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The Riverside and Berwyn experience: Contrasts in landscape structure, perceptions of the urban landscape, and their effects on people

School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA
Landscape and Urban Planning (Impact Factor: 2.61). 03/2006; DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2005.04.002

ABSTRACT Humans not only structure the landscape through their activities, but their perceptions of nature are affected by the spatial and temporal arrangements (structure) in the landscape. Our understanding of these interactions, however, is limited. We explored the relationship between landscape structure and peoples’ perceptions of nature in the Chicago, IL, USA, suburbs of Riverside and Berwyn because they offer contrasting paradigms of an urban landscape. Designed in the 1800s by Frederick Law Olmsted, Riverside has several unique design elements (curvilinear streets, ample setbacks, parkways of variable width with mowed grass and naturalistic groupings of trees) that define the structure and composition of this landscape. The urban forest was the keystone of Olmsted's desire to create a harmonious community characterized by “refined sylvan beauty”. In contrast, the adjacent community of Berwyn has right-angled streets with small lots and narrow setbacks for houses. Differences in landscape structure between the two communities produced differences in the diversity, size, and composition of woody vegetation. As measured by patch-size distribution, Riverside had greater diversity in landscape structure than Berwyn, and in turn, Riverside had greater diversity in the composition and size of the woody vegetation compared to Berwyn. Riverside tended toward a “natural” appearance with vegetation, while yards in Berwyn tended to be trimmed and edged. Significant differences between the mean ratings of Riverside and Berwyn respondents were found for six of seven community attribute categories. Riverside participants reported receiving greater benefit from the visual and nature-related features of the urban forest than did Berwyn respondents. Berwyn residents ranked social atmosphere for the community and locomotion (wayfinding) highest among the seven community attribute categories. Despite differences between the two communities, residents valued the green residential environment provided by vegetation. However, the more diverse urban landscape as measured by built structures, woody vegetation, and lot size and shape proved to be more satisfying to the residents of these two communities. The design concepts developed and implemented by Olmsted more than century ago in Riverside are still relevant to city planners striving to develop living environments that are satisfying to urban and suburban residents.

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