People value urban green spaces for enjoying nature and socializing with friends, family, and other park users. However, overgrown urban forests without clear access points can be perceived as dark, dangerous, and wild places. As many cities experience reduced budgets, they struggle to maintain green spaces established in more prosperous times. We conducted a descriptive analysis of how constrained parks budgets and subsequent city decisions about maintenance are associated with patterns of forest use, place attachment, and social capital and their impacts on the potential for stewardship of forested parks. We selected Springfield, Massachusetts for our study because it is typical of former industrial cities with highly constrained budgets. We used both qualitative and quantitative analyses of field observations and interviews with park users and nearby residents. We found that access to forests and park use were the strongest predictors of place attachment, and that on-site services, access, and maintenance level were the strongest predictors of use rather than surrounding socioeconomic conditions. Users valued the ecology of the sites, even while park managers highlighted invasive plants as a major maintenance issue. Even though many sites had low levels of use, there remains a strong sense of ownership, community, and safety. Taken together, there is a great deal of untapped stewardship potential in the city, with few organized avenues for users and residents to engage in stewardship. The findings support the hypothesized ‘virtuous circle’ whereby higher levels of maintenance and access beget greater use and attachment, which motivates stewardship. Alternatively, the more neglected forested parks become, the less use they will have, and the more unknown and unloved they will become. In high use sites, some outreach may be all that is needed to move into the ‘virtuous circle,’ while greater interventions will be needed in low use sites with no facilities, and these sites are the ones at greatest risk. Since the long-term sustainability of urban forests requires that local residents appreciate, use, and steward them, Springfield and other post-industrial cities need to find creative models for supporting greater involvement of residents in park stewardship while recognizing these residents frequently inhabit communities under stress.
Warren, Paige S.; Ryan, Robert L.; Bushouse, Brenda K.; Harper, Krista; and Stinson, Kristina
"Sustaining Urban Forests in Post-Industrial Cities: Place Attachment, Ecology, and Stewardship Potential,"
Cities and the Environment (CATE):
2, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cate/vol16/iss2/4