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Perceptions of Colour, Form and Amenity in Green Spaces



Designing healthy resilient places for people doesn't need to be too challenging or complicated. We might be best to remember that a landscape-led approach works best, where the landscape comes first, and provides the framework within the built environment is nurtured. We should also be aware that human reactions to places depend both on the aesthetics of the designed landscape itself and the people themselves (see Hoyle, 2020 for discussion). Because people's responses and perceptions are driven by values which vary at the individual and community level, working with local stakeholders including residents, site users, local schools and land-managers provides a positive way forward.
Perceptions of Colour, Form and Amenity in Green Spaces
Hoyle, H. 1 Apr 2022, (Accepted/In press) In: Urban Design. 162
Designing healthy resilient places for people doesn’t need to be too challenging or complicated. We
might be best to remember that a landscape-led approach works best, where the landscape comes
first, and provides the framework within the built environment is nurtured. We should also be aware
that human reactions to places depend both on the aesthetics of the designed landscape itself and
the people themselves (see Hoyle, 2020 for discussion). Because people’s responses and perceptions
are driven by values which vary at the individual and community level, working with local
stakeholders including residents, site users, local schools and land-managers provides a positive way
Landscape aesthetics drive human responses in different ways. Colour and form are two key
characteristics which can be manipulated to provoke specific reactions. Colourful, flowering planting
in urban spaces precipitates the ‘wow factor’, which lifts the human spirit, excites and produces
instantaneous joya sort of adrenaline high. Research has shown that across a range of designed
urban woodland, shrub and herbaceous landscapes, people consider planting with 27% flower cover
and above particularly attractive (Hoyle et al. 2017a), useful to the designer fashioning a planting
palate to support instantaneous human happiness. Seasonality is another factor to bear in mind.
Creating year-round interest is desirable, so the overall landscape ‘picture’ contains some colour
throughout the seasons. Some people live in anticipation of fresh greens and pale daffodils in
spring, whereas others enjoy the rich mellowing browns and golds of an autumnal landscape.
Research has shown that in contrast to vibrant colours which produce the wow factor, subtle green
planted landscapes are conducive to relaxation and mental restoration. Form has a similar effect.
Recent work in collaboration with Matthew Pottage, curator at RHS Wisley (Hoyle, 2021) showed
that a “climate-ready” Exotic Garden incorporating species such as dramatic cannas with large
vibrant orange flowers, and Chinese dwarf bananas, elicited excitement and wonder, whereas
visitors found the English cottage-garden style, with a wilder aesthetic incorporating familiar native
species such as foxgloves, geraniums and roses more relaxing and mentally restorative to walk
through. That the public are supportive of the introduction of non-native, exotic species with an
unfamiliar aesthetic provides policymakers and land-managers with the confidence to introduce
these species, providing greater resilience to future climates than present day planting.
Dramatic, exotic planting incorporating cannas with large vibrant orange flowers, and Chinese dwarf bananas can be
visually exciting providing the ‘wow-factor’ and is also ‘climate-ready’. Credit: the author
People also react in different ways to the degree of control the land-manager exerts over the
landscape in terms of maintenance, to deliver a clipped, manicured aesthetic or otherwise. Research
and practice in different international contexts, has historically indicated that people like to see
‘cues to care’ in the landscape, (Nassauer, 1995) signalling human intervention and deliberate
management. These include bright colourful flowers, (linking to the research highlighted above), and
neat trimmed edges and mown desire lines which either frame wilder areas of grassland, meadow or
shrub and provide a pathway through for site users and their dogs. There is however, recent
evidence from the UK and throughout Europe, that people are increasingly prepared to accept urban
vegetation with a wilder aesthetic, particularly if they know it provides wildlife benefits (Southon et
al. 2017; Lampinen et al, 2020). Introducing engaging signage on site to explain these biodiversity
benefits helps increase acceptance.
Wardown Park Arboretum-meadow: Introducing colourful flowers and cutting neat edges to ‘frame’ an area of tall
meadows provides the public with ‘cues to care’. Credit: the author
Many local land-managers already understand these relationships and use landscape aesthetics to
provoke particular responses. This helps in targeting scarce financial resources to deliver maximum
human enjoyment and landscape appreciation as well as environmental co-benefits such as climate
resilience and wildlife habitat. This applies in the UK, where local planning authorities (LPAs) have
been experiencing drastic cuts to greenspace budgets since 2010, when austerity measures were
introduced by the coalition government and quality green space provision started to be considered
an “optional extra” (Mell, 2020). Here LPAs have embraced meadow-style vegetation in different
urban contexts, partly because there is the perception that this style of vegetation needs less
frequent cutting and is therefore cheaper to maintain. Yet context matters too, and experience with
local residents has taught greenspace managers that many urban residents will not accept tall-
growing native perennial meadows directly outside their homes, particularly after flowering, when
stems and seed heads are brown and may be trampled by neighbourhood dogs, or foxes and may
harbour drug paraphernalia or animal excrement (Hoyle et al. 2017b; Lampinen et al. 2021). Sowing
shorter meadow species, mowing more frequently, and using colourful annual meadows including
vibrant non-native species such as the Californian Poppy or late flowering Plains Coreopsis in high-
profile central or residential areas provide the ‘cues to care’ some residents crave. In Lyon, France,
where it might be argued that resources are more bountiful that in the UK, greenspace managers
prioritise spaces as ‘flowering spaces’, ‘recreational spaces’ or ‘nature spaces. The flowering spaces
need most financial investment in terms of initial planting and then maintenance. These are high
profile central city locations such as the Place Bellecour, where fountains and showy white blooms
provide a magnate for residents and visitors to the city. Recreational spaces include the banks of the
Rhonere prioritised away from parking, for walking, cycling and relaxation. The nature spaces
provide refuge for wildlife. Whilst high footfall is discouraged, signage highlights the value of these
sites as biodiversity hotspots, explaining the ecosystem services they provide.
Place Bellecour, City of Lyon, one of the ‘flowering spaces’ which provide the ‘wow factor’ in the City. Credit: Daniel
Yet the way people perceive, react and behave in the landscape is also related to their beliefs, deep-
seated underlying values and socio-cultural characteristics. People who are highly ‘nature-
connected’, with a greater affinity with the natural world, have repeatedly been shown to enjoy the
aesthetics of ‘natural’ landscapes and find being in nature more mentally restorative than others.
They are also more likely to be familiar with the concept of biodiversity and to support a wilder, less
manicured aesthetic in urban areas. In addition, public acceptance of dramatic, exotic planting in the
UK landscape has been shown to depend on people’s values in relation to climate change and how
aware they are of the impact it is having on public parks and greenspaces. Those who understand
that many of today’s plant species such as the traditional oak are becoming less resilient to future
climates, are more prepared to accept ‘climate-ready’ exotic planting, seeing this as ‘evolution in
action’ (Hoyle et al. 2017c). Climate-change awareness has been shown to be directly related to
people’s educational qualifications, which highlights the need for novel ways of communicating this
reality across communities of people with diverse backgrounds.
Women also perceive and value natural landscapes differently to men. UK research has shown that
when walking through the same areas of designed urban woodland, shrub and herbaceous
vegetation, women perceived higher levels of ‘naturalness’ and found the experience significantly
more restorative than men (Hoyle et al., 2017a). The same pattern was identified in multicultural
cities across Europe, where women valued all park scenes and medium and high forest plant species
richness more highly than did men and were more supportive of the conversion of neat, short-mown
lawns to tall meadows to support biodiversity conservation (Fischer et al. 2018). This is particularly
interesting, because historically higher levels of fear have been reported amongst women in
woodland and woodland edge environments, (for example, Jorgensen et al. 2007). These historical
responses might relate to specific scale or context, or traditional role models which are now
Landscape professionals need to be mindful that their perceptions diverge form those of their urban publics. Source: the
Planners, designers and managers of urban green infrastructure who strive to prioritise human well-
being in the context of a multicultural city should be mindful that their own perceptions and values
diverge from those of their urban publics. This has been shown to be the case repeatedly, with
landscape and environmental professionals demonstrating aesthetic preference for wilder, less
colourful planting than the public. People with a personal migrant background or history of
migration in their family often perceive and experience urban nature differently to native
populations too. Native European or North American populations may hold a wilderness view of
nature, seeing it as a recreation ground, whereas people who have moved, to these regions from
elsewhere, or their parents or grandparents have moved, may perceive it more functionally,
associating it with rural landscapes and food production. The designer needs to tap into the values
and socio-cultural drivers of local communities to co-create healthy resilient places compatible with
local need.
One place where this is happening now, in a process of ‘iterative co-creation’ is Luton, Bedfordshire,
UK. Here researchers are working closely with the local Parks Service and a primary school to co-
produce an educational arboretum-meadow on a former mini-golf site in Wardown Park. The park
and primary school 100m across the road are in the High Town Ward of Luton. The ward has
significant BAME communities, with 17.9%* Asian/Asian British residents and 12.2%*
Black/African/Caribbean/Black British. In High Town there are 17.8% households where no people
have English as their main language, 18.6% residents over 16 have no qualifications and 30.8%
women are economically inactive. This public engagement project aims to connect local children
with nature whilst providing an educational resource for the wider community focusing on climate
change, the causes of pollution the value of trees and meadows, particularly in relation to air quality,
health and wellbeing, wildlife and biodiversity. Although interrupted by COVID-19 and school
closures, activities on-site with the children have involved tree-planting, sowing meadows,
measuring tree growth and identifying flower species. The process is described as ‘iterative co-
creation’ as additional partners, including the Landscape Institute and a landscape contractor have
been engaged and involved as it has developed. Additional funding via the LPA has enabled the
introduction of signage indicating the carbon capture of each tree species, a favourite with the
primary children, as well as outdoor classroom furniture. Local land-managers have already
incorporated learning from this project into wider strategies and practice, and landscape
professionals are championing it worldwide as a pilot project. It definitely provides a shining
example; a transferable case study in connecting local children with nature and insight into the
potential for public engagement initiatives within communities to contribute to “futureproofing”
towns and cities by building climate resilience.
Fischer, L.K., Honolda,J., Cvejićd, R., Delshammare, T., Hilbert,S., Lafortezzah,R., Nastrand, M.,
Nielsenj, A.B., Pintard,M. van der Jagt, A.P.N., Kowarika,I., (2018b). Beyond green: Broad support for
biodiversity in multicultural European Cities. Global Environmental Change 49 35-45
Hoyle, H., Hitchmough, J.D., & Jorgensen, A. (2017a). All about the ‘wow factor’? The relationships
between aesthetics, restorative effect and perceived biodiversity in designed urban planting.
Landscape and Urban Planning, 164, 109-123
Hoyle, H.E., Hitchmough, J.D., & Jorgensen, A. (2017c). Attractive, climate-adapted and sustainable?
Public perception of non-native planting in the designed urban landscape. Landscape and Urban
Planning, 164, 49-63
Hoyle, H., Jorgensen, A., Warren, P., Dunnett, N. & Evans, K. (2017b). “Not in their front yard” The
opportunities and challenges of introducing perennial urban meadows: A local authority stakeholder
perspective. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 25, 139-149.
Hoyle, H. (2020). What Is Urban Nature and How Do We Perceive It? In: Dempsey N., Dobson J.
(eds) Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces. Cities
and Nature. Springer, Cham.
Hoyle, (2021). Climate-adapted, traditional or cottage-garden planting? Public perceptions, values
and socio-cultural drivers in a designed garden setting.
Urban Forestry and Urban Greening 65, 127362
Jorgensen, A., Hitchmough, J., Dunnett, N., (2007). Woodland as a setting for housing appreciation
and fear and the contribution to residential satisfaction and place identity in Warrington New Town,
UK. Landscape and Urban Planning 79, 273287.
Lampinen et al. (2021). Acceptance of near-natural greenspace management relates to ecological
and socio-cultural assigned values among European urbanites Basic and Applied Ecology 50, 119-131
Mell, I., (2020) The impact of austerity on funding green infrastructure: A DPSIR evaluation of the
Liverpool Green & Open Space Review (LG&OSR), UK, Land Use Policy, 91,104284
Nassauer, J.I., (1995). Messy ecosystems, orderly frames. Landscape Journal 14 161 170.
Southon, G.E., Jorgensen, A., Dunnett, N., Hoyle, H. & Evans, K. L. (2017). Biodiverse perennial
meadows have aesthetic value and increase residents’ perceptions of site quality in urban green-
space. Landscape and Urban Planning, 158, 105-118.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
The global climate crisis precipitates a call to ‘futureproof’ cities by introducing resilient climate-adapted urban green infrastructure (UGI). Recent UK research has revealed public support for climate-adapted UGI, yet there is a lack of research focusing on the values underlying public perceptions, particularly in relation to climate change, and the socio-cultural factors driving these. This was addressed by asking 249 people to walk through one of three contrasting areas of planting: exotic (climate-adapted); traditional or cottage-garden, within a designed garden setting, whilst conducting a self-guided questionnaire assessing participants’ perceptions of aesthetics, self-reported restorative effect, and plant and invertebrate biodiversity. Participants’ held values in relation to climate change, non-native species, and nature-connectedness were also addressed. Findings indicated aesthetic preference for climate-adapted planting over the other two styles, providing further evidence of cultural acceptance for policymakers and land-managers seeking to ‘futureproof’ cities by introducing climate-adapted UGI. Planting of a cottage-garden style was perceived as the least attractive, but the most restorative. Socio-cultural characteristics including age, educational qualifications, and taking holidays overseas were drivers of perceptions. Professional involvement and interest in the environment, landscape, and horticulture were identified as drivers of perceptions and values. Values in relation to climate change were directly related to participants’ educational qualifications. This identifies a need to consider novel approaches to climate change education to promote wider understanding of the implications of climate-change and the potential for climate-adapted UGI to deliver ‘futureproofing’ benefits for climate-change mitigation and human mental wellbeing.
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Grasslands are widespread elements of urban greenspace providing recreational, psychological and aesthetic benefits to city residents. Two urban grassland types of contrasting management dominate urban greenspaces: frequently mown, species-poor short-cut lawns and less intensively managed, near-natural tall-grass meadows. The higher conservation value of tall-grass meadows makes management interventions such as converting short-cut lawns into tall-grass meadows a promising tool for urban biodiversity conservation. The societal success of such interventions, however, depends on identifying the values urban residents assign to different types of urban grasslands, and how these values translate to attitudes towards greenspace management. Using 2027 questionnaires across 19 European cities, we identify the assigned values that correlate with people's personal greenspace use and their preferences for different types of urban grasslands to determine how these values relate to the agreement with a scenario of converting 50% of their cities’ short-cut lawns into tall-grass meadows. We found that most people assigned nature-related values, such as wildness, to tall-grass meadows and utility-related values, such as recreation, to short-cut lawns. Positive value associations of wildness and species richness with tall-grass meadows, and social and nature-related greenspace activities, positively correlated with agreeing to convert short-cut lawns into tall-grass meadows. Conversely, disapproval of lawn conversion correlated with positive value associations of cleanliness and recreation potential with short-cut lawns. Here, people using greenspaces for nature-related activities were outstandingly positive about lawn conversion. The results show that the plurality of values assigned to different types of urban grasslands should be considered in urban greenspace planning. For example, tall-grass meadows could be managed to also accommodate the values associated with short-cut lawns, such as tidiness and recreation potential, to support their societal acceptance.
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The growing evidence base for the benefits for people and wildlife of nature-based solutions to managing urban green infrastructure lacks research investigating land manager perspectives on their implementation. To address this gap, we explored UK local authority manager perceptions of the challenges and opportunities of introducing perennial urban meadows to prioritise biodiversity and aesthetics. This was co-produced as an experiment in urban greenspaces with Luton Parks Service and Bedford Borough Council 2013-15. We conducted semi-structured interviews with the eight stakeholder managers involved to identify key factors impacting on the perceived feasibility of future urban meadow establishment in other areas. All managers identified three dominant factors (aesthetics and public reaction, locational context, and human resources and economic sustainability). Additional factors (local politics, communication, biodiversity and existing habitat and physical factors) varied in importance according to personal values and managerial role. Support for future meadow introduction and a desire to overcome the economic challenge of the disposal of meadow arisings were related to manager biocentricity. Managers were aware of changing public values leading to increasing acceptance of a messier urban aesthetic. They perceived perennial meadows as a realistic alternative to amenity mown grass that in specific contexts could increase local biodiversity and enhance aesthetics if implemented in consultation with the public and local councillors. Our findings have relevance for the wider implementation of such nature-based solutions to urban GI management: Changes in management practice such as the introduction of perennial meadows have significant political, strategic, economic and practical implications and cannot be viewed purely as a technical challenge.
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Urban populations experience the multiple health and well-being benefits of nature predominantly via urban green infrastructure. If this is to be designed and managed optimally for both nature and people, there is an urgent need for greater understanding of the complex relationships between human aesthetic experience, well-being and actual or perceived biodiversity. This integrative study assessed human aesthetic reaction, restorative effect and perceived biodiversity in relation to fine-grained categories of woodland, shrub and herbaceous planting. We surveyed 1411 members of the public who walked through planting of varying structure, species character and percentage flower cover whilst completing a site-based questionnaire. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were then carried out with 34 questionnaire participants. Correlations between perceived attractiveness and perceived biodiversity were identified for three out of four biodiversity indicators. There was a correlation between perceived attractiveness and restorative effect yet this was not strong. Colourful planting with flower cover above a critical threshold (27%) was associated with the highest level of aesthetic preference. Subtle green ‘background’ planting afforded a restorative effect. These results are discussed with reference to the Circumplex Model of Affect. Our findings indicate that people appreciate colourful flowering public planting for the ‘wow factor’, but that green planting outside the narrow flowering season of most species is greatly valued. Planting moderately or most natural in structure was perceived as significantly more restorative than that least natural in structure suggesting that people in the UK may be increasingly accepting of a messier ‘ecological aesthetic’ in urban planting.
Full-text available
Throughout Europe climate change has rendered many plant species used in contemporary urban planting design less fit for use in public greenspaces. A growing evidence base exists for the ecological value of introducing non-native species, yet urban policy and practice guidance continues to portray non-native species negatively, focusing on their assumed invasiveness. In this context there is a lack of research focusing on the cultural relevance of non-native species in the urban landscape. To address this gap we surveyed 1411 members of the UK public who walked through designed and semi-natural planting of three levels of visual nativeness: “strongly native”; “intermediate” and “strongly non-native”, whilst completing a site-based questionnaire. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were then carried out with 34 questionnaire participants. A majority (57.6%) of our respondents would be happy to see more non-native planting in UK public spaces, rising to 75.3% if it were better adapted to a changing climate than existing vegetation. Respondents recognised the three broad levels of nativeness, yet this was not a factor driving perceptions of the attractiveness of the planting. In addition to climate change, we identified four key factors driving acceptance and rejection of non-native planting: aesthetics; locational context; historic factors and inevitability; and perceptions of invasiveness and incompatability with native wildlife. Our research indicates that in the context of a changing climate, focus should be placed on the potentially positive role of non-invasive, climate-adapted, aesthetically pleasing species within urban planting schemes as these could be well-received by the public.
Following the introduction of austerity measures by the coalition government in 2010, Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) across the UK were required to take stock of those services that they are legally and financially obliged to deliver. One area directly impacted has been the funding of green infrastructure (GI), which is often considered an “optional extra” in service provision. The financial limitations placed on GI maintenance have a significant influence on both the liveability and quality of urban environments. To address this dilemma this paper contextualises the complexities facing UK cities within a global discussion of GI financing but goes further by presenting an ex-post DPSIR examination of the choices being made by Liverpool City Council (LCC) to fund maintenance. DPSIR is an evaluation process which provides scope to better understand the factors influencing GI at an LPA scale. The paper reflects upon the drivers, pressures and impacts associated with austerity asking what responses are being used by LCC. The paper argues that, although austerity has placed significant constraints on LCC, through the Liverpool Green & Open Space Review (LG&OSR) the city is engaged in an ongoing dialogue pertaining to innovative funding mechanisms. It concludes that, although no single approach can effectively finance GI, a suite of complementary financial models exists, which are transferable between cities addressing current political, socio-economic, and ecological limitations.
While urban growth contributes to the biodiversity crisis, biodiverse greenspaces within cities could support both human wellbeing and biodiversity conservation. Yet, urban greenspaces are under pressure due to the rapid densification of cities worldwide. Urban conservation policies thus need broad support, ideally from people with different sociocultural backgrounds. Whether urban residents prefer biodiverse over simply green spaces, however, largely remains an open question. We tested how diverse respondents (N = 3716) from five European cities valued three levels of biodiversity (plant species richness) in four ubiquitous greenspace types. Our field survey revealed that biodiversity matters: People largely prefer higher plant species richness in urban greenspaces (i.e., parks, wastelands, streetscapes) and agree that higher plant species richness allows for more liveable cities. Despite variation across European cities, positive valuations of high plant species richness prevailed among different sociocultural groups, including people of migrant background. The results of this study can thus support policies on a biodiversity-friendly development and management of urban greenspaces by highlighting social arguments for integrating biodiversity into urban development plans.
This study evaluates “woodland in the ecological style” as a setting for contemporary housing by means of a case study of Birchwood, Warrington New Town, UK, using a postal questionnaire and semi-structured interviews to reveal residents’ perceptions of the aesthetic and safety aspects of the woodland, together with its underlying meanings. Most Birchwood residents liked the visual appearance of their street, though they had both positive and negative feelings towards its “trees and greenery”. Woodland in the local area figured prominently amongst the residents’ favourite places though some feared that they would be the victims of physical or sexual assault, or of robbery or intimidation from groups of young people in the woodland, and women felt particularly vulnerable. Whilst the woodland was significant for many residents it was not strongly identified with Birchwood as a place: the quality of the community as symbolised by the behaviour of local individuals, community groups and institutions was regarded as a more potent measure of local identity. Colourful and well-tended landscape interventions had the ability to act as signs of a caring community. The contribution of these findings to theoretical frameworks of residential satisfaction, restorative experiences and place identity is discussed: it is suggested, inter alia, that whilst signs of individual and collective care in the landscape contribute to communal place identity, individual experiences of wilder urban green spaces, including those of a restorative nature, are formative of individual place attachment. The implications for planning, design and management with ecological woodland are explored: urban dwellers should be able to choose their preferred way of interacting with the woodland, residential settings should accommodate a wide variety of user needs, and the vegetation on and around the streetscape should be proactively managed in consultation with the community.
Novel landscape designs that improve ecological quality may not be appreciated or maintained if recognizable landscape language that communicates human intention is not part of the landscape. Similarly, ecologically valuable remnant landscapes may not be protected or maintained if the human intention to care for the landscape is not apparent. Landscape language that communicates human intention, particularly intention to care for the landscape, offers a powerful vocabulary for design to improve ecological quality. Ecological function is not readily recognizable to those who are not educated to look for it. Furthermore, the appearance of many indigenous ecosystems and wildlife habitats violates cultural norms for the neat appearance of landscapes. Even to an educated eye, ecological function is sometimes invisible. Design can use cultural values and traditions for the appearance of landscape to place ecological function in a recognizable context. I describe several examples of cultural language "cues to care" that provide a cultural context for ecological function, and I demonstrate how these cues can be used in design. Peer Reviewed
(eds) Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces
  • H Hoyle
Hoyle, H. (2020). What Is Urban Nature and How Do We Perceive It? In: Dempsey N., Dobson J. (eds) Naturally Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green Spaces. Cities and Nature. Springer, Cham.