Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr Jason Gilliland


Trees are the most prominent natural urban landscape feature, offering a host of direct and indirect health benefits to users. The dominant discourse on children’s environments has focused on access to neighbourhood-scale urban green spaces, such as parks or playgrounds. The present research instead focuses upon trees as small-scale, doorstep nature exposures that are passively experienced around schools. The findings suggest a disparity in the provision of the positive environmental exposure provided by trees in the Southwestern Ontario walk sheds surrounding elementary schools. Children exposed to the greatest levels of socio-economic distress live in neighbourhoods served with the lowest tree densities around their schools and as a result they receive less support for their attention functioning through nearby nature exposures. Once at school, the playground becomes a key environment for restoring or sustaining attention function through providing green exposures during recess or lunch breaks. The influence of seasonal change in foliage and planting design strategies, using a computer visualization methodology, reveals that there is a significant opportunity to fine tune schoolyard greening efforts through planting design that maximizes restorative benefits year round.

The studies in this dissertation provide an argument for planners, policy makers and designers to address the inequitable distribution of trees in school walk sheds and improve the quality of the urban landscape. These efforts will provide the maximum benefit possible in support of healthy attention functioning and equity within children’s local learning domain creating a landscape that is ‘staged’ to support learning.