Engaging underserved populations in community tree management activities

2019, Jason S. Gordon, PhD, Co-PIs Holly Campbell, Tawana Mattox, PhD, John Schelhas, PhD, Rodney Walters, University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc.

Urban tree values have been successfully communicated through ecosystem services accounting, plant appraisal, and communications campaigns of local governments, tree councils, and others. However, sometimes such efforts fail in their desired impact, possibly because they have assumed a one-size-fits-all approach that does not take into account the experiences, values, and cultures of diverse community members and neighborhoods. Effective communication of the human and community benefits of urban forestry and arboriculture, along with designing and implementing such programs to provide maximum community impact, fundamentally requires a place-based approach. As such, social scientists typically look at diversity across dimensions such as race and ethnicity, gender, and class, because these differences produce both different cultures and historical patterns of education, income, wealth, and discrimination (Schelhas 2002; Gordon et al. 2013). It is well-known that lower income and minority households often reside in areas with low tree canopy cover (see metanalysis by Gerrish and Watkins 2018), while at the same time there are cases where residents have declined tree planting programs due to past experiences of tree-related hardship, anticipation of lack of city services for trees are, and lack of input into species selection (Carmichael and McDonough 2019). Despite several studies documenting spatial patterns of tree risk, benefits, and management activities across cities, few have examined the sociocultural processes through which these patterns develop, or how disparities can be addressed fairly and with sensitivity to cultural norms. In this qualitative study, we will work with a city government and a community organization to explore how local values and attitudes affect perceptions of risks and benefits of trees in a historically African American neighborhood. Reflecting the goal of the Bob Skiera Memorial Fund Grant, our goal is to help urban tree managers communicate the values of trees and urban forests to diverse communities. To this end, our specific objective is to identify economic, cultural, biophysical, and social-structural impediments and opportunities to communicating urban tree benefits and risks. In alignment with participatory research approaches (Wilmsen et al. 2008), we will apply within the project period our findings to experiential learning activities that engage residents with neighborhood tree care/advocacy and test the efficacy of these activities for effective communication of tree benefits.

Year: 2019

Funding Duration: 2 years

Grant Program:Bob Skiera Memorial Fund Building Bridges Initiative Grant

Grant Title: Engaging underserved populations in community tree management activities

Researcher: Dr. Jason Gordon

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For more information on this project, contact the researcher via TREE Fund at treefund@treefund.org.