Research Summary

Nature exposure and use of open spaces in three generation families: Implications for planning

Family is a strong determinant of open space use

Journal of Environmental Planning and Management

This study focused on relationships families have with nature. The specific aim of the study was to gain a better understanding of which open spaces families use and why.

This study was conducted in Dunedin, a medium-sized city in New Zealand, with 15 three-generation families participating. Each family included a minimum of one child, one parent, and one grandparent. The total number of participants was 57 (20 children, 16 parents, and 21 grandparents). Members of each family live close to each other and thus have access to the same open spaces. Each participating member completed a one-on-one interview at the family home. Three sets of questions framed the interviews: one focusing on personal information; one on time spent in and use of open spaces; and one on attitudes to and connection to nature. During the interview, each participant selected five open spaces they usually visit. They also answered questions about what they do in each of the open spaces, who they go with, how they get there, what they like about the different open spaces, and how often they visit each of the open spaces. Their responses allowed researchers to calculate a “nature dose” (exposure) score for each participant.

Interview responses showed “an overall clear preference for less manicured and more vegetated habitats by parents and grandparents.” Responses from children about preferred type of open space were more mixed; yet blue spaces/beaches were preferred across all age groups. Most of the selected spaces were located at some distance from the family’s home, indicating that the character of the place rather than practicalities of access determined the selection. “With family” was the most frequent response to the question about who participants go with when they visit open spaces. While nature exposure levels varied between and within families, all families indicated that they valued and used natural spaces. The impact of family on individual nature dose scores was only moderate. A social justice concern identified through this study relates to an uneven distribution of open spaces across the city, with open space being least available in more deprived areas.

This study found that, for the 15 multigenerational family participants, family is “a very strong determinant” of open space use. The study also found that no one type of open space was favored by different families or different generations. These findings indicate that diversity of open spaces is essential for meeting the needs and interests of different families and different family members. This research highlights the need for city planners to be more aware of the multiple uses of open space and to see that multi-purpose natural open spaces are more evenly distributed across the city.

Freeman, C., Buttery, Y., & van Heezik, Y.. (2022). Nature exposure and use of open spaces in three generation families: Implications for planning. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 65(4), 562-582. doi: