Connecting sense of place, nature relatedness, and views of, and walkability to, nature. Lessons in environmental psychology; sense of place and nature relatedness. Study from the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region, British-Columbia, Canada. 

For the attention of: Urban planners, municipal policy makers and community planning scholars

The problem: This study was part of a broader project examining human impacts within the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR)—a UNESCO-designated biosphere reserve on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Our aim was to understand the extent to which individuals in six electoral Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region communities experience psychological variables that are often linked to pro-social and pro-environmental outcomes, such as sense of place and nature-relatedness.

What we did and why: We used a mixed-methods online survey design to measure how these attitudes relate to residents’ perceived views of, and walkable access to, nature.

In this paper, we also summarize and synthesize a large body of literature on sense of place and nature relatedness before embarking on an empirical study on how these psychological constructs associate for community members of six communities in the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

What our study adds: We found that residents’ sense of place was neutral overall, while their nature relatedness and perceptions of views and access to nature were significantly stronger. Residents’ place attachment was significantly higher than their place identity and place dependence. Although sense of place and nature relatedness, and sense of place and perceptions of views and walkable access to nature, correlated overall, significant associations were not revealed in each of the six communities. In addition, over 60% of responses to an open-ended item asking about specific physical attributes in the community that contribute to sense of place had to do with the natural environment—instead of social or recreational amenities

Overall, this work adds to an existing discussion of what the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region means to those who use it and call it home, and to what the body of environmental psychology literature can communicate to interdisciplinary scholars concerning sense of place, natural relatedness, and how community members perceive these attitudes in relation to views of, and walkable access to, nature. 

Implications for city policy and practice: Our findings suggest that sense of place, nature relatedness, and perceptions of views and walkable access to nature are interrelated psychological constructs. However, a more focused investigation of the specific antecedents and outcomes of sense of place in these six communities is recommended, particularly using focus groups, interviews, and other qualitative methods to understand more about the strength of sense of place felt toward the MABR. Such an endeavour may help to further generalize our results to comparable towns and communities around the world.

Municipal planners may wish to capitalize on the restorative effects that arise when community members form a connection with nature, and concentrate funding or public engagement efforts on trails, parks, and other natural features to bolster sense of place in coastal and mountainous communities.

For further information: Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region Research Institute

Full research article: Associating sense of place and nature relatedness in the British Columbia Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region: a case study by Lindsay J. McCunn, Karissa Sawyer & Taylor Shorting.