Urban green areas, such as parks, are becoming increasingly important in densifying cities. Urban parks encourage physical and social activity, recreation and relaxation, and thus eventually promote people’s well-being. The aim of the current study is twofold, to examine which urban park attributes influence the preferences of park users and to gain more insight in the relationships between personal and park characteristics, park use behaviour, sense of place and long-term subjective well-being. For the first question, an online stated-choice experiment was developed. Seven park attributes (number and composition of trees; presence of benches, side paths, a playground, litter, and flowers) were manipulated in a virtual park. In an online stated-choice task, videos of these park alternatives were presented and the preferences were measured.
It is found that especially the number of trees and the presence of flowerbeds, particularly with a diversity of flowers, influenced participants’ preferences. The presence of many benches and a playground were valued as well, but to a lesser extent. The presence of litter was found to be less troublesome than expected. Alternatives with all trees placed in one cluster were disliked. Moreover, significant standard deviations were found for the presence of side paths, a playground, and the absence of litter, which indicates that preference heterogeneity for these attributes exist. In a latent class analysis, two groups were identified, namely a Nature-loving group, who mainly valued the trees and the flowers, and an Amenity-appreciating group, who valued almost all attributes. It can be concluded that natural elements and a variety of flower species are important in an urban park, while facilities are evaluated differently by different groups of people.
An online questionnaire was developed to collect data concerning personal characteristics, characteristics of parks that were visited and the way the park was used. Furthermore, questions were included to measure the sense of place and long term subjective well being. The questionnaire was distributed in two medium sized cities in the Netherlands, namely Eindhoven and ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Data was analysed using a path analysis. The results of this research show that appreciation of facilities, vegetation and the absence of disturbances influence the use and sense of place of a park. Furthermore, the results also show that personal characteristics influence the use of a park and the long-term subjective well-being.
These findings may support park designers and policymakers in decision-making. This information can be used to improve existing parks or design new parks that contribute to more positive experiences and improve thereby the subjective well-being of individuals. Moreover, the research illustrates the usefulness of creating a virtual park in environmental preference research.