What is perceived as urban nature?

This was the central question of the group discussions, which ran through the discussions like a leitmotif. The following ideas have been compressed from the wide range of responses and represent perceptions of urban na­ture:

1. Everything green in the city

… the Auwald (in general “lowland forest”, but more specifically the “Leipzig Auwald”), parks, streets—not only green but anything alive… fairly large green areas, integrated systems, nothing isolated

2. Structured and tended nature

• “garden nature”: distinguished from nature that is not structured or tended, i. e. spontaneous or ruderal nature

• created nature or “artificial nature”: in contrast with untouched nature, or nature that is left to itself

• “useless” or “social” nature: distinction from rural nature that is used economically and has been characterised as such for centuries

“Urban nature is also structured… primulas out, primulas in… and look after all of it, try to keep everything short and so on… and so these little parks, these green spaces, they always try to keep them under control just because it’s part of the city image.”

3. Communal nature

• nature for which the local authorities bear responsibility (in contrast with private nature or commercial nature)

• nature which is there for the public and which is made for them (in con­trast with greenery that is not accessible)

• nature that is geared to particular purposes, such as for recreation, sport, games (in contrast with nature that is used commercially or that is of no direct human benefit)

• privacy is important, lack of privacy is mentioned as a primary argu­ment for non-use (e. g. “lying around, sunbathing”)

4. Everyday nature

• in contrast with excursion and holiday nature (which is superior or ex­otic)

• nature that one perceives in everyday contexts and uses (paths, sports grounds, what one finds while going for a stroll, taking the dog out, etc.)

• nature of which one does not make any high or excessive demands

5. Surrogate nature

• not real, “natural” nature (too small, you can hear or see the city, too structured or subject to human influence)

• restricted opportunities for use

• low experiential value

• low value in terms of form (monotonous, “measured off’, “from the drawing board”)

“Anyway I only find it a kind of surrogate satisfaction. I regularly escape to the park to get some peace but when I am really out in the country it’s quite differ­ent.”

6. Variety of natural forms

• structured and unstructured, artistically staged

• small areas and large areas

• a great deal of variety in a small space

• a variety of forms and partly exotic

• a variety of possible uses

In the course of the group discussions, the participants were asked to evaluate various forms of urban nature based on particular attributes and arrange them accordingly. The qualities by which the forms of urban na­ture were to be evaluated were the perceived attractiveness or non­attractiveness and the naturalness or artificiality of the urban nature form (see Fig. 1).

The Auwald (a riparian forest) in particular is estimated as being par­ticularly attractive and natural. Botanical gardens and municipal parks are perceived as being more artificial and structured, but still attractive. On the other hand, fallow areas and industrial areas that have been grassed over are seen as unattractive and natural. Urban parks, green squares and green spaces are perceived as being in the category of the non-attractive and arti­ficial. The perceived attractiveness of urban nature is accordingly meas­ured more by its naturalness.

If one included verbal statements about other topics it can be said that the following are regarded as characteristics of attractive urban nature:

• it is free of other uses, which prevent or inhibit its use (housing, traffic)

• it is distinguished by a certain expanse

• it is undisturbed: “You’re alone there”, it is peaceful

• one is screened off and you can “be yourself’ (and are not clearly ex­posed to glances from other blocks of houses)

• it was not designed exclusively for certain purposes but (also) left as it was found (no trails, signs, climbing aids etc.) and which you can there­fore also

• use without drastic restrictions

When asked about attractive forms of nature the people questioned indi­cated the following associations: mountain landscape, landscape where set­tlements are as far away as possible, and where one can wander undis­turbed: “Where it is free of people, where you almost feel ill again because of all the creepy-crawlies and where you can’t shelter in the nearest pub when it rains or the nearest bush hut.” Coastal landscape, Auwald, peace, where there’s nobody.

Some answers appeared to suggest a dilemma between ideal perceptions of nature and the landscapes and forms of nature that actually occur: “I find it difficult. I am a bit fussy. For me to like it, it mustn’t be too high, too cold or too hot. There mustn’t be too many insects. I don’t think it’s possible for there to be a landscape that I find really beautiful.”

People obviously want something idyllic with the best possible weather, not too hot but with plenty of sun, and no risk of skin cancer; turquoise – coloured water but without any jellyfish or crabs that you might tread on by mistake; no people; a small palm tree bending towards the water; and a hut right on the beach, but again with the necessary luxury of course.

This might give urban nature the opportunity to function as “surrogate nature”, as an alternative for unrealisable desires, in line with the maxim: before I let myself be disillusioned by my unreasonable expectations, I’d sooner go to the botanical garden or simply lie down in the municipal park.

Подпись: (wild, spontaneous)
Подпись: Green fallow land, former industrial area

Fig. 1. Forms of urban nature evaluated in terms of their attractiveness and natu­ralness

There were no systematic questions on the use of urban nature. Never­theless, there were some indications of the use of municipal greenery in the comments of the interviewees. Urban nature is used to a greater or lesser extent on an everyday basis—depending on social group, age and marital status—and so the Auwald is used as a pleasant and safe route to places of work and study, but not as a place that one consciously seeks out for a part of one’s leisure. Although urban nature provides relaxation and rest, this is not regular and is rarely used in a purposeful way. It does not therefore have an independent value as recreation (such as by comparison with a recreational area in the nature of the surrounding countryside or of a holi­day). This corresponds to the fact that urban nature does not have a high value attached to it compared with “true” nature or, as a participant in a discussion described it, “urban nature is surrogate”.

Updated: October 4, 2015 — 10:48 am