Stories, Shrines, and Symbols: Recognizing Psycho-Social-Spiritual Benefits of Urban Parks and Natural Areas

Erika S. Svendsen, Lindsay K. Campbell, Heather L. McMillen
2016 Journal of Ethnobiology  
Executive Summary Who volunteers to steward the urban forest in New York City and how do volunteer stewards get involved in these activities? This is the second paper in a series that focuses on the social and organizational dynamics of urban environmental stewardship. This paper presents results from research on volunteer stewards at MillionTreesNYC tree planting events in spring and fall 2010, which were sponsored by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and the New York
more » ... tion Project, a non-profit organization focused on enhancing underused green spaces throughout NYC. Although recent academic and policy studies have focused on the increasingly wide range of organizations working as stewards to conserve, manage, monitor, advocate for, or educate the public about the local environment, it remains unclear how individual citizens get involved in local stewardship initiatives. Such knowledge is needed by professionals working to manage environmental stewardship programs and by anyone seeking to understand better how the human infrastructure of environmental stewardship is established, maintained, and improved. For this study, we surveyed a random sample of adult volunteers who participated in the spring and fall 2010 MillionTreesNYC planting events in parks throughout New York City. The volunteers planted trees and mulched wooded areas during morning and early afternoon hours. The survey included questions about where the volunteers came from to participate, how they heard about the event, with whom they came to the event, what prior connections they had with local environmental stewardship organizations, and their levels of civic/political engagement prior to the event. Demographics Over half of the respondents of the study were women and most were relatively young (the median age was 30). Volunteer stewards tended to be white and well educated. In comparison to the New York City population as a whole, our sample population contains a greater percentage of whites, females, and highly educated people. These differences held across the spring and fall sample populations and are consistent with national trends in voluntarism. Politics and Civic Engagement Politically, volunteer stewards tend to be more liberal than the American population. Volunteer stewards reported being engaged in all types of civic and political activities, from voting in an election to signing a petition. In most cases, the volunteer stewards were significantly more engaged in civic and political activities than the American population. This trend held for both the spring and fall sample populations. CSE White Paper I 3 Environmental Stewardship Although the majority of the volunteers at the MillionTreesNYC planting events were relatively inexperienced at environmental stewardship activities, roughly one-fifth of them demonstrated a high degree of prior engagement. These experienced volunteers had been to previous tree plantings, were members of local stewardship organizations, and took care of trees at other sites. They showed higher overall levels of civic engagement than the rest of the sample and overwhelmingly heard about the event through their affiliations with local stewardship organizations. Roughly one-third of those surveyed were novice volunteers: they had never been to volunteer tree plantings before the event. These individuals were not members of local stewardship organizations and did not take care of trees at other sites. Personal ties played a much larger role for these novice volunteer stewards. They tended to hear about the event from their individual social networks comprised of family, friends, or colleagues. It is also worth noting that novice stewards were less civically engaged than the more experienced stewards (although they were still more engaged than the American population). Future Research The greater degree of civic engagement amongst experienced volunteers relative to the rest of the sample suggests that planting trees leads to better citizenship-in other words, the more a person is involved in environmental stewardship, the more s/he engages with other types of civic and political activities. In order to understand fully the directionality of this relationship, however, more research is needed. For the next stage of this research project, we will conduct follow-up interviews with a sample of volunteer stewards who expressed interest in participating to explore this relationship in more detail.
doi:10.2993/0278-0771-36.4.881 fatcat:4rq27aczrrb3vc6dwjfwcqwdwq