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Do People from Urban and Rural Areas Differ Regarding Restoration in the Forest? a Swiss Nationwide Comparative Study

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There is good evidence that people generally prefer natural environments, for example, forests, over urban environments regarding restorative purposes (e.g. Hartig & Staats, 2006; Nordh et al., 2009). However, it is still an open question whether people from urban regions differ from people living in rural regions regarding their preferences for forest characteristics, their motives for visiting forests, their perceived person-environment congruence, and in their self-reported restoration after forest visits.We focused this issue by eliciting a Swiss national representative sample (N = 2623) using computer assisted telephone interviews and a web-based survey. We split the sample into an urban (n = 2182; mean age 52.7 years, SD 16.3; 51.7% female) and a rural (n = 441, mean age 50.7 years SD 15.6; 50.8% female) subsample, based on criteria provided by the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. In a second step, we compared both groups regarding their agreement on eight motives for visiting forests, their preferences for different forest attributes, their performed activities, their travel mode to the forest, their rating of restoration, and perceived disturbances while recreating. Furthermore, we also analyzed in how far a calculated person-environment-fit value (based on preferred and perceived forest characteristics) contributes to reported restoration. Results indicate significant differences between people living in rural and urban environments. For example, people from urban areas reported more disturbances while being in the forest, agreed more to the motive ‘experiencing nature’, and preferred brittle wood more compared to people from rural areas. On the other hand, people belonging to the rural subsample reported a significantly higher person-environment fit for forest characteristics, liked the forest more, and needed less time to reach the forest than people from the urban subsample. A linear regression analysis on reported restoration resulted into different beta weights for both groups. For example, the person environment fit was only significant for urban peoples’ reported restoration, while agreement on motives was relevant for both. However, experienced disturbances did not impair reported restoration, whereas having a forest-related job significantly lowers reported restoration for both groups. Overall, our findings suggest that people differ depending on whether they live in a rural or urban environment regarding restoration relevant dimensions, although they report a comparable amount of restoration after forest visits. This is congruent with results from other studies, emphasizing the general restorative effect of visiting natural environments like forests. Interestingly, having a forest-related job was negatively associated with reported restoration, independently from living in a rural or urban environment, although the effect was stronger for the rural subsample. This might be an indicator that restorative environments can be threatened or ‘contaminated’ by interweaving work, every-day life and recreation. Therefore, we suggest that future research in the human-environment domain should focus the role of possible ‘carry-over effects’ and address the question, how restorative qualities of different environments can be preserved or even enhanced.

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