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    11. Applying the Reasonable Person Model to Urban Greening Projects: Insights from the Inner City


    Urban greening involves small-scale interventions, such as street tree plantings or community gardens, that create much-needed green space within the urban neighborhoods. These projects have the appeal of being tangible activities that result in visible positive change in a neighborhood. Our previous research suggests that participating in volunteer stewardship activities gives participants a tangible sense of helping the environment and can result in a greater sense of ownership in the outcome (Grese et al., 2000; Ryan et al., 2001). Yet not all such projects succeed. This research explored the type of settings and circumstances when greening projects succeed (i.e., are implemented and maintained) versus fail to be implemented or are abandoned. The Reasonable Person Model (RPM) provides a new lens to evaluate and potentially aid the implementation of these urban greening projects.

    Urban green space plays a key role in improving the livability of cities for local residents while at the same time increasing ecological health. Ecologically, urban trees and green spaces moderate the climate, provide wildlife habitat areas, and can help clean urban storm water (Jackson, 2003). Urban green spaces connect people to nature by providing places to interact with plants and animals. Research also describes the role that urban green spaces play in facilitating social connections between neighbors and restoring mental and physical health (Coley, Kuo, & Sullivan, 1997; R. Kaplan, Kaplan, & Ryan, 1998; Kuo, 2001). Urban green spaces help to ameliorate the challenges faced by inner-city residents by reducing crime and domestic violence, improving cognitive functioning, and reducing stress (Branas et al., 2011; Kuo & Sullivan, 2001). For children, green spaces can provide places to play, improving physical health while at the same time improving their ability to learn (through reducing directed attention fatigue) (Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2001; Wells, 2000). Despite these well-documented benefits, urban green spaces are lacking in many inner-city neighborhoods. To address these shortcomings, many urban neighborhoods have launched community-based efforts to develop new urban parks and green spaces that involve small acts of urban greening, such as community gardening and tree planting.

    However, little research has been conducted on how these community-based urban green spaces fare over time. Do they meet the needs of local residents? How are they sustained and nurtured over time? Does involving local residents in urban greening lead to increased stewardship and attachment to these new urban green spaces? This chapter looks at these issues from the perspective of two related studies. The first study involved behavioral observation of urban green spaces in Boston, Massachusetts, in order to learn more about how these spaces meet local residents’ needs. In particular, the study compared intentionally planted urban green spaces with vacant lots that were successional or unintentional green space. The second study involved interviews with leaders of community greening projects to learn more about both developing and sustaining urban greening projects. This chapter concludes by describing the insights from our research as viewed through the lens of the Reasonable Person Model (RPM) and provides recommendations for those involved in promoting urban greening projects.

    Urban Green Space and Well—Being: Inner—City Inequities

    Many inner-city neighborhoods have environmental conditions that do not support human health and well-being. The lack of urban green space in many U.S. cities is strongly associated with negative measures of public health (West, Shores, & Mudd, 2012). Inner-city neighborhoods often have fewer acres of green space than surrounding areas that are more affluent (Joassart-Marcelli, 2010). This situation is further exacerbated by the concentration of airborne pollutants from automobiles, buses, and diesel trains that are concentrated in densely populated inner-city neighborhoods bisected by intricate networks of transportation corridors. Not surprisingly, asthma rates in many inner-city neighborhoods are exponentially higher than those in surrounding suburbs (Pearlman et al., 2006). The impacts of air pollution are compounded by the fact that inner-city neighborhoods often house a higher percentage of vulnerable groups, including children and young people (Boston Indicators Project, 2012). These environmental injustices prevail in many U.S. cities such as Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the percentage of urban tree canopy is positively correlated with higher income and inversely related to percentage minority population (Heynen, Perkins, & Roy, 2006).

    Research findings have provided a strong argument for the benefits of green space in cities for human health and well-being (Jackson, 2003; Wells & Rolling, 2012), yet many urban neighborhoods continue to lag in the amount and quality of green space and are bereft of trees or other vegetation, compared to those in more affluent areas (Heynen et al., 2006). As city governments are struggling financially, both park departments and urban tree-planting projects are among the first to be cut from the budget. While community-driven tree-planting and urban greening projects cannot replace large-scale public investment, they nonetheless can capitalize on the human capital within inner-city neighborhoods in the face of dwindling government investment. They provide small incremental changes that respond to immediate community needs in ways that the community can help create, install, and influence. The challenges facing urban neighborhoods are very real and tangible, including high unemployment, crime and safety concerns, and lack of investment in infrastructure and green space. However, cities have always been the place for new solutions, despite the lack of financial capital and resources (Hamdi, 2012). How do we unleash this human potential to address the very real challenges of inner-city residents? Urban greening projects can be one mechanism for unleashing this human potential. They can be found in many inner cities. In fact, it is not uncommon to find in the same neighborhood greening projects that function well and others that are ignored. What can explain these differences? The first study discussed here focuses on this discrepancy.

    The benefits of citizen engagement in these urban greening projects are readily understood through the lens of RPM. These gardening projects incorporate meaningful action by local residents, model building and exploration with respect to a local concern, and a sense of being effective—in many interrelated ways (S. Kaplan & Kaplan, 2009). The changed role of city governments in the context of urban greening projects calls for a shift in residents’ mental models. Traditionally, residents looked to the city government to fix things—to build and maintain the green and gray infrastructure of street trees, parks, and roads, etc. However, financially challenged cities facing the intractability of urban problems have looked more and more to local residents as partners. Many local residents have thus shifted their mental models to see themselves as involved actors in addressing the challenges their neighborhoods face. Critical to this idea, as described by S. Kaplan and Kaplan (2009, p. 333), is the “belief that one could make a difference.”

    Editors’ Comment: An opportunity to make a difference can lead one to reframe one’s mental models of what is possible. This is demonstrated by Gallagher’s rural leadership training (Chapter 8), Ginsburg’s prison education program (Chapter 9), and Wells and Pillemer’s engagement of the elderly in environmental causes (Chapter 10).

    We are interested in using the RPM model to understand how participation in urban greening may nurture a sense of ownership, empowerment, and efficacy that can change people’s mental models of their capacity to create change in their neighborhood and its green spaces. Our initial work with neighborhood groups suggests that having a local leader with a vision makes the difference in the extent to which a neighborhood engages in urban greening projects. While the importance of leadership is not surprising, RPM can be used to explain the various levels of understanding that leaders bring to urban greening. For example, do leaders have a mental map of how to plan, organize, and implement urban greening activities? Do they have an implied sense of how to engage individual residents in these activities and build competence within a neighborhood group to sustain these projects after the initial leader moves on? In addition, how has participation in urban greening led to a transferability of these ideas to address other neighborhood issues? Many of these are similar to the capacity-building challenges described by Gallagher (Chapter 8).

    Study 1: Tended Spaces and Neglected Lots

    In the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston, Massachusetts, some vacant lots have been transformed into community gardens and parks through the efforts of local neighborhood organizations, while other lots continue to be abandoned and neglected, with successional vegetation recolonizing the sites. This research focused on evaluating the social and ecological impacts of these urban greening projects, which included parks, school yards, street improvements, and community gardens. The study used behavioral observation of green space users in seven pairs of urban green spaces and nearby vacant lots (Figures 11.1 and 11.2) as well as interviews with volunteers who helped build and/or maintain these gardens in order to understand use patterns and other benefits that local residents derive from these gardens. The research questions for the study were twofold: (1) How do local residents’ perceptions, use, and attachment vary by type of urban green space, including those that local residents develop? (2) What are the effects of urban greening on building neighborhood stewardship of green space?

    Figure 11.1. Community garden. (Photo by Kate Tooke)
    Figure 11.1. Community garden. (Photo by Kate Tooke)
    Figure 11.2. Nearby vacant lot. (Photo by Kate Tooke)
    Figure 11.2. Nearby vacant lot. (Photo by Kate Tooke)

    The study found significantly more active and passive use in the community-developed green spaces than in nearby vacant lots or similar nongreened spaces. Neighborhood engagement with these small sites included both entering the site for passive recreation and often talking with neighbors and others on the adjacent sidewalks. Landscape type and configuration made a difference in how actively the site was used. Community gardens and pocket parks with amenities such as playgrounds received the most use compared to the other greened sites (Ryan et al., 2012).

    The interviews with local residents who led these volunteer efforts shed light on why particular areas were used more than others and on the dynamics of local stewardship and attachment. Local leaders valued the small greened areas that they helped create as some of their favorite places, which is one measure of place attachment (Ryan, 2005). Moreover, they felt a strong sense of ownership and responsibility toward these new urban green spaces. In other words, the interviews supported what we saw in our own observations: these community greened spaces appeared well cared for and, in many cases, less vandalized than nearby public spaces, including public parks and schools. Furthermore, these small community greened spaces and gardens were considered to be an extension of the interviewees’ own backyards that they shared with the community. We also saw aspects of the halo effect as discussed by Nassauer (2011), which refers to the contagious nature of landscape care. In other words, the care given to these new community greened spaces had a spillover effect where adjacent residents would increase the level of care in their own yards, planting new plants and improving maintenance.

    The results of our research show a marked appreciation for community-developed green spaces compared to other more “accidental” green spaces that are the result of property abandonment. This may be surprising considering that some of these “vacant” lots are mown by the city, have white picket fences in front of them, and appear to the casual passerby to be an extension of the neighboring properties’ side yards. However, we saw less use of these spaces than expected, possibly because of the perception that they were city-owned. Other vacant lots had the appearance that one imagines of abandoned property: overgrown, emergent vegetation of shrubs, “weeds,” and trees. To local residents, any ecological benefits of such properties were overshadowed by the perception of neglect that these vacant lots conveyed; the trash and other dangerous debris, such as broken glass, that they contained; and the perception that they were not safe green spaces to enter. Thus, local residents’ mental models of neglect were reflected in the overgrown character of these vacant lots.

    Editors’ Comment: This knowing is captured in one’s mental models, which is composed of people’s expectations that their efforts won’t, for example, be illegal or wasted.

    As Nassauer (1995) observed, the visual perception of “care” is essential to how local residents perceive these green spaces and their neighborhood. Driving around the streets of Boston, we came upon a sign that read “I take pride in where I live” on a chain-link fence near a well-cared-for urban green space (Figure 11.3). This sign conveys the essence of the connection of neighborhood appearance to RPM. Knowing that one’s actions can lead to changes to one’s neighborhood that one is proud of is part of a positive upward spiral of affirmation that small steps are making a difference and that I want to tell others about these changes so they too can make a difference.

    Figure 11.3. Neighbors showing their pride in their neighborhood. (Photo by Robert Ryan)
    Figure 11.3. Neighbors showing their pride in their neighborhood. (Photo by Robert Ryan)

    Attachment to and pride in one’s place is a manifestation of all three aspects of the RPM. With place attachment, our mental models reflect a sense of our connection to our environment. In other words, as a motivation for taking action, having a connection to a place is a critical precursor. Building a mental model that is coded with positive affect for place comes through experience and possibly as a response to the visual quality of a place. When we take meaningful action and choose to take care of a place, we can feel effective in our immediate world and possibly create even stronger connection with it. We perceive that our neighborhood looks nice and know that we helped to make it that way, which provides a positive feedback loop to take more meaningful action. As discussed by Petrich (Chapter 13), people became attached to the places to which they had contributed time and energy to create and maintain, which fostered better stewardship of those places.

    Our study results in Boston also suggest that small community-developed green spaces are often appreciated by local residents who may not even enter them regularly. We observed that residents may spend more time on the sidewalk in front of them, engage in conversations with their neighbors and friends near them, and view the green spaces from their cars. Thus, environmental advocates, city officials, and others need to broaden their understanding of the value of these spaces beyond recreational use. The visual importance of green space, even if residents never enter it, can be valuable for mental restoration and other aspects of human well-being (R. Kaplan et al., 1998; Ryan, 2005; Wells & Rolling, 2012). These small green spaces in inner-city neighborhoods can play a key role in potentially fostering community engagement with others and with urban nature and, in doing so, provide supportive environments for urban residents.

    Study 2: Urban Greening Projects and Lessons from Local Leaders

    Our second study focused on the leaders of urban greening projects, including community gardens, in two cities—Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence, Rhode Island—in the northeastern United States. As in the first study we looked at specific greening projects, but this time we looked through the eyes of a leader. Our methods included visiting the site with the local leader when possible, documenting it with photographs, and talking to the leader about the factors that influenced the success of the project and process. In particular, we were interested in learning more about the lessons that leaders had for other practitioners and local residents who are faced with similar challenges and opportunities. Several themes emerged from these interviews.

    The community process is critical to the success of urban greening projects. There is a need to include diverse representation when planning a community garden that includes stakeholders from many walks of life, such as nonprofit groups, businesses, landowners, government agencies, and gardeners. The idea is that these stakeholders can help ensure long-term support for a project.

    It is important to have diverse representation and to ensure that local residents are the primary beneficiaries of urban greening project benefits (paraphrased). In the context of RPM, this fits within the theme of meaningful action and participation as discussed in more detail in Grese (Chapter 19). Successful leaders create a supportive environment in which local residents feel that they can make a difference and that their opinions are valued.

    The need for knowledge-brokers who know the range of issues, including physical property ownership, legal issues, and even horticulture. The mental models needed to create an urban garden that would span many domains. While not necessarily expert in all of these areas, the “knowledge-brokers” are able to engage local “experts” from both within and beyond the community. In academic terms, we might say that these are leaders who are good at leading collaborative teams and can talk across disciplinary boundaries. Engaging a diverse range of stakeholders can create the opportunity to build a shared mental model to deal with the complexities of urban greening projects; this theme of shared learning is discussed by Monroe (Chapter 14). Since sharing information is a critical part of the community process, it is important to have trusted and respected leadership in urban greening projects. As Phalen (Chapter 21) discussed, listening is an essential ingredient in this process.

    Spaces for healing in a neighborhood that continues to face socioeconomic challenges (paraphrased). In neighborhoods of marginalized residents, a community garden can play an affirming role as the place where people can celebrate their unique cultural identity and share cultural knowledge and traditions between generations. Within the RPM framework, the gardens act as the conduit for transferring knowledge, building the mental models of the next generation about traditional foods that are grown in the gardens as well as their use in the larger cultural context.

    For the larger community, these benefits include, a visually pleasing space within the neighborhood, programming and special events [that] are open to all members of the community, a space for personal healing and reflection, a shared community space (paraphrased). In other words, the benefits of community gardens and other community-greened space can go far beyond those who directly participate within them. These community gardens are also seen as community gathering places. In a world where there are few places for communities to gather, the shared work that is necessary to sustain a community garden allows this to happen. Organized celebrations (such as concerts and block parties), workdays, and other programmed activities are essential to keep these green spaces going. In many instances one might think of these as highlighting or celebrating the act of participation.

    Effective leaders also articulated the broader benefits of the gardens, such as providing places for children to play after school (health benefits) and for youths to be productive as part of after-school programs and providing summer job opportunities for garden maintenance (education, training, and economic opportunities) (Figures 11.4 and 11.5). The successful green spaces usually had larger goals and were part of a larger community effort to improve the neighborhood, with the garden serving as a catalyst for making these happen. For example, in one neighborhood where asthma rates were very high, tree planting was perceived as a way to improve air quality and was done in coordination with a neighborhood clinic. Being able to articulate a more holistic vision of the benefits of urban greening and partnering with many diverse stakeholders were perceived as helpful for leveraging funding and encouraging participation.

    Figure 11.4. Community gardens should respond to a variety of neighborhood needs. (Photo by J. Buxton)
    Figure 11.4. Community gardens should respond to a variety of neighborhood needs. (Photo by J. Buxton)
    Figure 11.5. Community garden plots within a larger park area. (Photo by J. Buxton)
    Figure 11.5. Community garden plots within a larger park area. (Photo by J. Buxton)

    We were also interested to hear the leaders’ reflections on factors that might lead to the decline or failure of green space projects. While financial reasons are possibly the most obvious, these leaders did not identify them as necessarily the main stumbling block. Many factors were mentioned, including changes in political leaders and government programs, neighborhood safety, and available time and interest of local residents. Community gardens can struggle when the individual gardeners are too busy to help with the common chores or maintenance to keep the garden running. There is an implicit social contract as part of meaningful participation; one is more willing to make a difference when others are participating as well, and there is a disincentive when only a few individuals are doing the bulk of the work.

    Another challenge raised in several interviews with leaders is the issue of landownership. Community gardens can be displaced by landowners or developers when land value increases make new development more attractive. From an RPM perspective, the nagging fear that outside forces can destroy one’s efforts can usurp valuable directed attention from the task at hand. Building a mental model of land acquisition, as well as the planning process to obtain any necessary zoning or permits, can be complex and initially overwhelming to new leaders. Our interviewees advised that long-term leasing of community garden land is often best handled in partnerships between community members and larger nonprofit groups. In other words, building a mental model of the steps to securing garden land can be complex; partnerships can help local leaders understand this process by providing examples of how other groups have overcome this barrier. As Monroe (Chapter 14) discusses, using imagery of possible alternatives is essential to helping stakeholders build mental models about complex environmental solutions, including land conservation.

    Applications: RPM Insights

    The interviews from both studies are rich in insights and suggestions that are applicable for future urban greening projects. As many cities face similar issues with respect to limited economic and human capital to support such projects, the material drawn from the interviews may be useful for enriching inner-city communities well beyond New England, where we conducted our studies.

    Initially, we looked at what motivates local leaders to get involved, stay involved, and make a difference. Some leaders were angry that their neighborhood was marginalized by the city government. Why did they have fewer parks, and why were those they had in disrepair? In many cases, this stemmed from a larger sociopolitical context in which marginalized neighborhoods had a history of being disconnected or neglected by the larger power structure of government investment and services. One participant emphasized that you can’t talk about a park without talking about its neighborhood.

    Despite these challenges, local leaders also expressed a strong connection or attachment to their neighborhood or community that motivated them to take action. Sometimes the initial engagement in urban greening was motivated simply by wanting to have a nearby safe play area for their children, and then they continued the work because of how rewarding they found it. Some leaders described the social connections that were forged or strengthened through these processes—factors that park planners often ignore in their focus on the visible, physical improvements that take place. By contrast, the leaders’ perspective shows the importance of acknowledging or celebrating the strengthening of neighborhood social networks that come from involvement in urban greening.

    Many of these motivations can be summarized as “a focused self-interest.” We surmise that local leaders continue their work because of the rewards of these social networks, the recognition that leaders get from their peers, and the evolving and satisfying sense of efficacy and purpose.

    Such motivations, however, are only part of the story. The process of developing and nurturing community-centered green space requires many other factors. Here are some that are informed by our research and the context provided by the RPM framework.

    How does one get started on an urban greening project? Our research suggests that community-centered projects start by the leader (or future leader) talking with others about their ideas and reaching out to enabling organizations, such as larger nonprofit groups involved in urban greening and the city parks departments. We see this first critical step as model building, learning more about the process and about what worked and what didn’t work in other urban greening projects. What are the possibilities for transforming a particular site? Ideas often come from seeing what other neighborhoods have done, either in one’s own city or elsewhere.

    Knowledge does not exist in a vacuum. In order to facilitate cognitive map building about urban greening, it is very valuable to have an umbrella organization such as the Partnership for Providence Parks or Boston Natural Areas Network that can share expertise and resources across a city or region. We find that these organizations are invaluable as a network where local leaders can share their ideas, get feedback, and talk to other local leaders and/or professional staff about a myriad of issues. The sharing of ideas also helps a neighborhood leader see beyond the particular circumstances of the neighborhood to a larger vision. Within the RPM model, S. Kaplan and Kaplan (2009) explain that effectiveness includes seeing the bigger picture to reduce feeling overwhelmed by a multitude of details. In many ways, these interactions between larger community organizations and emerging neighborhood leaders enable people to build a model of the larger process of creating, installing, and maintaining new urban green spaces. In each of our study cities, we found active friends groups in many city parks, which are another way to organize effective participation.

    Editors’ Comment: The small incremental efforts that Ryan and Buxton describe are an effective way of dealing with uncertainty that many neighborhoods face when making decision. It is an excellent example of when “less is more.”

    Meaningful action requires a lot of trial and error and many small steps. Neighborhood leaders discussed and tried different strategies and programs, many of which did not succeed. They tested ten approaches before having a successful one. Persistence was a constant theme. We asked them how they kept going in the midst of discouragement or setbacks, and they talked about starting small in scale so that there were some early successes along the way, such as clearing a site of trash and debris. By taking small steps and not getting overextended in ambition and commitments, neighborhood leaders were able to successfully shepherd efforts over the extended time that these kinds of projects require. As each small step was completed and celebrated, it added to the momentum of the project, encouraging both the people already involved and outsiders who might decide to join the effort (Weick, 1984). This theme of beginning with small projects to build success has been noted by other research on vacant lot transformation (Schilling & Logan, 2008) as well as Bradley and Cooper (Chapter 12) on private forest owners. Small experiments are a strong crosscutting RPM theme; taking small steps that yield visible outcomes can lead to a rewarding sense of being effective, can enhance one’s understanding of what might work, and can lead to taking further small steps (i.e., meaning action). Small experiments emphasize the idea of keeping track or documenting one’s efforts in order to inform future projects (R. Kaplan et al., 1998).

    Having a larger vision for the project and neighborhood. Small steps need to be guided by a larger vision, especially one that resonates with local residents. One might wonder what supports these leaders when discouraging things happen, such as vandalism; when programming is not successful; or when no one shows up for workdays. In the face of countless obstacles, the leaders of successful projects in our study seemed to be compelled by a larger vision of what was possible and what they wanted for their neighborhoods and their own lives. This vision had more to do with intangibles than with specific site elements such as playgrounds or programming. Intangible goals included creating a safe and peaceful place for one’s community, a nurturing place for children to play, or a place where neighbors can meet, grow food, and share annual celebrations. The vision was to improve the overall quality of life in a neighborhood, including its safety, education, and public health. In RPM terms, the leader draws on a mental model of what this vision involves and has the ability to communicate it to the neighborhood by fostering model building and community participation in the process. Characteristically, these projects depend on one leader—one person who has had enough experience to have a bigger picture, to see the connections between the appearance of the neighborhood and how changing it might make a difference. However, we don’t want to suggest that this is a simple idea of a leader convincing others of a vision but rather that a shared vision evolves as neighbors talk together about what they want their neighborhood green space to be. “You need a strong core of people to develop a vision,” noted one of our interviewees. And you also need a leader who knows how to make the core of people come together.

    We did see examples where there appeared to be less buy-in to the vision by the larger community. The evidence that we saw for lack of shared vision was urban green spaces that were not maintained after the initial installation and reverted to overgrown lots or pocket parks that continued to struggle with vandalism. In general, we can say that this applied more in instances where the urban greening project was developed by an outside organization rather than the nearby community, paralleling results that Austin and Kaplan (2003) found with tree-planting projects in Detroit, Michigan.

    Since urban greening projects, unlike other civic improvements, require a long-range commitment, the role of a local leader is particularly important. Such projects can take a long time to come to fruition, and they require ongoing stewardship and programming after installation. In the words of some leaders, you need to be in it for the long haul. “It’s like having a child; you have to nurture and support it and keep building the relationships,” stated one leader. There were challenges in community gardens, for example, where the core group did not engage new members to be part of the board, and older members eventually had difficulty continuing their previous level of activity.

    Ways to sustain meaningful action over time and in the face of obstacles. Activity programming offers a way to keep local residents engaged with urban open spaces. The celebratory events that each of our interviewees talked about provide excellent examples of supportive environments. Ranging from harvest festivals to summertime concerts and arts programs, these activities are contexts for addressing informational needs that help bring out the best in the community. In some cases, the larger city-scale nonprofit groups help to publicize and provide some support for the local events. In other instances, the events were run entirely by local groups. In addition to single-time events, there were programs such as the Boston Is Growing Gardens program, run by the Boston Natural Areas Network and designed to train new gardeners. From an RPM perspective, this program builds competency in local residents, since simply providing plots for gardening does not necessarily give first timers the tools necessary to be successful. Larger seasonal celebrations are a type of public participation that can create a sense of community, highlighting for the neighbors, who may be less involved, the progress that can be made when one works together with a larger group of people.

    Safety from the violence that can plague many neighborhoods trumps all other considerations. In potentially dangerous settings, people have to feel that they will be safe before they will risk engagement. Looking at this from the psychological perspective, having to be vigilant extracts incredible attentional costs that may overshadow our ability to be clearheaded and effective in addressing larger community issues. In addition, the presence of urban green space and trees in places that normally require vigilance due to crime and safety issues can have the benefit of providing places for mental restoration, increased trust, and reduced violence (Kuo & Sullivan, 2001; Sullivan, Chapter 4). We have no simple answer for this challenge, but in general, where the community has a vision for improved safety and where there is widespread involvement, we saw new urban green spaces providing safer places for children and others to play, recreate, and restore. Landscape architect Randy Hester (2006) describes how community-developed parks in south-central Los Angeles act as safe havens for residents even in the midst of gang violence in surrounding neighborhoods.

    There are design choices that can be taken to increase perceptions of safety (R. Kaplan et al., 1998). Visibility into these newly designed urban parks and community gardens was considered critical to address safety concerns. In one instance, lower walls and fewer trees were planted in a new park until the community felt that it was safe; then more trees were added in an incremental fashion. In another instance, a community garden that is less visible from nearby buildings struggles with perceptions of safety in a high-crime area, illustrating the challenges of context in park design and location. In his work in New York City public housing projects, horticulturalist Charles Lewis described the importance of neighbors watching over community gardens from nearby windows to protect them from vandalism (Lewis, 1996).

    Concluding Thoughts

    Our observations of urban greening projects and our interviews with local individuals have been sharpened by the RPM framework. In combination with the concrete imagery from our studies, RPM offers urban greening advocates and leaders a starting point to develop much-needed green space in the inner city.

    Given the many obstacles and challenges of initiating, creating, and sustaining inner-city greening projects, seeing these successful projects and their far-reaching benefits is heartening. Many small experiments are essential to the process, and these cannot happen without leadership.

    Leadership plays a crucial role or, more accurately, many crucial roles. It requires seeing a larger vision that addresses a range of issues facing a neighborhood, such as health, safety, or the environment. It entails building mental models about what is possible; these come from talking with and listening to others in the community and other groups that have engaged in the same process.

    Engaging community members is a vital and continuing process. Developing programs within these new green spaces is essential for continued engagement by a broad range of the community and to highlight the uniqueness and cultural traditions of the neighborhood. The small successes of cleaning up vacant lots, planting trees, or harvesting produce from a community garden achieve more than creating a place; they are tangible signs of making a difference for community members and leaders alike.

    Urban parks, as places of healing and restoration, represent one kind of supportive environment. Less obvious but equally important examples of supportive environments are the programs that help citizens gain leadership skills and stay engaged in urban greening projects. They do so by providing feedback about citizen efforts, recognizing small successes, and engaging citizens through a diverse set of activities.

    The process of creating the gardens and the activities that bring neighbors to them increases social connections, and these in turn foster attachment, which motivates continued meaningful involvement in the gardens and the community. On a deeper level, these community gardens and parks are perceived as places of healing and restoration for inner-city communities facing some of the toughest challenges of urban life. The restorative benefits that these small urban green spaces provide are likely to have many unimagined and invisible ramifications for the well-being and reasonableness of the community and its members.


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    We would like to thank the community gardeners and urban greening leaders who participated in this study. Thanks to the Urban Ecology Institute for its help with this study. Thanks to our graduate research assistants on this project: Kate Tooke, Rachel Danford, and Erin Schaeffer. Thanks also to the undergraduate REU students Stephan Bradley and Ashley Gilpin for their work on the second field season. Partial funding for this study came from a National Science Foundation grant (#BCS-0948984), a Boston Metropolitan Area Urban Long-Term Research Area project exploratory grant, and generous funding from Stephen and Rachel Kaplan. The Boston ULTRA team leader, Dr. Paige Warren, was involved in various aspects of this study. Portions of this study were done during Robert Ryan’s sabbatical leave from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Thanks to Rachel Kaplan for her detailed edits of this chapter, in particular her help in writing the concluding remarks. We also want to thank the other authors in this book, especially Martha Monroe, Gordon Bradley, and Carl Petrich, for their useful comments and to Avik Basu for his keen insights and enthusiasm for this project.