Theories and Evidence on the Impact of the Urban Environment on Human Restoration
In the last two decades, evidence has accumulated confirming remarkable restorative effects of natural environments for people of all ages In the field of environment-behaviour studies, restoration is defined as a process "of renewing, recovering, or re-establishing physical, psychological, and social resources or capabilities diminished in ongoing efforts to meet adaptive demands" (Hartig, 2004, p. 273). In order to explain these effects, the two most prominent theories are the Kaplans’ (1989) cognitive-oriented Attention Restoration Theory (ART) and Ulrich’s psychoevolutionary theory (1983) for affective and aesthetic responses to the environment.
Increasing evidence, from both field and laboratory studies, consistently shows the benefits of the natural environment over the urban environment in restoration. In numerous studies investigating the impact of ambient urban factors on people’s health, it has been shown that urban environments are harsh and stressful. However, little attention has been paid to how characteristics of the built environment and building design can cause stress and affect health and restoration.
Usually the built urban environment is seen from a quite narrow perspective as harsh and stressful, and the high diversity, which exists in urban settings is ignored. However, the built urban environment may be seen as a continuum of impacts on people where on one end is the highly demanding built urban environment and on the other is the highly restorative built urban environment. This paper examines the two major theoretical approaches to this domain of study and argues for the importance of further investigations on the restorative effects of urban built environments.
The author would like to thank Professor Gary T. Moore for his for his valuable comments and suggestions.
Keywords: Restoration, Urban Environment, Natural Environment, Attention Restoration Theory, Psychoevolutionary Theory
Pall Jakob Lindal
PhD Student, Environment, Behaviour & Society Research Group