L.A. Is up Next! CURes Researcher Publishes Results from Baltimore & Seattle Environmental Network Studies

In her latest article, Dr. Michele Romolini, CURes Director of Research, and colleagues Dr. J. Morgan Grove, Dr. Curtis Ventriss, Dr. Christopher Koliba and Dr. Daniel H. Krymkowski, dive into citywide sustainability – How will today’s cities meet their goals of being more self-regulating, self-sufficient and adaptive?

In particular, they explore urban environmental stewardship networks – groups interacting with both natural resources and social systems – to help answer this question.

The article, “Toward an Understanding of Citywide Urban Environmental Governance: An Examination of Stewardship Networks in Baltimore and Seattle”, published in Environmental Management, highlights results from two whole network studies. Both Baltimore and Seattle house local sustainability initiatives, but differ in terms of what their sustainability priorities are and how they are currently implementing them. To understand how organizations share information about the environment in the two cities, their corresponding studies involved both the analysis and mapping of social network structures.

The results of the studies revealed different types of organizational purposes motivating environmental stewardship, with more Seattle groups in the environmental and science realms, and much greater percentages of Baltimore groups expressing social, including faith-driven, purposes. In each city, the network analysis found that the most active organizations were not always the most influential. Depending on the goals of knowledge or information distribution, sustainability leaders may find it useful to focus efforts on reaching those with either the most activity or the most influence. The similarities and differences in the two cities reinforce the idea that, as cities look to each other to share implement sustainability best practices, it is critical to examine governance networks within and between urban areas. Variations in socioeconomic and environmental conditions can also influence whether policies and practices will have similar impacts when applied in different regions.

To learn more about the study, you can find the abstract here.

With Baltimore and Seattle under her belt, Dr. Romolini is currently in the data analysis phase of a stewardship mapping (Stew-MAP) project for Los Angeles County. This project explores the following question: What are the social and spatial interactions among groups who conserve, manage, monitor, advocate for, and educate the public about their local environments (including water, land, air, waste, toxics, and energy issues)?

To provide context, Stew-MAP is a national research program that seeks to inventory, characterize, and geographically map the activities and relationships of environmental stewardship organizations in urban areas. This project has the goal to improve both the scholarship and practice surrounding urban environmental stewardship and governance of urban natural resources.

One applied goal of the project is to inform development of a suite of online, publicly available tools that can facilitate local and regional natural resource planning and management. In addition to Baltimore and Seattle, the project has been implemented with the help of the USDA Forest Service in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and San Juan. This allows Dr. Romolini and her colleagues to not only examine the patterns of environmental stewardship organizations and their networks in Los Angeles, but also to compare with some of the other most prominent cities in the country.

Preliminary results from the L.A. Stew-MAP include:

The initial inventory found 715 community groups, non-profits, city agencies, and businesses participating in civic environmental stewardship in the Los Angeles region. Of these 715 community groups, 140 organizations (20%) responded to the Stew-MAP survey.

  • Responses included the following:
    • The sectoral distribution was majority non-profit (57%), followed by public (35%), private (5%) and other (3%)
    • Of 25 possible organizational activities, the most reported were the environment (75%), community improvement/capacity building (49%), education (49%), youth (45%) and arts/culture (39%)
    • Of 28 possible types of settings where groups perform stewardship activities, the most reported were watershed/sewershed (39%), park (37%), trails/bike path/greenway (36%), restoration area (34%), and public right of way (34%)
  • The 140 responding organizations reported over 1300 regular collaborations, supporting the idea that urban environmental work occurs as part of a large active network. Social network analysis is currently in progress to understand the structure of this network
  • 115 groups provided text responses to describe the geographic locations of their stewardship activities. Spatial analysis of these data will help us to produce the eventual “Stew-MAP” depicting the geographical extent of stewardship in Los Angeles

Keep up with the CURes Blog to follow the results of this exciting project!