In this article, we compare the benefits that people who live in cities and people who live in nearby rural areas get from nature. Although cities are beneficial for people in various ways, notably by offering access to work, better health care, and education services, urban dwellers have fewer opportunities to experience nature. Previous research has shown that a lack of contact with nature can be detrimental to physical and mental health. In fact, more or less humanized nature can help people meet various needs: material needs, such as health, nutrition, and income; relational needs, by fostering relationships with others through recreation and shared activities; and emotional needs, such as feeling happy and satisfied. As more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, it is timely to better understand the impacts that city living has on human-nature relationships and their knock-on effects on material, relational, and subjective dimensions of human wellbeing.
We asked people in cities and rural areas of the Solomon Islands, a Small Island Developing State that is urbanizing rapidly, how they felt about the wellbeing benefits that they obtain from the landscape and seascape. We found that fewer people in urban areas reported benefiting from local ecosystems in terms of nutrition, health, feelings of connectedness to nature, or feelings of happiness and life satisfaction. The consequences on overall human wellbeing may be important in the Solomon Islands, as there are fewer alternatives to nature to meet certain needs – for example, in terms of imported food and manufactured goods or water filtration plants – than in wealthier nations. Decreases in the wellbeing benefits derived from nature may affect poorer urban dwellers more severely if they are unable to afford some of these alternatives. To manage urban environments equitably, in ways that can benefit society’s most vulnerable, we need to consider how terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems contribute to multiple dimensions of wellbeing, and how this varies for different people in society.