Urban forests are more about people than trees. The positivist approach faces many obstacles in analyzing current urban forest-related issues; thus, this study adopted semantic differences and cognitive map approaches to evaluate the subjective preferences of citizens based on their spatial behavior. From December 2015 to November 2017, a three-year continuous public questionnaire was administered to a total of 450 citizens. Typical forest parks, suburban parks, and urban parks in Beijing were selected as research sites, and were analyzed respectively. This study comprehensively evaluated the perception characteristics and differences in the spatial images of urban forests by citizens in relation to different location conditions. Because these characteristics varied across individuals, the spatial cognition and familiarity of citizens with different types of urban forests were analyzed and compared. The perception of spatial images by citizens of different types of urban forests noticeably varied with respect to color and psychology. The perception of spatial images significantly varied with respect to gender, educational background, and income level, with individual characteristics being most closely related to the perception elements of urban forests in terms of space, color, style, and environment. Comparison of cognitive maps demonstrated clear differences in how citizens selected different types of urban forests. These differences were reflected in six types of cognitive maps and six familiar elements in the cognitive maps drawn by citizens.
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