The Urban Environment, Children and Biophilia: Do children use and prefer biodiverse urban habitats?
Hand, Kathryn L.
Today nearly half of the world’s children will grow up in the highly modified and artificial urban landscape (UNICEF, 2012). These children will experience an environment largely alien to the more natural one we have evolved to be in, leaving them to grow up in a state of ‘biological poverty’ (Kellert and Wilson, 1993; Turner et al., 2004). For these children urban green spaces provide a residual link to the natural world, preserving opportunities to experience and connect to biodiversity. However, the distribution and quality of urban green space across cities is patchy and increasing parental safety concerns may restrict access to even nearby natural areas. As such many urban children may be in danger of growing up in isolation from nature and the developmental and wellbeing benefits it provides (Louv, 2008). In this thesis I aim to assess children’s habitat use in urban areas to explore whether they are able to access and use urban green spaces. I predict that children will preferentially seek out and use the biodiverse areas available to them, as would be expected by the Biophilia Hypothesis, proposed by EO Wilson as the innate affiliation towards the natural world (Wilson, 1984). To explore children’s habitat use patterns, I used data collected from interviews with 126 children in two urban centres of New Zealand. I applied approaches developed from wildlife research to estimate children’s home ranges and habitat use. I estimated the biodiversity present within each child’s neighbourhood and home range area to assess how much biodiversity is available and used by each child in their day-to-day movements. Further, I applied resource selection analysis to gain quantitative estimates of children’s habitat preferences. Overall, I found that the biodiversity available to children in their neighbourhoods was varied but generally high, with some form of green space located close to all children. I found home range size was a key determinant of how much biodiversity a child had access to. However I also found evidence for a continued decline in home range size, with a median home range size of less than three hectares. Further, over a quarter of children had restricted ranges which prevented them from accessing any biodiverse green habitats, indicating that declining home range sizes could be facilitating a disconnection to nature. Yet, for the majority of children who did have access to nature in their neighbourhood, they did not show any preference for these more biodiverse habitats available. Instead, children spent most of their time outdoors either in their garden or on residential streets. Further resource selection analyses identified gardens, streets and both paved and green sports fields as being the most preferred habitat types. These suggest children’s habitat use is motivated by selecting sites that are close to their home and which support play, rather than biodiversity values (Moore, 1986; Jansson and Persson, 2010). The lack of biophilic behaviour in children despite available and accessible biodiversity suggests that children may be spending more time indoors with electronic media (Pergams and Zaradic, 2006). Through a combination of lack of availability, declining independence and the allure of modern technology, children are growing up isolated from nature and ignorant of the benefits it affords (Louv, 2008). This trend is concerning as it means future generations will grow up with little knowledge of or empathy for the environment (Pyle, 1978; Miller, 2005). It is therefore important to improve children’s connection to nature by integrating biodiversity into the urban environment, and children’s lives, to a greater degree. I explore the possible roles of urban planning, school education, and parent’s in supporting this.
Advisor: van Heezik, Yolanda; Seddon, Philip J.
Degree Name: Master of Science
Degree Discipline: Zoology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Biodiversity; Urban; Urban ecology; Children; Nature Connection; Biophilia; New Zealand; Resource selection; Home range; Neighbourhood; Greenspace
Research Type: Thesis