5. 5 Securely Scenic

Figure 5.5: Geography, recreation, and psychology students rated photos of parks in Chicago, Illinois, and Atlanta, Georgia, in terms of security and scenic beauty (data from Schroeder and Anderson 1984). The above plot shows joint ratings for many different park features, and the symbols indicate the statistical significance of the correlations between the feature and the perceived aspect. For example, woody vegetation significantly correlated with both scenic beauty and insecurity, whereas seeing windows from the park correlated significantly with a lack of scenic beauty.

Even with high values for nonmarket goods, I find it difficult convincing even myself that a city council needs to spend money on those nonmarket feelings. Is a million dollars spent on urban vegetation worth a million dollars less spent on schools and public safety?

Another study also examined park features that people associate with scenic beauty, but extended it to uncover features providing a sense of security. Researchers took photos of 10 parks in Chicago, Illinois, and seven parks in Atlanta, Georgia, spanning the range from small to large, forested and lakefront, undeveloped and sports fields.[20] Some parks had unobstructed views of buildings, streets, and cars, while others were just heavily wooded. All photos used for Figure 5.5were taken during summer daylight hours.

Three sets of a couple dozen students majoring in geography, recreation, and psychology, from Chicago, Atlanta, and East Lansing, Michigan, then rated these photos in terms of security and scenic beauty. Student ratings had a degree of repeatability: Some common photos were shown to various student groups, and the ratings of security and scenic beauty had significant correlations. Scientists performing the study analyzed the photos for lots of different features such as the fraction of the photo covered by grass or water, the presence of windows, visibility of structures outside the park, and many, many, more.

These results, at least through the perception of these students, mean that the most scenically beautiful park consists of woody vegetation around a pond or lake, along with benches, presumably on some paths. The safest park has grass with benches and long views with visible structures inside and outside the park, with plenty of people around. Ugly, unsafe parks have graffiti, high tree density, maintenance problems, and litter.

On the one hand, understanding how people value these various features provides valuable insight into park management: Parks must have benches! On the other hand, what do cities do with shrubs and woody vegetation? These features have great importance for wildlife, yet we see a direct and unfortunate conflict between natural vegetation and perceived security.


[20]Schroeder and Anderson (1984) rated park features according to security and scenic beauty.