paper critiques a common research method, image-based studies, in assessing
environmental preferences. The method is used, in particular, in the fields of
environmental psychology, landscape studies, and health studies, here called
empirical environmental preference studies or EEP studies. I argue that the
established view in the EEP field that nature is inherently experienced as more
aesthetically appealing and restorative than urban environments may be biased
because of the image-based method. This paper presents a literature review of
EEP studies, discussing them in a framework of environmental and everyday
aesthetics. The conclusion is that EEP studies may strip cities of their
physical, socio-cultural, and aesthetic layers; and comparing nature and cities
as places of restoration may be unfruitful as our relationship with nature and
urban environments is dissimilar.
of ambience; aesthetics of engagement; environmental aesthetics; environmental
preference studies; multi-sensory experience; urban environments
of urban environment are primarily studied in the fields of architecture and
placemaking; sociology; consumer studies and marketing; everyday and
environmental aesthetics; and empirical environmental preference studies, or
EEP studies. My focus
is on the EEP field, which aims to identify universal preferences and has
generated the largest body of empirical data and the most negative views about
cities. I examine how cities are typically studied, presented, and discussed in
that field by reviewing studies by influential researcher Roger Ulrich and
twenty EEP studies by other researchers. My focus is on examining the
relationship between common study methods, image-based and in-situ, and their
results. The main question is how reliably a two-dimensional image can convey
an experience of temporal, spatial, and somatic dimensions of environment.
studies are surveys where subjects are asked to rate images or videos of
pre-selected environments on a given scale, for example, based on their
perceived aesthetic appeal or restorativeness. Environments that enable
recovery from mental fatigue or stress are called restorative. To ensure that
study subjects share a comparable emotional baseline, a common research
pre-step is to induce stress, usually via cognitive task-executing or
negatively arousing imagery. The
required presence of stress stems from the presumption that preferred
environments have calming rather than arousing qualities because negative
arousal, including stress, may have negative mental or physical health
implications. In-situ studies typically comprise interviews with or
observations of subjects in a studied environment. A common supplementary
research method is data cross-mapping.
the past decades, EEP studies have focused on the importance of our access to
nature because of the hypothesis that humans innately prefer nature—in this
context, greenery and water—over artificial environments.
Presumably, we find nature more appealing than cities because of evolutionary
or biological reasons. What has aided our species' survival in the past is
viewed as restorative and, hence, aesthetically attractive. Consequently, it
must be beneficial for us to live surrounded by nature or in nature-imitating
Concurrently, a body of studies has emerged about the harms and risks of city
life. Cities are
seen to contain personal stressors related to social interactions, identity,
and fulfillment of needs, in addition to external stressors such as pollution,
noise, crowds, and other negative aesthetics.
It has become mainstream knowledge that nature has substantial positive impact,
exceeding that of cities, on our mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
an attempt to identify the most preferred, beneficial, or least harmful
environments, EEP studies typically focus on external stress by asking what in
the physical environment causes, reduces, or restores us from it. But, given
that an increasing number of people holiday in or move to cities year after
juxtaposition of positively experienced nature and negatively experienced cities
appears simplistic. I examine the empirical evidence about cities being
perceived de facto as less
aesthetically attractive than nature and contextualize my findings in the
framework of everyday and environmental aesthetics and cultural history.
2. On experiencing environment
the aesthetics of a landscape be conveyed by an image? This has for long been a
pertinent question in aesthetics, and it inevitably evokes other questions such
as: what is the nature of aesthetic experience, and what senses could or should
participate in an aesthetic experience? Environmental and everyday aesthetics
have expanded our view on what can be experienced aesthetically, including how
all senses and different cognitive aspects can participate in it. Specifically,
Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant have criticized equating landscapes with
images and attempts to quantify features or qualities of environments to
calculate their aesthetic value. A summary
of the relevant discussion is provided by Marta Tafalla and Ira Newman.
the 1970s, it has been a widespread practice in the EEP field to
formalistically study the environment, focusing on colors, shapes, and forms,
in an attempt to quantify the aesthetic value of environments. This links to
the era's prominent theory in art criticism, formalism.
It also draws from the idea of positive aesthetics; nature only or primarily
has positive aesthetic qualities such as order, balance, unity, and harmony,
whereas artificial environments possess these in rarer instances. Positive
aesthetics have been debated and also opposed in environmental aesthetics but
the approach remains strong in the EEP field, in particular among the
supporters of biophilia. Carlson
argues that the attempt to view landscapes as art is inherently flawed because
by doing so some parts of nature are not positively experienced and this
approach does not include ecological value.
in turn, argues that experiencing environment aesthetically is about
engagement, not about two-dimensional static representation. Engagement means
being embodied by and interacting with one's surroundings. Cognitive and
experiential meanings—knowledge-based and lived-through
associations, bodily stances and intimations—are
complementary and necessary aspects of aesthetic experience. Similarly, our
beliefs, values, and attitudes participate in the process of interpreting and
structuring the experience; "environment is an interrelated and
interdependent union of people and place" and that is why "we cannot
discover the aesthetic value of [an environment] … from an accumulation of
particular amenities." Berleant
suggests that in assessing aesthetic qualities we ought to move beyond the
objects of assessment to the experience itself.
environments should not be viewed as art or focusing on the scenic, what, then,
makes them attractive or unattractive? Berleant discusses modes of negative
environmental aesthetics. Regarding built environment, his examples are
commercial strip developments and shopping malls that assault the senses
because of their vulgarity, marketing hyperbole, visual shrillness, and false
or contrived aesthetic features, such as cheap imitations of valuable
materials. Berleant's other modes of negative aesthetics are: the banal, lack
of imagination or new possibilities; the dull, clumsy technique or shallow
imagination; the unfulfilled, the "scarring misuse and lost possibilities;"
the inappropriate, not fit for its purpose or surroundings; and the
trivializing and the deceptive, such as "cliché-ridded pastiches"
from history. Possibly the most harmful mode of negative aesthetics is the
destructive, such as constructions that divide or repress socially.
aesthetic appeal from a different angle, Yuriko Saito discusses the aesthetics
of ambience and atmosphere: how we experience a situation as a whole,
appraising its ingredients, such as the blend of tactile, visual, auditory, and
somatic elements. According to Saito, sometimes parts fit together to give rise
to a satisfying experience, whereas at other times a mismatch is a dissonance,
for example, hearing Italian music in a traditional Japanese restaurant. The
same element may be satisfying in one setting but dissatisfying in another. A
fast food restaurant may fit into an urban landscape but not in natural
scenery. Aesthetics of ambience links to "the sense of place," the
recognizable, anticipated, or unique mix of sensations and perceptions. The
aesthetics of ambience is also about the appropriateness of elements to the
context and situation, such as seasonal decorations.
raises another essential angle to experiencing the environment aesthetically,
demonstrated by the Japanese practice of expressing one's sensitivity and
considerateness via the sensuous appearance of artifacts and actions, or, how
one behaves or makes things to convey one's caring attitude and to give
aesthetic joy. Although
the Western culture, in general, does not go to similar lengths in sensitive
consideration as Japanese culture, this social aesthetic element is crucial in
everyone's everyday life. How we behave and show consideration or
inconsideration towards others' aesthetic sensibility affects our experience of
the world. This is particularly salient where masses congregate, including
3. Environmental preference studies
examine how cities are viewed in the EEP field, I discuss a range of studies by
influential researcher Roger Ulrich and a literature review of twenty EEP
studies from other researchers. I aim to provide an overview on a) what has
influenced the development of the consensus about cities as less attractive
environments than nature; and b) what is the current perception or presentation
of cities in this field.
has researched the positive effects of nature since the 1970s. His perhaps most
famous finding is that viewing nature through a window appears to speed
recovery after surgery. Ulrich is
interested in the stress-reducing or health-inducing effects of nature as
experienced via, for example, posters, windows, pot plants, hospital gardens
and virtual imagery. His focus
follows his 1979 findings that revealed that stressed individuals feel better
after viewing images of nature but sadder and more aggressive after viewing
images of urban environment. He surveyed 100 images, half from nature, half
from commercial and industrial areas in the US, and commented: "no people
or animals were visible in either the nature or urban collections. The absence
of people probably increased the pleasantness levels of the urban as well as
nature scenes." The study
excluded residential and sacred places to avoid potential "emotional bias."
Ulrich's 1979 study, a large body of research has emerged corroborating
Ulrich's view that built environments are more stress-inducing or less
restorative than nature, as summarized by Ana Karinna Hidalgo: "cities
aim to provide people with environments that improve their quality of life.
However, cities, and specifically streets, produce urban stressors that
threaten the ability of people to restore themselves from stress and mental
common conclusion in the EEP field is that people do not yet possess evolved
capabilities to appreciate or adapt to city life and urban environments, hence
we need respite in "our original home," nature.
literature review that informs this paper consists of ten image-based and ten
in-situ studies, listed in Attachment 1.
The key findings of the studies can be grouped into four categories: social
aspects, greenery, place attachment and multisensory experience, and formal
aesthetic features. Overall, I noted several problematic aspects in the
reviewed studies. Image-based studies tended to focus on formal qualities, such
as colors, forms, and lines; some researchers even enhanced this focus by only
supplying monochromatic images to the subjects (Shi et al., 2014).
Definitions for 'urban' and 'natural' environments were not consistent. For
example, each city study assessed different parts of cities, including plazas,
heritage areas, scenic harbors, aerial views, pocket parks, high-traffic
corridors, and empty streets, whereas nature images ranged from woodlands to
pastoral and parkland sites.
city images contained vegetation ranging from very little to abundant, some
city images contained waterfronts or water features, and all urban environments
were affected by nature, at minimum by weather and season.
In contrast, nature photos nearly always depicted some human influence, such as
walking paths or signs of agriculture. In 1979, Ulrich excluded humans and
animals from his images, and this approach is still in use.
My literature review was not able to establish whether people and animals were
systematically included or excluded, as it was not consistently addressed in
the studies, but exclusion appeared more likely.
Below, I discuss the four main themes that emerged in the literature review
affecting the environmental aesthetic experience.
3.1. Social aspects
restorativeness of a place appeared to mostly arise from the experience of
fascination (Troffa & Fornara, 2011) that was provided by nature but also
by places of social interaction, such as cafés and restaurants (Lorenzo et al.,
2016), along with historical or social areas including waterfronts, pedestrian
streets, and public squares, in particular where these were combined with urban
greenery (Bornioli, 2018). Subjects of low-anxiety personality types
experienced hectic urban environments as equally or more restorative than
nature (Newman & Brooks, 2014), whereas green spaces depleted in
restorative value where they became crowded (Bornioli, 2018).
findings indicate that fascination and social interaction are interlinked and
pertinent to restoration and aesthetic appeal. These findings are poignant,
considering the approach to exclude people from studied images. The purpose of
the exclusion is to direct attention to the fixed and permanent elements.
However, just as nature is by definition organic, our everyday experience of
the city is not solely or primarily about the immutable. Jane Jacobs and Jan
Gehl have argued from the 1960s that vibrant street life is what makes a city,
and the current placemaking movement demonstrates how this resonates with
today's city planners and communities.
It can be argued that images without people present nature as "supposed to
be" but cities as "not supposed to be". Cities exist for social
interaction, and the eeriness of empty streets is evident in horror
entertainment. Films like 28 Days Later
(2001), video games like Fallout (series
from 1997-), and documentaries about Chernobyl revolve around the thrilling
horror of desolation of once-lively places. This fascination may arise from the
negative sublime of contemplation of destruction, but the abnormality of
abandonment is the cornerstone of the experience.
cities are not meant to be empty, they are not appreciated if they are
over-crowded, either. Hidalgo identified "crowded" and "noisy"
as qualities of public space that can cause irritability and other negative
effects. But, the
experience of a crowd is context-dependent. Being stuck in rush hour and
celebrating the New Year's Eve in a crowd are entirely different experiences.
People are drawn together for events to share and be influenced by others'
emotions. Creating reasons for gatherings is one of the main objectives of
urban (re)vitalization. Where is
the line between vibrancy and negative crowding? Referring to Saito's
aesthetics of ambience and parts forming the whole, this appears culture- and
situation-dependent. What parts and what whole do we wish to experience? For
example, young people flock in the fashion district of Harajuku, Tokyo, so
tightly it is hard to weave through. For the uninitiated, Harajuku is an urban
nightmare, but for the teenagers, the more the merrier.
In contrast, Bornioli found that crowded green spaces deplete in restorative
potential, and this, I suggest, is because it clashes with our expectation
about "appropriate," that is, quiet and serene, nature.
subjects rated nature as more beautiful and restorative than cities or an empty
room, but the difference in ratings diminished where subjects were not
stressed. Furthermore, the restorative potential depended on compatibility
between the environment and subject, such as expectations and personal
preferences (van den Berg et al., 2003; Newman & Brooks, 2014; Hartig
&Staats, 2006; Berto et al., 2015; Sahlin et al., 2016). In urban greenery,
dense yet maintained canopy and shrubbery were the most preferred
(Suppakittpaisarn, 2018). City dwellers who had access to greenery and
waterfronts were more satisfied with their city than those who lacked them
(Yilmaz, 2015), and city dwellers were more willing to accept high-density
development if increased tree cover and information about sustainability were
also provided (Cheng et al., 2017). However, in selecting urban walking routes,
subjects prioritized low speed limit, low traffic volume, and upkeep over
greenery (van Cauwenberg et al., 2016).
the affinity for greenery was evident in my literature review, none of the
studies sought to discuss potential reasons for disliking the lack of greenery
beyond any evolution- or biology-based points. Empty parking lots and sandy
deserts are scant in greenery and water, yet people travel to see deserts but
not parking lots. The over-familiarity of parking lots compared to the rarity
of deserts does not explain the difference, because people living in deserts
can find them beautiful whereas people living surrounded by parking lots rarely
find them beautiful. In a
Western context, the usual urban areas that most often lack greenery are for
industrial, utility, storage, or high-volume traffic use. The lack of greenery
in such a place signals that it is a culturally coded non-place, not meant for
anyone's social or aesthetic enjoyment.
The usage of such places usually means monotonic, uninteresting design, and the
lack of points of fascination, such as detail-richness or presence of other
people to observe. I suggest that the lack of aesthetic considerateness is one
reason for the lack of aesthetic appeal of non-green areas, discussed further
in Section 3.4.
too much greenery can be experienced as unpleasant or even threatening,
evidenced by the common practice in Western cities to trim, prune, and keep
urban vegetation under control for aesthetic and safety reasons. Plenty
has been written about how romanticism affected how we see wilderness as a
source of recreational and aesthetic pleasure instead of a source of
unpredictability and danger. We have a
millennia-long history of appreciating scenic, picturesque, and tamed nature. It could
even be asked whether urban greenery is a more reliable or appropriate source
for aesthetic pleasure than wild nature because manicured greenery rarely has
connotations of anything threatening. I suggest that the aesthetic pleasure
associated with urban greenery is, at least partially, drawn from the blend or
balance of natural and artificial elements: the composition and contrast of the
permanent and fixed versus the organic and changeable. I propose that the
interplay of nature and urban elements is an essential part of the appeal of
good-quality urban areas, as seen in Image 1.
photograph by the author, Perth, Australia
3.3. Place attachment and
appears to arise from place attachment and positive memories, connotations, and
knowledge of the place (Maulan et al., 2006; Vidal et al., 2012). For example,
favorite places of young adults, from most to least mentioned, were a private
home, restaurant/city center, nature, and a sports facility, because favorite
place supports the sense of identity as well as attention-recovery (Korpela,
1991). Urban landscape preferences were influenced by personal feelings,
knowledge, memories, and multisensory experience of that place; urban places
that provided interaction between people and place and contained signs of
history and traditions were perceived as aesthetically attractive (Ginzarly
& Teller, 2018).
in-situ studies, people find positive qualities, including aesthetic appeal and
restorativeness, in socially active, historically meaningful or sensory-rich
urban environments, whereas in image-based studies, nature nearly always
outranks urban environments. This
appears to reflect the research position and viewing convention, criticized by
Carlson and Berleant, where images of landscapes are looked at as art or in
expectation of scenic or picturesque content. I suggest that because of this
convention we are more accustomed to viewing nature as scenic images—landscape
art, postcards, holiday photos —than urban locations, which are not all scenic
yet may offer other positive aesthetic qualities, such as sounds, scents, and
ambience when experienced in-situ. Agreeing with Berleant, I suggest that the
discrepancy between the results of image-based and in-situ studies stems from
the fact that viewing an image and attending to a multisensory, spatial,
temporal location are different experiences, and it is misguided not to
critically consider the importance of embodiment in the EEP studies.
image-based method is not the only study method in the EEP field. Are
image-based studies problematic, if other methods, such as in-situ studies or
data cross-mapping, produce similar results? Here we must consider whether
different methods accumulate causal or merely parallel information. For
example, cross-mapping crime statistics and percentage of greenery in a city
may not indicate the restorative effect of nature but the fact that poor or
socially problematic areas tend to receive less attention and funding for
good-quality green spaces. To illustrate, in images 2 and 3 the quantity of
greenery is approximately the same, that is, on a map their greenery statistics
would be nearly identical, yet the aesthetic experience differs based on the
architecture and street layout. Each study method's strengths and weaknesses
should be critically assessed and the results carefully examined for whether
they support other studies' findings or merely correlate, without causation.
photographs by the author, Perth, Australia
3.4. Formal aesthetic features
of interest in the EEP field is directed to formalistic questions, such as
identifying preferred shapes, lines, and colors. For example, subjects
preferred stylistically unified streetscapes even if they preferred other
architectural styles in individual locations (Stamps III, 1994); city dwellers
preferred open urban spaces with pathways, visual connection to adjacent
spaces, and clear and navigable spatial structure (Shi et al., 2014); a barren,
chaotic, monotonous and ugly highway corridor was perceived to visually improve
with planted trees (Alabi &Oriola, 2014); pollution, population density,
traffic, and lack of greenery were experienced as stressful (Yilmaz, 2015); and
the most appreciated green elements were manicured, well-kept, or picturesque
over untouched nature (Khew et al., 2014).
positive aesthetic qualities were identified as unified, manicured, well-kept,
picturesque, and navigable, and negative qualities were crowded, chaotic,
barren, monotonic, and ugly. Undoubtedly, as discussed by Berleant, cities
harbor negative aesthetics, including visual chaos, sensory overload, or
utterly bland places. The negativity associated with cities does not appear to
simplistically arise from the lack of natural elements because the subjects appreciated
manicured, urban greenery over untouched nature. Rather, as Berleant argues, we
tend to dislike places that restrict our imagination, aesthetic enjoyment,
exploration, and expansion. I suggest
that places we usually perceive as unattractive are meant primarily for
machines or economic efficiency, such as motorways, utility, storage, and bulk
commercial areas, rather than for people's social, cultural, or aesthetic
enjoyment, and the purpose and interlinked appearance of such places limits the
positive "expansive" experiences discussed by Berleant.
similar point is found in Saito's discussion about aesthetic considerateness.
Saito argues that the appearance of a thing communicates our intentions, that
is, how much we care about others' aesthetic sensibility. For example, in Image
4, a building on the right appears a monotonous bulk product, whereas the
building on the left appears hand-crafted, hence more aesthetically
considerate. I suggest that the places Berleant calls "restrictive"
and Saito calls aesthetically inconsiderate are experienced as unattractive
because they do not convey positive, if any, consideration for aesthetic
sensibility. This does not mean such places cannot be made aesthetically
considerate. In Australia, a mass-scale mall revitalization wave is underway,
usually including a facelift with art, design, and greenery; and Mexico City is
becoming renowned for its initiative for vertical gardens, plants covering
bland concrete highway structures.
photograph by the author, Perth, Australia
4. City as an aesthetic problem
attachment, positive memories and connotations, and multisensory experience
significantly influence environmental preference, and image-based surveys tend
to lead to landscapes being assessed as artworks, whereas in-situ methods
capture also other aesthetic and restorative qualities (Maulan et al., 2006,
and Vidal et al., 2012). Likewise, my literature review identified that
subjects appeared to treat image-based studies as assessments of scenic or
picturesque qualities of images. It is conceivable that the long-held
convention of looking at landscapes as art gears subjects to seek scenic
qualities in images of nature, whereas other aesthetic qualities, including
scents, sounds, and ambience, may be more pertinent in urban environments than
scenic appeal. In light of this, we need to question the apparent findings of
EEP field that city poses an aesthetic problem because it contains more
negative than positive aesthetics.
indisputably can cause sensory overload or deprivation. Ulrich discovered that
subjects found industrial and commercial environments, mainly parking lots and
strip malls, aesthetically unappealing. Berleant argues that certain commercial
environments are aesthetically offensive and ugly because of the incoherence,
gaudy signage, banality, kitsch, and engineered anxieties and discomfort
arising from overbearing sensations.
Nevertheless, it needs to be recognized that cities offer aplenty to experience
positively. Many architects and experts of aesthetics seem to find malls vulgar
and unattractive, whereas consumers seem to enjoy the social and aesthetic
experience they can offer. Is this a
question of taste or development of taste? I suggest it is more about
perspective. Anna Kortelainen has discussed how department stores in the 1800s
were the first public spaces designed for and freely accessible to women:
Women took the city in a rebellious
way when they rushed into the department store without chaperones and could
stroll around, experiencing sensuous pleasures… At the other side of the
counter were the saleswomen, the "queens of the working class"…
Department store still is a women's world, a sanctuary in a hostile city space…
Department store holds promises about self-actualization and sensuous
femininity, forbidden passions and even crime, but first and foremost about
women's culture, unwritten history of women.
spaces highlight the artificial division between interiors and exteriors of a
city when in reality they are intertwined and porous. When experts of
architecture assess public space, they often focus on the external such as the
façade and streetscapes, whereas the everyday experience of the city is about
both, indoors and outdoors. Cities are a constellation of buildings of
different services. The overall aesthetic experience about urban environment
does not switch on and off when we enter or exit buildings. Shops, restaurants,
and cafes entice us precisely with the promise of sensuous pleasures, aesthetic
appeal, and the relationship we can have with these places. Focusing on facades
and exteriors does not tell the whole story of experiencing a city.
EEP studies concentrate on the healing power of nature. This is important but
unnecessarily dichotomizing; nature as gardens and parks has been a building
block of cities for millennia. During
the past two centuries, the interest in urban greenery has peaked. The
tree-lined boulevards of Paris, since their establishment in 1853, became
imitated by other cities. The first urban parks in the US, "pleasure
grounds" for the wealthy, emerged in 1850. From 1900 onwards, many cities
built "reform parks", healthy outdoors for the working class. Since
the 1930s, parks and sporting ovals have become essential recreational
facilities. The goal of urban greenery has been, from the beginning, to reform
and improve city and its residents. For example Joseph Strutt, the creator of
the first public park in the UK, the Arboretum, in 1840, expected it to deliver
"social improvements, develop the working class' moral conduct… and
enhance their industriousness."
The need to bring nature to cities speaks of the long-standing tendency to
dichotomize nature and built environment, seeing the former as positive and the
latter as negative, when it is more accurate to think of nature and city as
parallel, intertwined, and complementary.
still-held idea of positive nature versus negative cities partly arises from
the EEP studies suggesting that subjects tend to become mentally and physically
restored in nature faster or more fully than in urban settings, or, conversely,
urban settings appear to cause various negative effects, including stress.
However, this polarization is problematic because nature and cities exist for a
"different purpose" in our mind. Nature is ‘'meant to" be serene
and without people, whereas cities are "meant to" be vibrant, with
people. Comparing a place we understand to be for recreation, exercise, or
introspection to a place of social interactions, rules, and burdens may be a
false equivalent to start with. My literature review identified that stressed
individuals found nature more beautiful and restorative than urban environment,
whereas for the less stressed, this correlation became statistically unclear. This
indicates that aesthetic appeal links to the inner state of the subject. We are
not always stressed; for example, on a city holiday it appears quite possible
to enjoy the urban aesthetics.
1979, Ulrich focused on commercial and industrial areas as a representation of "city,"
whereas my literature review found that "city" can mean very
different parts of it. My concern is that studies about cities may be biased if
we understand places of utilitarian, bulk commercial, vehicular, or storage
purposes as more quintessentially urban than places where aesthetic
considerations are more pronounced or positive, such as sacred or heritage
areas, pedestrian streets, or upmarket shopping areas. There are also other
issues that are currently not discussed in the EEP field. For example, can a
city heal us from nature in some instances, as when we seek shelter from
miserable weather or dark and cold winter season? Do rural and urban residents
see cities in a different aesthetic light, and how does that light change,
depending on subjective circumstances, such as mental and emotional state,
expectations, and so on?
on my review, I suggest that cities are perceptually rich environs with a wide
scale of positive and negative aesthetics. Reducing an environment to a
two-dimensional static image appears to disproportionally disadvantage cities
because of the convention of viewing nature as art or scenic imagery, whereas
the positive experience of cities appears to largely arise from multisensory
aesthetic experience and place attachment, including memories, sense of
history, and social connections. Another angle that disadvantages cities is the
EEP field's search for restorative environments, focusing on recreation at the
expense of other areas in life. Cities are experienced in a multitude of other
positive ways, such as thrilling, explorative, productive, and even ironic,
through work/study/services. For example, a social media group, "Perth
aesthetics", in Australia has 6,300 members whose daily online photos of
Perth, often induced with nostalgia and humor, explore the aesthetics of
ugliness, such as the gaudy signage or bland or incoherent strip malls
criticized by Berleant.
5. Concluding comments
it accurate to say that cities are less aesthetically appealing or less
restorative than nature? My review indicates the answer depends upon a number
of variables. Image-based and in-situ studies appear to generate different,
even conflicting, results, questioning the usability of image-based methods in
studying multisensory, temporal, and spatial experience. Focusing on biology-
or evolution-based explanations for environmental preference flattens the
aesthetics of cities.
is conceivable that some universal environmental preferences can exist, given
our shared biological needs. But considering an example of eating reveals how
nuanced our responses to biological needs can be. We all must eat, but what one
considers the best form of nutrition depends significantly on personal,
cultural, socio-economic, and aesthetic reasons. For example, eating insects
may be natural to one person but utterly repulsive to another. Diets are an
area, like the EEP field, where discussion revolves around the most natural or
beneficial choices. Yet, diet choices such as the "natural" paleo
diet are far from settled and hotly debated among experts and laypeople.
do not dispute the importance of urban greenery but wish to point out that if
nature's benefits and cities' harms are taken as a juxtaposition, this may
result in unintended consequences: 1) negative labelling of cities may lead to
urban sprawl and rejecting higher-density planning, with negative impacts on
nature; 2) reliance on biology- and evolution-based explanations renders our
responses to different environments largely automatic, leaving little space for
discussion on any other viewpoints; and 3) if we categorically understand
nature beneficial and cities harmful, we are less inclined to analyze
qualitative differences between different kinds of nature and urban
consequences are sure to mislead and impoverish the otherwise rich and diverse
experiences of urban environments.
Besson is a PhD candidate at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Her master's
degree is in art and architecture history, and she specializes in popularizing
research about urban environments. She is a regular contributor at the Finnish
magazine for urban greenery professionals, Viherympäristö ("The Green
Published on February 14, 2019.
 For architecture and placemaking, see Maria Popczyk, "The
aesthetics of the city‑image," Argument Biannual Philosophical Journal, (2015), Vol 5, No 2, https://philarchive.org/archive/POPTAO-5, and Project for Public Spaces, "What is Placemaking,"
https://www.pps.org/article/what-is-placemaking. For sociology, see Michael Borer, "Being in the City:
The Sociology of Urban Experiences," Sociology
Compass, (2013), Vol. 7, Issue 11. For consumer studies, see Rob Shields
(ed.), Lifestyle Shopping. The Subject of
Consumption, (Routledge, e-book, 2004). For everyday and environmental
aesthetics, see Yuriko Saito, "Aesthetics of the Everyday," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Winter 2015 Edition, ed. Edward N. Zalta), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2015/entries/aesthetics-of-everyday, and Arnold Berleant, Living
in the Landscape. Toward an Aesthetic
of Environment (Lawrence, KS: The University Press of Kansas, 1997), pp.
 Roger Ulrich et al., "Stress Recovery During Exposure
to Natural and Urban Environments," Journal
of Environmental Psychology, Vol 11, Abstract: "120 subjects first
viewed a stressful movie, and then were exposed to color/sound videotapes of
one of six different natural and urban settings. Data concerning stress
recovery during the environmental presentations were obtained from self-ratings
of affective states and… physiological measures: heart period, muscle tension,
skin conductance and pulse transit time."
 For example, a typical method is to cross-map statistics
between crime rates or health records and green spaces in cities.
 Urban green spaces and health," WHO, (Copenhagen: WHO
Regional Office for Europe, 2016), http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/321971/Urban-green-spaces-and-health-review-evidence.pdf?ua=1. I note that Arnold Berleant, Allen Carlson, and Pauline
von Bonsdorff, among others, have discussed how nature is difficult to define,
because untouched environments hardly exist and cities are always subject to
and affect nature's processes, including weather and seasons, and are built of
materials extracted from nature. See, for example, Berleant & Carlson
(ed.), The Aesthetics of Human
Environment (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2007). For succinct expression
and following the convention in the EEP field, in this paper 'nature' means
green vegetation and water elements unless otherwise expressed.
 Edward O. Wilson, Biophilia
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984); Bjørn Grinde & Grete Grindal
Patil, "Biophilia: Does Visual Contact with Nature Impact on Health and
Well-Being?" International Journal
of Environmental Research and Public Health (2009), Vol 6, No 9, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2760412/; and Stephen Kellert and Edward O. Wilson (ed.), The Biophilia Hypothesis, (Washington
D.C.: Island Press, 1993).
 This argument is not new. For example, Ebenezer Howard's
Garden City movement (1898) aimed at creating safer, healthier and 'less sinful'
environments in nature-surrounded towns.
 Allen Carlson, Formal Qualities in the Natural Environment,"
The Journal of Aesthetic Education
(1979), Vol 13, No 3, 100-106; and Berleant (1997), pp. 12-15.
 Marta Tafalla, "From Allen Carlson to Richard Long:
The Art-Based Appreciation of Nature," Proceedings
of the European Society for Aesthetics, 2010, Vol 2, pp. 491-504; and Ira
Newman, "Reflections on Allen Carlson's Aesthetics and the Environment,"
Canadian Aesthetics Journal, 2001,
Vol 6, https://www.uqtr.ca/AE/Vol_6/Carlson/newman.html
 Carlson (1979), pp. 100-106.
 Carlson (2016), section 4.2; and Kellert & Wilson
 Carlson (1979), pp. 106.
 Berleant (1997), pp. 12-15.
 Arnold Berleant, Sensibility
and Sense (Imprint Academic, 2010), p. 29.
 Berleant (1997), pp. 64-74.
 Yuriko Saito, Everyday
Aesthetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 119-124.
 Saito (2013), pp. 234-238.
 Roger Ulrich, "View Through a Window May Influence
Recovery from Surgery" (1984), Science,
224(4647), pp. 420-421.
 For example, "Sensation seeking and reactions to
nature settings"(1993) (a study about reactions to nature paintings); "Stress
Recovery During Exposure to Natural and Urban Environments" (1991) (a
study about reactions to videos containing nature or urban landscapes); "Effects
of exposure to nature and abstract pictures on patients recovery from heart
surgery" (1993); "The View from the Road: Implications for Stress
Recovery and Immunization" (1998); "Artificial window view of nature"
(2005); and "Anger and Stress The Role of Landscape Posters in an Office
Setting" (2008). Available at ResearchGate, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Roger_Ulrich4.
 Roger Ulrich, "Visual landscapes and psychological
wellbeing," Landscape Research
(1979), Vol 4, No 1, 17-23, quote p. 17.
 Ana Karinna Hidalgo, "Biophilic Design, Restorative
Environments and Well-Being," Proceedings
of the Colors of Care: The 9th International Conference on Design & Emotion
(Bogotá: Ediciones Favourite Uniandes, 2014, ed. J. Salamanca et al.).
 In-situ studies include interviews within or following a
visit to the subject environment, mixed-method studies, and literature reviews
that contain in-situ studies. Image-based studies comprise studies where
subjects viewed photos or videos of pre-selected places. Studies were sourced
in July 2018 via ReseachGate.
 The studies included in the literature review are listed in
Attachment 1. References in brackets in this paper refer to the listed studies.
 Throughout their work, Yuriko Saito and Pauline von
Bonsdorff have discussed the aging of materials and changes of seasons as
salient aspects of aesthetic experience of built environment.
 For example, Dmitri Karmanov & Ronald Hamel, "Assessing
the restorative potential of contemporary urban environment(s): Beyond the
nature versus urban dichotomy," Landscape
and Urban Planning (2008), No 86, p. 118: 'By filming early in the morning
we managed to eliminate practically all visible human activity. … the presence
of cars or people at both the urban and natural locations might adversely
influence the perceived qualities of the environments.'
 Typically, less than a dozen photos were provided in each
research paper out of forty to fifty studied images; and in the case of video
viewings, only a few still-captures were provided.
 Jane Jacobs, The
Death and Life of Great American Cities (US: Vintage Books, 1961/1992). Jan
Gehl has spoken extensively on this topic since the 1970s, see for example Life Between Buildings (Denmark: Van
Nostrand Reinhold, 1980/1987).
Project for Public Places (PPS), https://www.pps.org/article/grplacefeat, accessed September 12, 2018. "PPS has found that [for
a public place] to be successful, they generally share the following four
qualities: they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the
space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place."
PPS is a non-profit, US organization but promotes placemaking internationally.
 Hidalgo (2014), p. 541.
 In practice, separating nature and urban environments is
impossible, as cities are situated in and a part of nature's processes and
elements. It can be argued that deserts, unlike parking lots, are also natural
and hence, aesthetically appealing. However, here I discuss 'nature' as
greenery and water, as is common in the EEP field.
 Examples of urban sites that draw visitors but lack
greenery are for example urban ruins; however, in my view this fascination
arises from the thrill of horror, abnormality of abandonment, discussed in
 Western cities commonly have policies for the acceptable
vegetation height and density, in particular, near vehicular and pedestrian
roads. People tend to find screened places threatening, fearing someone is
hiding behind the screening. Nasar &Jones, "Landscapes of Fear and
Stress," Environment and Behaviour,
Vol 29, No 3, pp. 291-323.
 Roger Nash, Wilderness
and the American Mind (US: Yale University Press, 1967/2014).
 For example, Virgil's Eclogues
(44-38 BCE), poems about Roman pastoral landscapes; I thank Pauline von
Bonsdorff for this notion. Later, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525/1530 -
1569) set the example for painting town scenes with pastoral surroundings.
 Meaning signs of the past, such as heritage areas, and
personal history and memories.
 Arnold Berleant, The
Aesthetics of Environment (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992),
pp. 86, 93-98.
 Berleant (1997), pp. 66-67.
 Florian Heilmeyer, "Architects in commercial estates,"
The Style Guide, 26 June 2017, https://www.stylepark.com/en/news/architecture-commercial-zone-supermarket-mcdonalds-burger-restaurant-electronics-consumer-culture; and Katherine Schwab, "Architects' Long, Love/Hate
Relationship With The Mall," The
Fast Company, 30 September 2016, https://www.fastcompany.com/3064173/architects-long-love-hate-relationship-with-the-mall. See also Rob Shields, (2004), 3-4.
 Anna Kortelainen, Päivä
naisten paratiisissa, (Finland: WSOY, 2005), Introduction, my translation.
 L. Peter MacDonagh, "History of Street Trees in Paris:
The Golden Age of the Boulevard," Smart Cities Dive, (undated),https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/history-street-trees-pariscity-making-and-golden-age-boulevard/149376/; Galen Cranz, "Urban Parks of the Past and Future,"
Project for Public Spaces, 31 December 2008, https://www.pps.org/article/futureparks; and Dean Kirby, "Derby Arboretum: How Britain's first
public park inspired open spaces around the world," The Independent, 30 August 2015, https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/derby-arboretum-how-britains-first-public-park-inspired-open-spaces-around-the-world-10478207.html
 Agnes van den Berg et al, "Environmental preference
and restoration: (How) are they related?" Journal of Environmental Psychology (2003), Vol 23, p.143.
 Criticism towards urban or high-density environments has a
long history. For example, Steven Conn has researched the deep-seated
anti-urbanism in the US in Americans
Against the City. Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century, (US: Oxford
University Press, 2014).
 I thank the peer reviewers for their insightful comments
that I have incorporated into this paper.
method:in-situ, mixed method or literature review
Berto, Rita et al.
How does Psychological Restoration Work in Children? An
of Child & Adolescent Behaviour, (2015) Vol 3, No
Of three options, alpine woods was the most preferred
environment, followed by mindful silence (in unspecified physical location)
and school playground (the everyday recess environment).
Cheng, Chingwen et al.
Exploring Stakeholders’ Perceptions of Urban Growth
Scenarios for Metropolitan Boston (USA): The Relationship Between Urban Trees
and Perceived Density
and the Environment (CATE), (2017) Vol. 10, Issue 1, Article 7
A mixed method study consisting of workshops, group
interviews and photo survey found that the increase in tree canopy appears to
ameliorate the low ratings of high-rise buildings in urban development; and
the use of participatory planning process where stakeholders are provided
with information on sustainability is more likely to produce amenable
attitude towards higher density.
Hartig, Terry& Staats, Henk
Linking preference for environments with their
Chapter 19, Landscape
Planning: Aspects of Integration, Education and Application, (ed. Bärbel Tress et al)(Netherlands: Springer, 2006)
Following a stressful experience, subjects had a more
positive attitude towards walking one hour in a forest compared to walking in
a familiar city centre; the effect is stronger in more fatigued subjects.
Are Favourite Places Restorative Environments?
Environments EDRA 22:1991, pp. 371-381
Finnish students’ (17-18yr) favorite places were in order from most to least popular:
private home, restaurant/ downtown, nature, sports facility, club, and other;
favorite place assists in self-coherence and sense of
identity, not only attention-recovery
Lorenzo, Esther et al.
Preference, restorativeness and perceived environmental
quality of small urban spaces
Revista Bilingüe de Psicología Ambiental / Bilingual Journal of Environmental
Psychology, (2016) Vol 7, No 2, pp. 152–177
Restorative effect is chiefly explained by the combination
of perceived amount of vegetation and social interaction (eg places to eat
and drink). Place attachment may also play a role.
Maulan, Suhardi et al.
Landscape Preference and Human Well-Being
Tropical Design Research & Practice, (2006) Vol 1,
Issue 1, pp. 25-32
A literature review found that objective study methods
lead to landscapes being assessed as artwork, whereas subjective study
methods acknowledge the many factors that influence landscape preference,
including culture and personal attributes such as personal needs and
knowledge about the landscape.
Sahlin, Eva et al.
The Influence of the Environment on Directed Attention,
Blood Pressure and Heart Rate—An Experimental Study Using a Relaxation
(2016) Vol 41, No 1, pp. 7-25
Subjects who rested in nature became more restored
(regained their ability to focus) but not more relaxed than subjects who
rested inside a stimulus-bare room. No physiological differences (heart rate,
blood pressure) in subjects were identified between different rest
Troffa, Renato&Fornara, Ferdinando
The relationship between restorative components and
preference in natural and built leisure environments.
urbanos y sostenibilidad: claves para la ciencia y la gestión ambiental,
(Editorial Universidad de Almería, 2011), pp. 231-237
The most salient feature for restorativeness was
fascination, equally present in a historical downtown centre, a panoramic
urban waterfront promenade and an urban park; and less in an urban mall.
Vidal, Tomeu et al.
Place identity as a useful psychological construct for
approaching modern social challenges and new people-environment relations:
residential mobility, restorative environments, and landscape
of Place Identity in the Perception, Understanding, and
of Built Environments, (ed. H. Casakin & F. Bernardo)
(E-book: Bentham Books, 2012)pp. 78-91.
A literature review found that place identity and place
attachment play significant part in restorative experience and diverse
landscapes and historic urban areas can be sources of restoration.
Yilmaz, Hasan et al.
Urban Living Area Satisfaction and Public Preference
of Kastamonu University, Foresty Faculty (2015), Vol 15, No 2, pp.
A survey found that respondents in two cities out of
three in Turkey were relatively satisfied with their urban living environment
(~60% were satisfied). Respondents preferred waterfronts (ocean, lakeside,
riverbanks); residential areas over city centres; and green areas over city
centres to escape urban stress such as urbanisation, lack of greenery, pollution,
population density, traffic and psychological stress. The city that received
lowest satisfaction rating has geographical obstacles for development and
does not provide many parks, squares, pedestrian streets or public space for social
image- or video-based
Summary of results
M.& Oriola, E.
of image differences of roadside corridor and landscape preference in an
emerging city in Nigeria
of Environmental Studies & Management (2017) Vol 10, No
2, pp. 192-207
indicated that a barren, chaotic, monotonous or ugly highway corridor can be
visually improved by planting trees, which also reduce carbon emissions.
Agnes van denet al.
preference and restoration: (How) are they related?
Environmental Psychology, (2003) Vol 23, pp. 135-146
compared, natural environments were rated higher in beauty and
restorativeness than urban environments. In particular stressed subjects
rated nature more beautiful and more restorative than city views; with less
stressed subjects, the difference in ratings was statistically unclear.
influence of city centre environments on the affective walking experience
thesis, University of the West of England (February 2018)
an urban environment, pedestrianised settings with green and historic
elements scored as the most restorative, followed by harborside places. Green
spaces appear to deplete in restorative value the more crowded they become.
Cauwenberg, Jelle van et al.
characteristics preferred for transportation walking among older adults: a
choice-based conjoint analysis with manipulated photographs
Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and
Physical Activity (2016)
Vol 13, No 6
selecting an urban walking route,older subjects ranked their preferred
conditions from highest to lowest: an even surface, low traffic volume,
general upkeep, speed limit, separation from traffic, vegetation present,
cultural heritage values: landscape preferences versusrepresentative images
of the city
Journal of Cultural
Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, February 2018
landscape preference is related to personal engagement and context, including
feelings, knowledge, memories and all the senses. Those places in Lebanon
were preferred that show interaction between people and place, including
Khew, Joanne Yu Ting et al.
Perceptions of Nature and
Preference in Singapore
Interdisciplinary Journal, (2014) Vol 42, No 6
urban settings, landscape preferences tended towards manicured landscapes
(parks, gardens) rather than naturalistic landscapes: scenic or picturesque
landscape was most preferred.
are natural and urban environments restorative? The impact of environmental
compatibility on self-control restoration
Journal of Consumer
Psychology, 29 June 2014
restorative effect of environment depends on the level of compatibility
between the subject and the environment. Subjects low on neuroticism
(tendency for anxiety) can experience hectic urban environments as more
restorative than nature. [Note: this study was based on verbal descriptions
and cues about places].
does enclosure influence environmental preferences? A
study on urban public open spaces in Hong Kong
and Society, (2014) Vol 13, pp. 148-156
from Hong Kong tended to prefer open rather than enclosed spaces: paths,
visual connection to adjacent spaces and clear and simple spatial structure
of enclosure seemed to influence subjects’ preference for such spaces. [Note:
original pictures were decolorized to direct focus on spatiality].
Arthur E. Stamps III
Study in Scale and Character: Contextual Effects on Environmental
Environmental Management, (1994) Vol 42, pp. 223-245
in the US preferred unified blocks of buildings (streets built according to
similar parameters of building height, architectural style and attributes)
over ‘mixed’ blocks, even ifsubjects preferred a different building style in
Suppakittpaisarn, Pongsakorn et al.
density of green infrastructure predict preference?
Urban Forestry and
urban conditions, subjects preferred maintained, dense tree canopy cover and maintained,
dense understory vegetation (lawn and shrubbery) over low density vegetation;
however, preference for bioretention (water runoff catchment fields) was