We'd like to understand how you use our websites in order to improve them. Register your interest.

Wellbeing and urban living: nurtured by nature


In recent decades, empirical evidence has demonstrated that nature can enable urban environments to support human wellbeing. Research into links between nature and human wellbeing is often carried out with one wellbeing index or in single locations, which can limit our understanding of findings. To further this work, we deployed an online survey to residents of the two most-populous cities in both Australia and New Zealand. The survey measured self-reported wellbeing via three indices used widely in the literature: general wellbeing (WHO-5), personal wellbeing, and psychological wellbeing. We compared results with two biodiversity indicators: bird species richness and the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) of respondents’ postcodes. We also asked respondents to rate the amount of nature they view from their immediate environment: both at home and at work or other frequent location. Our results support a link between local nature and human wellbeing across all four cities, significantly in the two Australian cities. Qualitative data reveals that urban life can challenge human wellbeing by creating a unique suite of stresses that residents strive to balance. There is the potential for nature to support human wellbeing in typically degraded urban environments. While this work corroborates existing literature demonstrating links between human wellbeing and nature, our qualitative research extends our understanding of these links by providing more detailed and nuanced information.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1

Change history

  • 01 August 2018

    Table 3 contained an error in how the degrees of freedom are displayed. The comma separating the model (e.g., 1) and error (e.g., 121) has been deleted in the Auckland, Melbourne, and Sydney columns. Where the degrees of freedom should read “1,121”, for example, it displays as “1121”. The corrected table follows.


  1. ABS (2011) 2011 Census QuickStats Accessed 23 Jan 2016

  2. ABS (2013) 3218.0 - regional population growth, Australia, 2011-12. Accessed 25 May 2013

  3. Alvarsson JJ, Wiens S, Nilsson ME (2010) Stress recovery during exposure to nature sound and environmental noise. Int J Environ Res Public Health 7(3):1036–1046

  4. Bates W (2009) Gross national happiness Asian-Pacific. Econ Lit 23:1–1.

  5. Bino G, Levin N, Darawshi S, Van Der Hal N, Reich-Solomon A, Kark S (2008) Accurate prediction of bird species richness patterns in an urban environment using Landsat-derived NDVI and spectral unmixing. Int J Remote Sens 29:3675–3700.

  6. BirdLife International and NatureServe (2014) Bird species distribution maps of the World. BirdLife International / NatureServe, Cambridge / Arlington

  7. Cohen S, Hamrick N (2003) Stable individual differences in physiological response to stressors: implications for stress-elicited changes in immune related health. Brain Behav Immun 17:407–414.

  8. Cummins RA, Eckersley R, Pallant J, Van Vugt J, Misajon R (2003) Developing a national index of subjective wellbeing: the Australian unity wellbeing index. Soc Indic Res 64:159–190.

  9. Dallimer M et al (2012) Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. Bioscience 62:47–55.

  10. de Vries S, van Dillen SME, Groenewegen PP, Spreeuwenberg P (2013) Streetscape greenery and health: stress, social cohesion and physical activity as mediators. Soc Sci Med 94:26–33.

  11. Diener E, Oishi S, Lucas RE (2003) Personality, culture, and subjective well-being: emotional and cognitive evaluations of life. Annu Rev Psychol 54:403–425.

  12. Dye C (2008) Health and urban living. Science 319:766–769.

  13. Faber Taylor A, Kuo FE, Sullivan WC (2002) Views of nature and self-discipline: evidence from inner-city children. J Environ Psychol 22:49–63.

  14. Glaser BG, Strauss AL (1967) The discovery of grounded theory; strategies for qualitative research. Aldine Transaction, Piscataway,

  15. Hartig T, Evans GW, Jamner LD, Davis DS, Gärling T (2003) Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings. J Environ Psychol 23:109–123.

  16. Hartig T et al (2011) Health benefits of nature experience: psychological, social and cultural processes. In: Nilsson K (ed) Forests, trees and human health. Vol book, whole. Springer, New York, pp 127–168

  17. Hartig T, Mitchell R, de Vries S, Frumkin H (2014) Nature and health. Annu Rev Public Health 35:207.

  18. Ikin K, Beaty RM, Lindenmayer DB, Knight E, Fischer J, Manning AD (2013) Pocket parks in a compact city: how do birds respond to increasing residential density? Landsc Ecol 28:45–56.

  19. Jenkins CN, Pimm SL, Joppa LN (2013) Global patterns of terrestrial vertebrate diversity and conservation. Proc Natl Acad Sci 110:E2602–E2610.

  20. Kabisch N, Qureshi S, Haase D (2015) Human–environment interactions in urban green spaces — a systematic review of contemporary issues and prospects for future research. Environ Impact Assess Rev 50:25–34.

  21. Kaplan S (1995) The restorative benefits of nature: toward an integrative framework. J Environ Psychol 15:169–182.

  22. Krueger AB, Stone AA (2014) Progress in measuring subjective well-being. Science 346:42–43

  23. Lederbogen F et al (2011) City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans. Nature 474:498–501.

  24. Matheson FI, Moineddin R, Dunn JR, Creatore MI, Gozdyra P, Glazier RH (2006) Urban neighborhoods, chronic stress, gender and depression. Soc Sci Med 63:2604–2616.

  25. McDonnell MJ, Breuste JH, Hahs AK (2009) Introduction. In: McDonnell MJ, Breuste JH, Hahs AK (eds) Ecology of cities and towns: a comparative approach. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1–5

  26. Niemelä J, Kotze DJ, Yli-Pelkonen V (2009) Comparative urban ecology: challenges and possibilities. In: McDonnell MJ, Hahs AK, Breuste JH (eds) Ecology of cities and towns. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 9–24

  27. Nisbet EK, Zelenski JM (2011) Underestimating nearby nature: affective forecasting errors obscure the happy path to sustainability. Psychol Sci 22:1101–1106.

  28. OECD OfECaD (2014) Better life index: executive summary. OECD Publishing Accessed 23 May 2016

  29. Peel MC, Finlayson BL, McMahon TA (2007) Updated world map of the Koppen-Geiger climate classification. Hydrol Earth Syst Sci 11:1633–1644

  30. Pereira G, Foster S, Martin K, Christian H, Boruff BJ, Knuiman M, Giles-Corti B (2012) The association between neighborhood greenness and cardiovascular disease: an observational study. BMC Public Health 12:466–466.

  31. Pimm SL et al (2014) The biodiversity of species and their rates of extinction, distribution, and protection. Science 344:987–987.

  32. Psychiatric Research Unit (1998) The WHO-5 website. Mental health centre North Zealand.

  33. QSR (2012) NVivo qualitative data analysis software, vol 11. QSR International Pty Ltd., Melbourne

  34. Richardson E, Pearce J, Mitchell R, Day P, Kingham S (2010) The association between green space and cause-specific mortality in urban New Zealand: an ecological analysis of green space utility. BMC Public Health 10:240–240.

  35. Sandifer PA, Sutton-Grier AE, Ward BP (2015) Exploring connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and well-being: opportunities to enhance health and biodiversity conservation. Ecosystem Services 12:1–15.

  36. Sathyanarayana Rao TS, Indla V (2010) Work, family or personal life: why not all three. Indian J Psychiatry 52:295–297.

  37. Sbaraini A, Carter SM, Evans RW, Blinkhorn A (2011) How to do a grounded theory study: a worked example of a study of dental practices. BMC Med Res Methodol 11:128

  38. Smyth J, Ockenfels MC, Porter L, Kirschbaum C, Hellhammer DH, Stone AA (1998) Stressors and mood measured on a momentary basis are associated with salivary cortisol secretion. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23:353–370.

  39. Statistics New Zealand (2006) 2006 Census Accessed 25 May 2013

  40. Statistics New Zealand (2013) 2013 Census Accessed 23 Jan 2016

  41. Steptoe A, Shankar A, Demakakos P, Wardle J (2013) Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. PNAS 110:5797–5801

  42. Stone AA, Mackie C, Framework PMSWBPR, Statistics CN, Education DBSS, Council NR (2014) Subjective well-being: measuring happiness, suffering, and other dimensions of experience. National Academies Press, Washington DC

  43. Swanson V, Sharpe T, Porteous C, Hunter C, Shearer D (2015) Well-being in urban residents in Scotland. Ecopsychology 8:121–130

  44. Taylor L, Hochuli DF (2015) Creating better cities: how biodiversity and ecosystem functioning enhance urban residents’ wellbeing. Urban Ecosystems 18:747–762.

  45. Topp CW, Østergaard SD, Søndergaard S, Bech P (2015) The WHO-5 well-being index: a systematic review of the literature. Psychother Psychosom 2015:167–176

  46. Ulrich RS, Simons RF, Losito BD, Fiorito E, Miles MA, Zelson M (1991) Stress recovery during exposure to natural and urban environments. J Environ Psychol 11:201–230.

  47. United Nations (2012) World urbanization prospects, the 2011 revision, vol 2011 Revision. United nations department of economic and social affairs population division, New York

  48. USGS (2015) Using the USGS Landsat 8 product. United States geological survey. Accessed 18 Sept 2015

  49. van Den Berg AE, Custers MHG (2011) Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. J Health Psychol 16:3–11.

  50. van den Berg AE, Jorgensen A, Wilson ER (2014) Evaluating restoration in urban green spaces: does setting type make a difference? Landsc Urban Plan 127:173–181.

  51. WHO (1947) Constitution of the World Health Organisation. Int Law Quart 1:263–280

  52. WHO (2010) Hidden cities: unmasking and overcoming health inequities in urban settings, vol Book, Whole. World Health Organization, Kobe

  53. Yancura LA, Aldwin CM (2008) Coping and health in older adults. Current Psychiatry Reports 10:10–15.

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lucy Taylor.

Electronic supplementary material


(PDF 195 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Taylor, L., Hahs, A.K. & Hochuli, D.F. Wellbeing and urban living: nurtured by nature. Urban Ecosyst 21, 197–208 (2018).

Download citation


  • Wellbeing
  • NDVI
  • Biodiversity
  • Urban
  • WHO-5