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Exploring the Efects of Environmental Experience on Attachment

Exploring the Efects of Environmental Experience on Attachment

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ROBERT L. RYANis an assistant professor at the Department of Landscape Archi-

tecture and Regional Planning, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His current re- search areas include place attachment, greenway planning, and rural character pres- ervation. He is the coauthor with Rachel and Stephen Kaplan of the bookWith People

in Mind: Design and Management of Everyday Nature(Island Press, 1998).

ABSTRACT: This study explored the relationship between place attachment and both environmental experience and environmental attributes within three urban natu- ral areas in Michigan. To understand these relationships, 328 park users\u2014including neighbors, visitors, volunteers, and staff\u2014were asked about their attachment, use, environmental knowledge, and attitudes toward management using a photo question- naire. The results showed that attachment has different manifestations related to expe- rience\u2014a place-specific attachment was generally held by neighbors and recreational users, whereas a conceptual attachment was held by volunteers, staff, and those with extensive natural-areas knowledge. Each form of attachment was associated with dis- tinctive perspectives on management. The study showed that the expert\u2019s vision of appropriate management of a natural area may differ from those of neighbors and users, which can readily lead to conflict. If, however, attachment is recognized as a multifaceted and far-reaching component of people\u2019s relationship to a place, such conflicts can be mitigated.

Keywords:place attachment; urban parks; natural-areas management; landscape
surveys; attitudes toward ecological restoration
Urban parks and natural areasare valuable resources in overcrowded cit-

ies. They sustain the ecological health of cities by maintaining natural sys- tems and processes (Hough, 1995) and are often hot spots for biodiversity. For example, the Chicago metropolitan region is home to the highest


ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR, Vol. 37 No. 1, January 2005 3-42
DOI: 10.1177/0013916504264147
\u00a9 2005 Sage Publications

concentration of rare and endangered species in the entire state of Illinois (Chicago Regional Biodiversity Council, 1996). The importance of urban nature to the health and well-being of urban residents has also been the sub- ject of substantial research (Kaplan, 1983). Urban parks and trees hold a spe- cial meaning for urban residents (Dwyer, Schroeder, & Gobster, 1994).

However, urban parks and natural areas are sensitive to environmental change and development. Trees are cut down to make way for power lines and wetlands are filled to make way for wider roads. Although human deci- sions often create landscape changes, natural processes such as flooding or windstorms can also drastically affect the landscape. These changes can have sad consequences for those who have an attachment to natural areas. Yet the effects of these changes on people and on their attachment to natural areas have gone relatively unstudied.

People experience natural areas in a variety of activities and opportunities. These different experiences can lead to discrepant attitudes about manage- ment and use. And these, in turn, can promote changes to the landscape that may be perceived as positive by one group and as undesirable by others. Eco- logical restoration work is one such activity that has led to controversy in urban parks (Gobster, 1997; Shore, 1997). The restoration of degraded urban natural areas into native prairies and woodlands has been conducted by dedi- cated park volunteers and staff who are interested in promoting biodiversity and environmental education in urban natural areas across the United States. These well-intentioned efforts, however, have sometimes been vehemently opposed by other park users and neighbors (Shore, 1997). Understanding the attachment that local residents and other park users have to urban natural areas may be the first step in learning more about the root of these controver- sies. This article describes a study of urban natural areas in Ann Arbor, Mich- igan, that explored the relationship between environmental experience, attachment, and attitudes toward management.

People have the ability and even the need to form emotional attachments
to other people (Levitt, 1991; Weiss, 1991). Just as attachments to others are
AUTHOR\u2019S NOTE:I would like to thank the USDA Forest Service, North Central For-

est Research Station, for their help funding this research through cooperative agree- ment number 23-96-06. My grateful appreciation also goes to Rachel Kaplan for her help designing this research and reviewing this article. Thanks also goes to Donna Erickson, Stephen Kaplan, and Raymond DeYoung for their keen insights during this study.

important parts of being human, so are the attachments that people form to the environments around them. This emotional bond between people and places has been termed place attachment (Shumaker & Taylor, 1983). To identify factors that may influence place attachment, this section focuses on several key studies that have attempted to understand this phenomenon.

The majority of studies on place attachment have attempted to understand people\u2019s feelings for residential settings, such as home (Cooper-Marcus, 1995) and neighborhood (Ahlbrandt, 1984; Brown, Perkins, & Brown, 2003; Lalli, 1992; Rivlin, 1987), rather than for natural settings. In his early seminal work, sociologist Marc Fried (1963) showed that some residents of Boston\u2019s West End felt a strong affinity for what urban planners termed a slum neigh- borhood. He found that those residents who had the strongest attachment to their former neighborhood experienced intense grief and depression when forced to relocate for urban renewal. It is important to note that residents not only grieved for their close-knit social network in the old neighborhood; they also missed the physical places in the neighborhood such as a favorite corner store or their apartment house. This study shows that environmental change is an important mechanism for revealing more hidden attachment feelings.

Other studies in residential place attachment suggest that familiarity in terms of length of residence and intensity of use of neighborhood facilities is positively associated with place attachment (Ahlbrandt, 1984; Brown et al., 2003; Lalli, 1992). However, familiarity with a place does not always equate to attachment, especially if the setting does not meet one\u2019s needs (Stokols, Shumaker, & Martinez, 1983). Particular types of residents, such as the elderly, are often more attached to their neighborhood than are others because their sense of identity is linked to these places, which can make resi- dential relocation especially painful (Rubinstein & Parmelee, 1992).

Only recently have ecologists begun to discuss the emotional conse- quences of such environmental changes as species extinction. Research biol- ogist Phyllis Windle (1992) suggests that people experience a sense of loss for ecological change. She recounts her own feelings of grief for the extinc- tion (by disease) of the dogwoods in the forests of the southeastern United States. Similarly, conservationists such as Aldo Leopold (1949) expressed the idea that humans\u2019 experiences on this planet are diminished by the loss of any plant or animal species. At the landscape scale, a study in Norway found that place attachment had a significant effect on rural residents\u2019 attitudes toward a proposed hydroelectric project (Vorkinn & Riese, 2001). There is the need to know how environmental changes caused by restoration efforts affect attachment to natural areas.

Feldman (1990) proposed that people identify with a type of residential
setting, such as city neighborhood, suburb, or small town, rather than with a

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