The structure and composition of schoolyards along an urban-to-rural gradient: A case study in the Gwynns Falls watershed, Baltimore, Maryland.
Alexis Schulman, Mary L. Cadenasso, Alan R. Berkowitz, and Mary E. Ford
The schoolyard is a potential site for examining the intersection of the physical, social and biological dimensions of an ecosystem. The elements in a schoolyard, both the biotic and human-made, may influence or be influenced by the physical characteristics of the school’s neighborhood, the socio-economics of the school community, or even the biological make-up of the surrounding area. A number of studies have focused on the influence of the schoolyard, particularly the effect of green space on child development and school performance. However, there is little science concerning the structure and composition of schoolyards, and how or why they may vary. This study addresses these issues in a case study of sixteen public elementary schools in the Gwynns Falls watershed, Baltimore, Maryland – the chief study area of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES) LTER program. IES-REU student Alexis Schulman used false-color infrared aerial photographs of the region and GIS software to classify and compare the schoolyards’ cover along an urban-to-rural gradient and relate it to neighborhood cover and mean income. Schoolyard size increased over the gradient, with almost all of the increase due to a net increase in green space. Other elements, such as impervious surfaces, occupied similar area per schoolyard across the gradient. Variability in schoolyard greenness decreased along the gradient. Schoolyard greenness and structure correlated with characteristics of the schools’ neighborhoods – structure, vegetation and income – but these relationships were evident only at the scale of the whole gradient and not within each region. Despite declines in schoolyard greenness with neighborhood income or greenness, there were some schools that had considerably more green space than the general relationships would predict, suggesting the potential for school site enhancement even in low income and highly developed neighborhoods.