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Encouraging city workers to use green spaces

27.01.2011
Urbánní ekologie
Encouraging city workers to use green spaces

Changing lifestyles are causing city workers to ignore the positive experiences of urban green spaces during their working week. A recent study suggests city planners could do more to promote the benefits of going outdoors to city dwellers.

Previous studies suggest that urban green spaces, such as public parks and gardens, positively affect people who live in city environments. Benefits include increased physical activity and better health, pleasing surroundings in which to socialise, which contributes to a greater community spirit and improved mental health by temporarily being able to forget ones troubles. In the western world, however, modern lifestyles mean that many people spend over 90 per cent of their time indoors and do not use green spaces. As conditions in buildings become more comfortable, people are less inclined to go outside.

This study explored why urban office workers spend long periods of time staying indoors during the working week and how these people might be encouraged to go outside and experience the benefits of being in open green spaces. 11 city lawyers were each interviewed four times throughout one year. These professionals worked in corporate buildings in London that had parks and gardens within the surroundings.
The study found that over half the participants remained inside the whole day, only leaving the building to go home in the evening. Three main factors were found that influenced whether workers were inclined to venture outdoors during their working day:

  • Forgetting about the outdoors: It was easy for the participants to fit in with the working patterns of their colleagues and to develop fairly fixed routines that allow them to forget about the possibility of going outdoors.
  • The action of others: Workers were more inclined to want to go outside when they saw other people already in the parks. In addition, workers were influenced by group dynamics, such as colleagues not going outside.
  • Interruptions to being productive: The respondents all had heavy workloads, and it was reasonable to just get on with the work. One concern was that taking a break to go outside would make it more difficult to return to work afterwards.

These findings suggest there is evidence of workers becoming socialised into adopting daily routines that might prevent them going outside.

To encourage city dwellers to venture into urban green spaces, the study recommends the promotion of activities that remind people about the positive aspects of being outdoors. This could be, for example: holding outdoor events in parks and other green spaces, raising awareness of local parks by emailing workers with updated information about the parks, and encouraging staff to wear more casual clothes for work suggesting the possibility of being able to go outdoors.

If city workers cannot be encouraged to spend time outside during the working week, the study raises the possibility of concentrating green spaces around homes rather than business districts. However, this might lead to workers spending even more time indoors rather than seeking out green spaces around the workplace.

Source: Hitchings, R. (2010) Urban greenspace from the inside out: An argument for the approach and a study with city workers. Geoforum. 41: 855-864.
Contact: r.hitchings@ucl.ac.uk

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