Background With more than half the world’s population residing in urban areas and this proportion rising, it is important to understand how urban environment might create happier and healthier populations. Most studies consider the influence of single environmental characteristics, often comparing small numbers of cities. In this novel international study, we applied methods from ecology to assess 66 entire European cities as ‘urban landscapes’. We explored relationships between objective measures of the cities’ land cover and structure, and residents’ reported satisfaction with their life and city. We then assessed whether city landscape characteristics were related to within-city socio-economic inequality in life satisfaction.
Methods Respondents to the European Urban Audit (EUA) report their satisfaction with: life; the city they live in; and the place they live, as well as socio-demographic characteristics. The European Urban Atlas provides satellite-derived land use data for these cities. The Atlas has a 10 m2 resolution and categorises land into 26 classes including, for example, industrial sites, transport infrastructure, and different kinds of natural space. The proportion of each city’s land area falling within each class, together with metrics quantifying the distribution, balance and spatial arrangement of different land uses, were derived and joined to the EUA (n=∼63 000 individuals, within 66 cities). Mixed binary logistic analysis sought associations between life satisfaction measures and the land use measures and metrics. Then, associations between a city-level slope index of socio-economic inequality in satisfaction and the landscape metrics were explored using ANCOVA.
Results Specific land use measures were associated with all of the satisfaction measures: the residential proportion of a city (OR: 0.980–0.990, p<0.05); continuous urban fabric (OR: 0.995–0.998, p<0.0.03); isolated structures (OR: 1.045–1.097, p<0.05); other roads and associated land (OR: 0.967–0.989, p<0.04); pastures (OR: 1:003–1:007, p<0.02) and herbaceous vegetation (OR: 0.990–0.998, p<0.03). No associations were found with the landscape metrics. More diverse landscapes (β:−0.125 – −0.305, p<0.001), and those with more even distributions of land uses (β: 0.397 – −1.054, p<0.001), were both associated with lower inequality in life satisfaction.
Conclusion The content and form of a whole city may influence how residents feel about their lives. Cities which have a diverse range of land use, and which have a more equal balance in land seem also to enjoy lower levels of socio-economic inequality in life satisfaction. These findings may aid urban planners to develop and build cities that can contribute to improving population life satisfaction and narrowing inequalities.
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