Green infrastructure & individual agency

December 13, 2018

SOCIAL NATURE (task 1)

In “Becoming Infrastructural” Ross Exo Adams affirms that today there is no more separation between nature and the built environment. Infrastructure should act as the link between society and nature. (2017) I believe that green spaces in the urban context can help us redefine our relation with nature in the city, and the connections established between natural spaces in cities and our society. Public green spaces in cities have been demonstrated to help improve inhabitants’ well-being by not only improving environmental qualities, such as reducing the air pollution, but also providing a support for physical activity, social interactions, and participating to the reduction of stress or fatigue and more rarely enabling emotional or spiritual experiences.

However the experience that individuals get from green infrastructures can vary depending on various parameters. In the essay “Green space, health and wellbeing: making space for individual agency” the authors affirm that “it is likely that complex personal factors define and drive our choices regarding the use of different green spaces.” (2014) I believe that people’s capacity and inclination to engage with natural infrastructure is linked with individual agency. Indeed people’s association of well-being with green spaces can vary depending on their development of personal orientation to nature, that is to say their life circumstances and past connection with nature, if they were brought up to often engage with nature when they were a child for example. People’s everyday lives can also influence use patterns of natural infrastructures such as priorities or personal routines. Some people may also use public green spaces differently depending on the person they’re with. Finally, the cultural background can also dictate one’s behaviour towards green spaces.

As space is continuously generated, confirmed and changed by cultural, social and individual actions and designs, the construction and appropriation of space can be influenced by power and dominance relations in society. Because society is strongly shaped by a 2 gender system, one can wonder if gender binary has influenced our use of public spaces and more particularly green public spaces. We can also question whether different genders have different appropriation and assessments of space? Whether they have different demands, appropriation opportunities, options for action? In her article “Open Space and Gender – Gender-Sensitive Open-Space Planning” Anette Harth regroups diverse researches, from 2002 to 2005, showing that women tend to spend more time in parks and consider them to be more important. Harth writes that it might be due to the “child minding role” or a “greater desire for social contacts”, or even a “pronounced interest in nature”. (n.d.) As she considers that women are more frequently accompanied by children, importance is given to children’s play areas and accessibility. Her research also shows that there is no difference between men and women regarding landscape design, maintenance, but women appreciate places with atmospheric qualities (variety of vegetation, choice of sunny, shady areas, attractive park furnitures). It is also observable that men move “more extensively in public spaces, green areas and parks, tending to linger in central areas exposed to view” whereas women, who are more careful about safety, prefer “less extensive activities and quieter, more protected positions from which they can keep events under observation” (Harth, n.d.)

A possible critic to Harth’s compilation of research material could be the lack comparative studies over time and on different ways of life. Indeed I think that different life situations should be taken into account in addition to the gender factor, for example age, race, socio-economical background, etc. When looking at the statistic for Hyde park, there are veritably more women visiting the park, and the main users are young adults, either alone or in groups of two without children. (Ipsos MORI 2015) Showing that in this case, having children isn’t a driver that could explain why women go to the park more often then men.

I believe that the population of a park varies immensely depending on its location and the neighbouring communities. Also a population cannot be defined as a unified group. People are driven by different personal narratives. As Judith Butler states there is no “version of the human that is absolutely true for all humans”. (2015) City planners and policy makers should stop seeing the public as a monolith but start taking into account individual agency and all the variations that characterise the richness of a city’s inhabitants when designing the public space.

Marie Le Rouzic

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