How Young People In Cities Feel About The Natural World

How Young People In Cities Feel About The Natural World
AntGor/Shutterstock

If you’re under 30, living in a city in the UK, and especially if you’re in an ethnic minority group, you’re likely to be considered less connected to nature or an “infrequent nature user” in academic research. This characterisation has consequences – if you fit this description, your voice is heard much less in debates about nature, conservation and wildlife than your wealthier or, if you’re a person of colour, white peers.

But throughout my own research, I’ve found that young people in cities tend to value nature more than others realise. It’s not yet clear how young city dwellers have spent time in green and blue spaces during the COVID 19 pandemic. But whether it’s relaxing in woodland or in a beautiful park, these experiences are less accessible for urban residents and people of colour in particular, who are already at greater risk of poorer mental health.

My colleagues and I recently interviewed adolescents and young adults aged between 17 and 27 who live in the city of Sheffield in the UK. None of them belonged to environmental advocacy groups or volunteered in green initiatives like urban gardening. More than half were living in deprived urban areas and half were from ethnic minorities.

We found that, even within the city, nature supported their mental health and wellbeing in many different ways. Nature can help young people feel accepted, offer escape and help them feel connected to something much bigger.

Trees, water and horizons

In the city, moments of intimacy with nature, observed from inside or outdoors, are fleeting. A squirrel at a windowsill, the sunset from a multi-storey car park, how the light dapples the pavement when filtered through a leafy canopy. These experiences conjured feelings of “calm”, “relief” and “peace” according to our interviewees, who found breathing space in the presence of trees, running water or open spaces with expansive views.

We heard how nature sometimes provides an escape from both the physical confines of the city and from difficult life experiences. Farida’s bench by the stream helps her “forget what happened and live day to day”. An urban park, for asylum seeker Rojwan, is synonymous with freedom.

The young people we spoke to even reported feeling a stronger sense of self through their experiences with nature in and around their home city. Feeling accepted and less worried about what others think, finding a welcome pause amid frantic daily life. For Mina, a walk on the edge of the city revealed “the trees, and how well rooted they are”, which offered a sense of security. Nature doesn’t notice Jen. It’s “indifferent”, and she likes that.

These occasions are also when memories of families and friends are recalled. Daleel’s time in the Sheffield Botanical Gardens cast his mind back to time spent with his family in childhood. Natasha’s spider plant connects her to those plants her parents and grandparents cared for, as the cuttings have been passed through several generations. These moments helped them feel they had a stake in a world worth caring for.

Connection and care

A typical schoolday for my own teenagers currently involves a strict 30-minute lunch break, corralled into the same basketball court each day, separated from the trees and grass opposite. Meanwhile, university students are stranded in student accommodation for weeks at a time. What can they see from their windows?

For those who are older, outdoor meetings with friends may be the best option for staying in touch. But many worry about how safe it is meeting outdoors in some parts of the city. Some of the people we spoke to mentioned that high public transport costs prevent them reaching parks where they might otherwise socialise. At least some of these problems could be solved by creating and caring for spaces close to where people live that are green, watery and rich in wildlife.


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

Rewilding could transform familiar urban environments.Rewilding could transform familiar urban environments. Mark Bridger/Shutterstock

We shouldn’t glibly prescribe nature for anyone with a severe mental illness, but our research could inform proper support and care. The young people from our interviews described their experiences with nature as social and relational – a two-way street. This insight seems closer to the truth than the idea that nature is another resource that can be taken like a pill.

Despite this, young people in cities, particularly those who are from ethnic minorities, are largely excluded from debates about how the natural world feeds into mental wellbeing. When their relationships with nature are scrutinised at all, it’s often by lamenting their failure to recognise particular species, or recall words that were once commonly used to describe wildlife and habitats. Young people harbour complex views about the natural world and their place in it, often seeing themselves as partners in a mutually caring relationship. It’s time more people heard about it.

All names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.The Conversation

About the Author

Jo Birch, Research Associate, Department of Landscape Architecture, University of Sheffield

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

 

The Human Swarm: How Our Societies Arise, Thrive, and Fall

0465055680by Mark W. Moffett
If a chimpanzee ventures into the territory of a different group, it will almost certainly be killed. But a New Yorker can fly to Los Angeles--or Borneo--with very little fear. Psychologists have done little to explain this: for years, they have held that our biology puts a hard upper limit--about 150 people--on the size of our social groups. But human societies are in fact vastly larger. How do we manage--by and large--to get along with each other? In this paradigm-shattering book, biologist Mark W. Moffett draws on findings in psychology, sociology and anthropology to explain the social adaptations that bind societies. He explores how the tension between identity and anonymity defines how societies develop, function, and fail. Surpassing Guns, Germs, and Steel and Sapiens, The Human Swarm reveals how mankind created sprawling civilizations of unrivaled complexity--and what it will take to sustain them.   Available On Amazon

 

Environment: The Science Behind the Stories

by Jay H. Withgott, Matthew Laposata
0134204883Environment: The Science behind the Stories is a best seller for the introductory environmental science course known for its student-friendly narrative style, its integration of real stories and case studies, and its presentation of the latest science and research. The 6th Edition features new opportunities to help students see connections between integrated case studies and the science in each chapter, and provides them with opportunities to apply the scientific process to environmental concerns. Available On Amazon

 

Feasible Planet: A guide to more sustainable living

by Ken Kroes
0995847045Are you concerned about the state of our planet and hope that governments and corporations will find a sustainable way for us to live? If you do not think about it too hard, that may work, but will it? Left on their own, with drivers of popularity and profits, I am not too convinced that it will. The missing part of this equation is you and me. Individuals who believe that corporations and governments can do better. Individuals who believe that through action, we can buy a bit more time to develop and implement solutions to our critical issues. Available On Amazon

 

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

MOST READ

screenshot of a My Space page
What Happens to Our Data When We No Longer Use a Social Media Network or Publishing Platform?
by Katie Mackinnon
The internet plays a central role in our lives. I — and many others my age — grew up alongside the…
a person wearing a surgical mask working at a computer
Coronaphobia: A New Epidemic of Isolation
by Barry Vissell
Coronaphobia is a real word. Researchers coined this term in December 2020. It's the fear of Covid…
an older man speaking with a young adult over a cup of tea
Storytelling Allows Elders to Transfer Values and Meaning to Younger Generations
by Mary Ann McColl
Repeated storytelling is a key method for elders to communicate what they believe to be important…
a person metaphorically hitting themselves over the head
Placebos Reduce Feelings of Guilt – Even When People Know They’re Taking One
by Jeremy Howick
Guilt is a double-edged sword. It can be a reminder to improve and a motivation to apologise. It…
a young man taking an antidepressant pill
Emotional ‘Blunting’ and Antidepressants – What Is Happening?
by Barbara Jacquelyn Sahakian et al
We know that depressed patients commonly report “emotional blunting” after longer use of…
effects of el nino 1 28
4 Consequences of El Niño Returning in 2023
by Paloma Trascasa-Castro
Every two to seven years, the equatorial Pacific Ocean gets up to 3°C warmer (what we know as an El…
clay figurines sitting at a table eating food made of clay
Everybody Eats Earth in Some Way or Another
by Ran Knishinsky
There are many reasons why so many people of different ages, cultures, and races eat clay. Do these…
how beavers improve ecosystems 1 28
How Beavers and Oysters Are Helping Restore Ecosystems
by Daniel Merino and Nehal El-Hadi
Whether you are looking at tropical forests in Brazil, grasslands in California or coral reefs in…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.