Baltimore Ecosystem Study Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2016 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

Reading the Landscape: A Social Assessment of Urban Parks and Natural Areas
Sonti, Nancy
Co-Authors: D.S. Novem Auyeung, Lindsay K. Campbell, Michelle Johnson, and Erika Svendsen

Abstract: The forests, wetlands, and meadows of our cities provide well-documented crucial biophysical buffering capacities in the rapidly changing urban environment. However, these spaces also affect social interactions and human well-being through the provisioning of cultural ecosystem services, and we often have little systematic evidence about how urban residents view, use, and value these resources. This study uses a mixed-method approach to examine the social dimension of urban green space in New York City, through an assessment focused on park use, function, and meanings. The assessment combines observation of human activities and signs of prior human use with structured interviews of park users. We find that urban parkland is a crucial form of nearby nature that provides space for recreation, socialization, and environmental engagement, and supports place attachment and social ties. We show that natural areas of parks, through their use by and interactions with humans, are producing vital cultural ecosystem services that may help to strengthen social resilience, including recreation, social relations, and sense of place. While many park users are drawn to natural areas, we also explore the barriers that keep others away from these wild urban green spaces. Finally, we map the social connections between New York City parkland and other outdoor spaces in the city, region, nation and globe. The assessment method is designed to be spatially explicit, scalable, and replicable. Our study demonstrates a way in which the social meaning of urban green space can be incorporated into urban natural resource management and resilience planning.