The Urban Forest and Shopping Environments

The Urban Forest and Shopping Environments

Kathleen L. Wolf (University of Washington, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-1412-2.ch011


Many cities and communities are working toward urban sustainability goals, and the urban forest is one strategy to achieve environmental and social co-benefits. Yet retailers and merchants may not find environmental benefits to be compelling when compared to the direct costs of landscape and trees. Nonetheless, a quality outdoor environment can extend store appeal to the curb and boost positive experiences of visitors while in a shopping district. This chapter presents information about the atmospherics of green retail environments. A multi-study program of research shows that having a quality urban forest canopy within business districts and commercial areas can promote positive shopper perceptions and behavior. Positive responses have included store image, patronage behavior, and willingness to pay more for goods and services. This chapter provides a summary of the research, connects results to various psychological marketing theories, provides evidence-based design recommendations, and suggests future research activity.
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Marketing researchers have explored the influence of store environments on shopper activity. Many retailers and merchants use evidence-based strategies to enhance shoppers’ experiences. Interior design, product integration and placement, the appearance and behavior of sales associates, and even the choice of background music are implemented and tweaked to influence consumer behavior. Retail establishments from small independent shops to chain department stores work to make the shopping environment alluring, comfortable, and profitable.

Meanwhile, gardeners and philosophers have celebrated the delights of trees and nature for centuries, noting the role of plants in aesthetics, cultural symbolism, and therapy. Recent research confirms the benefits that people gain from nature experiences. Research that spans the globe now reveals that nearby nature experiences can prevent and be therapy for disease, improve mental health, and boost social cohesion in communities. However, the two research pursuits – investigations of human experiences of retail place and studies of nature settings – have rarely intersected.

City trees provide many environmental benefits such as clean air and water, reduced heat island effects, and reduced energy usage. Yet merchants often do not find such benefits compelling, when compared to the direct costs of streetscape trees. A series of studies explored both business people’s attitudes about trees and shopper response to urban forest canopy, thus addressing the more direct interests of retailers (Wolf, 2014). The research results make the case for the importance of business investment in a tree program in order to promote urban sustainability, but more importantly, to enhance the appeal and success of business centers in cities and towns.

This chapter builds the case for the importance of having trees and quality landscapes in retail settings. The first sections address the broader issues of urban sustainability, retail settings, and recent research about urban forest benefits. Psychological theory about people’s response to place, retail settings, and nature is provided in a background section. A research program has explored how business district visitors respond to city trees; key findings are summarized. A discussion section is followed by guidelines for urban forest planning in contemporary shopping environments. This presentation of theory and research presents several research opportunities, the focus of the last section in the chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Biophilia: A hypothesis about the innate and durable human attraction to nature due to an evolutionary history of reliance on landscape for basic needs, now expressed as fascination and aesthetic enjoyment when experiencing nature.

Behavioral Economics: A sub-discipline that seeks to increase the explanatory and predictive power of economic theory by providing more psychologically plausible foundations from studies of the consumer psyche and irrationality of human decision-making processes.

Urban Forestry: The care and management of trees in urbanized environments (including streets, parks, open spaces, and within all public and private land uses) for aesthetic, environmental, economic, and public health functions and benefits.

Nature Atmospherics: An understanding of how trees, gardens, and landscapes, as an ambient feature in retail settings, play a role in shopping environment appeal and consumer behavior.

Green Infrastructure: Using natural systems and their ecological functions to replace, augment, or supplement more traditional gray infrastructure in urban settings, in order to achieve more cost-effective and sustainable management of air and water quality.

Environmental Psychology: A field of research and practical applications concerning the interplay of humans and physical settings, and the mutual benefits that can result. Settings can include natural environments, built places, and any particular places (such as offices or hospitals) where human function is dependent on physical factors.

Landscape Preference: A field of study spanning nearly 50 years that demonstrates the general and consistent positive response of humans to certain landscape elements and their arrangements, with large trees and park-like settings being particularly favored.

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