A photo of a resident walking a dog in the central forest of Helsinki, taken by Hui Tang.

By Yuan Wang, Jari Niemela, and D. Johan Kotze.

Read the full article here.

People living in urban areas often have limited experience in nature, aside from mown lawns, parks, private gardens, planted flowerbeds and street trees. Urban forests, however, potentially provide urban residents with health, social and cultural benefits through direct use and experience. Urban forests are patchy, extensively managed and biodiversity rich semi-natural areas in the city. Unfortunately, increasing urban density threatens the availability and quality of these urban forests. Knowing where to maintain these forests in the urban forest network is important in urban planning and greenspace management.

To understand more about how people enjoy urban forests in different parts of the forest network, we sampled 20 forest patches in five combinations of size, connectivity, and surrounding construction density in the city of Helsinki. In each of the sampled urban forests, we surveyed visitor use, experience and satisfaction.

We found that visitors of larger urban forests are highly satisfied, and appreciate health improvement and inspirational experiences through intense physical use. When surrounded by low-density landscapes in these large urban forest patches, people appreciate physical, cultural and restorative experiences. Visitors also make intense use of smaller urban forest patches but, even when those smaller patches are highly connected, visitors do not appreciate the experience as much as they do in larger patches. Under the pressure of densification, we suggest the preservation of large forests in high-density areas to encourage use and improve satisfaction, and to maintain small forests near voluminous greenspace. We recommend considering both use and experience when evaluating how an urban forest could benefit people.