Nature Routines of Children as Leverage Point for Sustainable Social-Ecological Urbanism : Connecting childhood and biosphere to design sustainable civilizations in the human habitat

Abstract: Strong sustainability requires enhanced knowledge and understanding of complex social-ecological interactions, but it also implies a ‘novel’ conceptualization of the relationship between humans and nature, one in which individuals perceive themselves as embedded members of the Biosphere. The aim of this Licentiate thesis is to investigate the validity of a strategy that is centered on designing the urban green infrastructure to nurture such human-nature relationship in children’s attitudes. The research is framed by spatial cognition, conservation psychology, and social-ecological sustainability and it focuses on the validity of this strategy. Hence, the Licentiate analyzes how reoccurring experiences of nature that are situated in the everyday habitat (i.e. nature routines) affect personal human-nature attitudes and how these can be implemented as leverage points to change social-ecological systems using sustainable urbanism. Paper 1 tests the assumed link between the nature routines in Stockholm and preschool children’s development of cognitive and emotional affinity to nature. The results show that nature-rich routines over a period of four years are significantly correlated with the strength of preschooler’s affinity with nature. Paper 2 uses a mixed methods approach to evaluate changes in Connection To Nature (CTN) in 10 years olds who partake in a project of nature conservation. The results of Paper 2 show that there is an evaluative gap between theory and practice in connecting children with nature that impedes the evaluation of how children’s CTN changes over short periods of time and that impedes the creation of an evaluative framework for nature experiences. Paper 3 considers these empirical results in theorizing an approach to sustainable urban design based on social-ecological sustainability that includes CTN. In order to overcome existing limitations Paper 3 presents the concept of cognitive affordances as a theoretical tool to embed cognitive and emotional attitudes towards nature into the design of urban spaces. All combined these papers provide valid evidence that nature routines in cities, especially for children, can be a significant leverage point to enable future sustainable civilizations.