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Evidence of associations between nature and health behaviors and health status is mounting. However, there is a need to deconstruct “natural space” to capture the qualities of green and blue space and the various ways people experience these natural outdoor environments. These experiences influence and sustain changes in health and social behaviors such as physical activity, diet, and social connectedness. In this paper, we examine the social, cultural, and emotional factors that influence people´s perceptions of natural outdoor environments, also referred to as neighborhood aesthetics. Using a population-based sample of 2948 adults in four European cities who participated in the PHENOTYPE study, we developed a quality-based aesthetics index of nearby nature to represent our study outcome. The scale had high internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha 0.86). We assessed its association with common measures of the natural environment (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)), and examined factors that may influence aesthetic ratings. Hypothesized correlates of neighborhood aesthetics including presence of and time in neighborhood nature, perceived environmental stressors and neighborhood social cohesion and attachment were generally confirmed. Contrary to our expectations, respondents born in the country of current residence rated neighborhood aesthetics lower than those born elsewhere and associations with length of residence were not consistent across countries. Interventions designed to influence social, cultural, and emotional processes could improve aesthetics ratings and potentially contribute to better health and wellbeing.


Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research

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Journal Article

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