My research explores the construction of this nature in urban space, the different values and uses communities place on this space, and new possibilities for restoration and stewardship programming across NYC. To understand the varied use of this space, I use a political ecology framework to approach the interdependent political, social, and ecological processes within the natural areas.
2014 Urban Fellow
Research Topic: Socio-cultural and Ecological Interactions
Faculty Advisor: Michael Dove
Environmental Stewardship in New York City Parks and Natural Areas: assessing barriers, creating opportunities, and proposing a new way forward
Citizen-based environmental stewardship programs are increasingly used as key approaches by government agencies to improve ecosystem function and landscape health in degraded or vulnerable systems. Stewardship programs are also touted to increase community resilience, to improve civic engagement, and to strengthen partnerships between government agency and the local community (Romolini et al. 2012; Fisher et al. 2012). Ideally, such programs work to connect individuals to the natural world by providing meaningful opportunities for engagement and learning. Yet, difficulties arise in how this sense of interconnection is brought into action and what activities constitute meaningful and legitimate engagement in natural areas. Current approaches have tendencies to oversimplify complex socio-cultural desires that drive patterns of park and natural area use. In this report I hope to address a fundamental need of New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) to establish a clear, adaptable framework for the implementation of citizenbased environmental stewardship programs. I also want to propose a new way forward by encouraging managers and practitioners to use the process of social engagement as a goal in and of its self. Reorienting the current process of citizen engagement to allow communities to define, plan, and implement public programs in their own terms and on their own grounds will have a greater social and ecological impact across the city. Additionally, a bottom-up approach, facilitated by NYC Parks, will establish clear channels of communication between institutions and will legitimize distinct modes of engagement. In turn, this process will help build long lasting relationships between community institutions and NYC Parks.