions 1. IGS use, frequency and activities? 2. Reasons for using IGS and not a park or garden? 3. Problems experienced when using IGS? 4. Differences between genders? 5. Differences between culture/geography context?
  8. 8. 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
  9. 9. Study methods & sample characteristics 121 sites per city on 10x10km grid Resident IGS questionnaire • IGS use as child or teenager • Reasons for IGS use • Problems with IGS use • Open comments Sample • N=99/163 (Brisbane/Sapporo) • Median age 51/58 • Ages 19-84 (B), 21-90 (S) • Women 59% (B), 53% (S)
  10. 10. Results: Remembered use of IGS in childhood Percent of child/teen IGS users 0% 20% 40% Every day Every week Every month A few times per year Never %ofIGSusers 0% 20% 40% Every day Every week Every month A few times per year Never %ofIGSusers IGS use as child higher in Sapporo IGS use as teenager higher in Brisbane 85% 72% 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Brisbane Sapporo %ofrespondents
  11. 11. Results: Remembered activities in IGS • Playing games • Exploration • Walks • Observing plants and animals • Secret hiding place from adults • Other (contemplation, photography, swimming, taking short cuts, relaxing, solitude)
  12. 12. Reasons for preferring IGS over parks or gardens Brisbane Sapporo It's near my home 76% 81% It's wild and exciting 54% 31% It's not crowded 43% 13% There are more or different animals or plants 21% 17% It has better privacy (nobody watching) 39% 11% There are no use restrictions (e.g. no ball play) 35% 31% It can be used for many things (e.g. gardening) 12% 4% There are no nice parks near my home 13% 31% I don't have a garden or similar greenspace 5% 8% Other 11% 6%
  13. 13. Remembering problems experienced when using IGS 0% 20% 40% 60% 80% 100% Childhood Teen age %ofIGSusers Brisbane Sapporo Users who experienced no problems Main remembered problems: • Danger of injury (10-15%) • Lots of litter (3-9%) • Parents forbid use (0-6%) • Hard to access (2-5%)
  14. 14. Analysis: Gender differences in IGS use Almost no differences between genders, except: In Sapporo, Teenage male IGS users more likely to • Use IGS for playing games (OR: 3.1) • Observe animals & plants (OR: 4.6) • Experience no problems (OR: 2.8) • Use IGS because it had more or different animals & plants (OR: 3.8) Female IGS users • Visited IGS less frequently as teenagers (r=-.25) • IGS played a recreational role for respondents of both genders • Contrast to previous literature reporting larger differences “Finding bugs, playing in grass as high as the kids themselves – what a great experience for children! It certainly was for me. I found bugs that just weren’t there in parks.” Keiko, 39, female, from Sapporo
  15. 15. City differences: stronger decline in Sapporo IGS use Child/teen IGS users 85 % 72 % Brisbane Sapporo 52 % 21 % Brisbane Sapporo Adult IGS use 0% 20% 40% Every day Every week Every month A few times per year Never Use frequency as children 0% 20% 40% Every day Every week Every month A few times per year Never Use frequency as teenagers Adult IGS perception 65% 17% 12% 47% 5% 8% 19% 27% 0% 50% 100% BrisbaneSapporo Better Both Worse Neutral
  16. 16. Analysis: Reasons for declining IGS use? “Today, there’s no place for young teenagers to go other than hanging out in front of convenience stores.” Akiko, 39, female, from Sapporo School, parents, peers... Childhood / Disorder Adulthood / Order Socialization Seeking new space to construct identities New territory, e.g. internet IGS as unclaimed territory “I have grown up and don't use it any more.” Robert, 68, male, from Brisbane
  17. 17. IGS play: safety vs. adults’ convenience Hayashi 1999 • No evidence that IGS is more dangerous today • “Culture of threatened litigation” (Cloke & Jones 2005) ➜ • Parental safety concerns vs. freedom to roam & play In IGS-related child literature, (Mugford, 2012) the ‘parent’ constitutes a barrier to children’s access to challenging places & experiences
  18. 18. Conclusions 1. Most respondents used IGS as children & teenagers 2. Most IGS users experienced no problems 3. IGS use declined from childhood to adulthood 4. Safety concerns may limit children’s IGS access today
  19. 19. References Cloke, Paul, and Owain Jones. 2005. “‘Unclaimed Territory’: Childhood and Disordered Space(s).” Social & Cultural Geography 6 (3): 311–33. Mugford, Katy. 2012. “Nature, Nurture; Danger, Adventure; Junkyard, Paradise; The Role of Wildscapes in Children's Literature.” In Urban Wildscapes, edited by Anna Jorgensen and Richard Keenan, 80–96. Abingdon: Routledge. Philo, Chris. 2003. “‘To Go Back Up the Side Hill’: Memories, Imaginations and Reveries of Childhood.” Children's Geographies 1 (1): 7–23. Rupprecht, Christoph D D, Jason A Byrne, Hirofumi Ueda, and Alex Y H Lo. Forthcoming. “‘It’s Real, Not Fake like a Park’: Residents’ Perception and Use of Informal Urban Green- Space in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan.” Landscape and Urban Planning. Rupprecht, C. D. D., Byrne, J. A., & Lo, A. Y. H. (2015). Memories of vacant lots: How and why residents used informal urban greenspace as children and teenagers in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan. Children’s Geographies. Rupprecht, C. D. D., & Byrne, J. (2014). Informal urban green-space: comparison of quantity and characteristics in Brisbane, Australia and Sapporo, Japan. PLoS ONE, 9(6), e99784. Treacher, Amal. 2000. “Children: Memories, Fantasies and Narratives: From Dilemma to Complexity.” In Memory and Methodology, edited by S Radstone, 133–53. New York: Berg Publishers. Ward, Colin. 1978. The Child in the City. New York: Pantheon Books.
  20. 20. Thank you for listening! Questions? Many thanks to: Yumi Nakagawa, Kumiko Nakagawa, Hirofumi Ueda, Brisbane Council, Sapporo City, all survey respondents Blog: Twitter: @focx Google+: Christoph Rupprecht This presentation is freely available @ ResearchGate, Slideshare,!