Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Needs and expectations of German and Chinese children for livable urban green spaces revealed by the method of empathy-based stories

Shu, Xi; Mesimäki, Marja; Kotze, D. Johan; Wales, Mark; Xie, Long; Benicke, Renan; Lehvävirta, Susanna


One of the important features of cities is to provide high-quality outdoor environments for various groups of citizens. Although children are frequent users of green spaces, the knowledge and perspectives applied in planning and design of urban green spaces are mostly defined by adults. This results in spaces and practices that may limit the daily lives and creativity of urban children. Promoting child-friendly cities benefits from knowledge produced by children themselves, regarding their perceptions and experiences, as well as ideas and suggestions. This study provides empirical results concerning children’s needs and mental images for urban green spaces in two urban areas in two countries (Chengdu, China, and Ruhr Region, Germany). 765 children, ages 8–10 were surveyed through the method of empathy-based stories (MEBS). Participants were asked to use their imagination to write stories according to given scenarios. Our study shows that MEBS can be used to gather meaningful data with children, and that children are an important stakeholder group in urban planning, landscape design and management with an ability to express their diverse needs and preferences towards green spaces. Both designed green spaces (e.g. gardens, parks) and wild nature (e.g. forests, meadows) can offer a range of activities and experiences for children in their everyday lives: opportunities for play, socializing, contact with nature, aesthetic and restorative experiences, learning and exploration. Our findings include indications of children’s awareness of the diverse ecosystem services that green spaces provide, as well as of urban sustainability and livability. While we found German and Chinese children to have corresponding needs and expectations regarding urban green spaces and nature, we also found some variation. We suggest that the use of, and experiences in green spaces are linked not only to the landscape but also to conceptual-cultural contexts.


Child-friendly cities; Green infrastructure; Nature-based solutions; Role-playing method; Text mining

Published in

Urban Forestry and Urban Greening
2022, volume: 68, article number: 127476

Authors' information

Shu, Xi
University of Helsinki
Mesimäki, Marja
University of Helsinki
Kotze, D. Johan
University of Helsinki
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of People and Society
Xie, Long
University of Helsinki
Benicke, Renan
District government of Münster
Lehvävirta, Susanna
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management
Lehvävirta, Susanna
University of Helsinki

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG11 Sustainable cities and communities

UKÄ Subject classification

Landscape Architecture

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)