Numerous studies have demonstrated the benefits of contact with nature for human well-being. However, despite strong trends toward greater urbanization and declining green space, little is known about the social consequences of such contact. In the December issue of BioScience, an international, interdisciplinary team reports on how they used nationally representative data from the United Kingdom and stringent model testing to examine the relationships between objective measures and self-reported assessments of contact with nature, community cohesion, and local crime incidence.
The results in the report, by Netta Weinstein of Cardiff University and others, were notable. After accounting for a range of possibly interfering factors, including socioeconomic deprivation, population density, unemployment rate, socioeconomic standing, and weekly wages, the authors determined that people’s experiences of local nature reported via a survey could explain 8% of a measure of the variation, called variance, in survey responses about perceptions of community cohesion. They describe this as “a striking finding given that individual predictors such as income, gender, age, and education together accounted for only 3%” of the variance.
The relationship with crime was similarly striking. According to the study results, objective measures of the amount of green space or farmland accessible in people’s neighborhoods accounted for 4% additional variance in crime rates. The authors argue that this predictive power compares favorably with known contributors to crime, such as socioeconomic deprivation, which accounts for 5% variance in crime rates. “The positive impact of local nature on neighbors’ mutual support may discourage crime, even in areas lower in socioeconomic factors,” they write. Further, given the political importance placed on past crime reductions as small as 2%-3%, the authors suggest that findings such as theirs could justify policies aimed at ameliorating crime by improving contact with nature.
You can read or download it here. Anyone who is surprised by this finding should have stood at the footbridge watching beavers while people of very, very different walks of life conversed about them. It was not at all uncommon to chat with toothless homeless, cycling yuppies, families pushing strollers, commuters getting off the train, and aging grandmothers together in that gathering. And I’m sure that amount of social cohesion affected crime rate.
I was working all day yesterday on the foundations of my section of the urban beaver paper, and kept asking our retired librarian friend BK from Georgia for help, which he nobly provided along with this article.Turns out there is a solid and growing body of evidence that having nature in your city is every bit as good for your physical and mental health as air quality, crosswalks and libraries.