«URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND SENSE OF PLACE A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of Cornell University In Partial ...»
URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND SENSE OF PLACE
Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School
of Cornell University
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND SENSE OF PLACE
Alexey Kudryavtsev, PhD
Cornell University 2013
Urban environmental educators are trying to connect students to the urban environment and nature, and thus develop a certain sense of place. To do so, educators involve students in environmental stewardship, monitoring, activism, and outdoor recreation in cities. At the same time, sense of place has been linked to pro-environmental behaviors and other desired educational outcomes. However, the related literature from environmental psychology has rarely been applied to environmental education research, particularly in cities. In this dissertation, I apply the sense of place framework to environmental education, and explore the development of sense of place among high school students in seven afterschool and summer urban environmental education programs in the Bronx, New York City.
First, I reviewed the academic literature on urban environmental education in the United States to better understand educational programs in the Bronx. I found that urban environmental education programs may pursue several goals, and one of them is teaching about cities as social-ecological systems in which both social and natural components are essential. Second, I reviewed the literature on sense of place, including its role in environmental education. I conceptualized the idea of ecological place meaning, i.e., viewing environmental and nature-related phenomena as symbols or valued elements of places. Third, in 2010, I explored the impact of urban environmental education on sense of place among students. I conducted pre/post surveys with 87 urban high school students (mean age = 16), including 64 students in 6–week urban environmental programs (experimental group), and 23 students in nonenvironmental, summer youth employment programs (control group). Results showed that urban environmental education programs significantly strengthened ecological place meaning but did not influence place attachment among experimental students; no changes were found in the control group.
Fourth, I collected and interpreted nine educators’ and five students’ narrative profiles to explore the reasons for and approaches to developing ecological place meaning in the city. The narrative analysis showed that educators are trying to cultivate ecological place meaning among students to help them understand and appreciate urban nature and places, and imagine how the urban environment could be improved. Narratives also demonstrated that ecological place meaning is nurtured among students through direct experiences of urban places, social interactions with educators and environmentalists, and the development of students’ ecological identity.
This dissertation raises questions about how nature-related phenomena in cities—including wetlands and terrestrial ecosystems, green infrastructure, and nature-related outdoor activities such as environmental stewardship and outdoor recreation—are valued by urban residents. Urban environmental education strengthens students’ appreciation of the urban environment and nature, and experiences in
Alexey “Alex” Kudryavtsev (Russian: Алексей Викторович Кудрявцев) was born in 1980 in Tomsk-7 (Seversk), Soviet Union. Parents: Viktor and Vera. Siblings: Vladimir and Anna. Niece: Maria.
Grandparents: Anna, Boris, and Veniamin; Alexandra and Boris.
Alex grew up in Western Siberia and near the Black Sea, Russia. He worked on environmental education and other environmental projects since 1996. Graduated from Tomsk State University, Russia in 2001. Received the MS degree in 2006, and the PhD degree in 2013 from Cornell University.
This dissertation was a collaborative effort. I am indebted to many great people, programs, and organizations that provided tremendous support to this work. I am happy to have this opportunity to thank at least some of them.
My deep gratitude goes to my research committee. I profoundly thank my committee chair Dr. Marianne Krasny, who is a hard-working, honest, resourceful, and adventurous person and advisor.
Marianne inspired my interest in interdisciplinary research, especially connecting ideas about natural resources, education, and communities. She helped me find or apply for several fellowships, grant programs and professional networks. She supported my research presentations in conferences and seminars in Durban, South Africa (2007), Virginia Beach, Virginia (2007), Shanghai, China (2010), Durham, North Carolina (2011), Uppsala, Sweden (2013), and Marrakech, Morocco (2013), as well as my project presentations at the Community Forestry and Environmental Research Partnership fellowship workshops in Vermont (2008) and South Carolina (2009), and several seminars and symposia at Cornell University. Marianne always found time to work with me and other graduate students, despite being incredibly busy as Department Chair, and managing multi-million dollar national research and outreach projects, including Garden Mosaics and EECapacity. She provided feedback on my papers and responded to my emails almost instantly, sometimes at five o’clock in the morning and on weekends. She made my participation possible in very rewarding projects, such as the EECapacity workshops, and helped me develop and facilitate two online professional development courses: “Environmental Education in Urban Communities” in Fall 2010 and Fall 2012, and “Measuring Environmental Education Outcomes” in Fall 2012 sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Marianne is a great scholar, leader, and mentor; working with her was an exceptional honor.
I acknowledge and thank my other extremely supportive committee members—Dr. Richard Stedman, Dr. Scott Peters, and Dr. Mark Bain—who helped me move through my research by offering their expertise in development sociology, education, natural resources, research methods, and other areas.
sociology in general. It is incredibly exciting to do research about sense of place because connection to places is fundamental to being human. I am also glad that most people can understand and appreciate my research because everyone intuitively knows what a place is, and everyone has personal ties to some meaningful places in cities, in wild areas, or elsewhere. Scott Peters taught me about community education and development, and helped me understand and appreciate the narrative research method.
Scott’s insights into the narratives approach were important for my dissertation project. Learning about narratives was also significant on a more personal level because we all learn through stories. Narrative approach helps me better understand people, professional biographies, organizations, communities, discourses, and the whole of society from a different perspective. Mark Bain helped me to think about the urban environment using the system approach, and to relate sense of place and ecosystem-level outcomes of urban environmental education to human well-being. I am profoundly sad that Mark recently passed away; he is missed by many. I also appreciate that my committee supported me in using both quantitative and qualitative methods, allowing me to explore my research questions from diverse perspectives.
I am happy that my research site was New York City, which I proudly call “my research laboratory.” No place in the world can compare to this vibrant and diverse global city. New York City is an ideal place to study and explore urban environmental education because of the diversity of educational practices, approaches, and ideas that are found there. I am enormously grateful to many outstanding environmental educators, community leaders and students in New York City who contributed to this research, including Adam Green, Adam Liebowitz, Adelaida “Addy” Guance, Andre Rivera, Anthony “Tony” Archino, Anne-Marie Runfola, Carol Kennedy, Celina “Cicy” Medina, Chrissy Word, Damian Griffin, Danny Peralta, Dawn Henning, Elizabeth “Alex” Severino, Govin Baichu, Jennifer Beaugrand, Jennifer Plewka, Julien Terrell, Nia Terrelonge, Sharon De La Cruz, Stephen Oliveira, and Victor Davila.
They all possess remarkable expertise in social and environmental issues in urban communities, and in urban environmental education. They wholeheartedly endorsed this research project, wrote letters of support for my grant applications, contributed to my research proposal, shared their narratives,
communities, environmental education, urban environment, the Bronx, and New York City. Without their expertise, enthusiasm, and support this work would not have been possible. They and other staff members welcomed me to be part of their urban environmental education programs in their organizations, including the Bronx River Alliance, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Rocking the Boat, Phipps Community Development Corporation, Satellite Academy High School, THE POINT Community Development Corporation, and Mosholu Preservation Corporation. I thank all of the students in urban environmental education programs in these organizations who helped me learn about urban environmental education through informal communication or by participating in my surveys and narrative inquiry.
Because this research project was participatory, I had the opportunity to become part of the communities in my research site. One of many related meaningful moments was when Jennifer Plewka gave me the key for the Drew Gardens gate, which is perhaps the most diverse community garden in the South Bronx in terms of participants, plants, ecosystems, and community activities. To me, this key symbolizes that I became a member of local environmental communities in the Bronx—one of the people who cares about nature and people in New York City. Another gift I received from a member of the Bronx community is a skateboard made by Victor Davila, one of the high school students who participated in my narrative interviews. Victor organized EcoRyders, an environmental education program that teaches younger students how to assemble and paint skateboards, and to use skateboards to explore the South Bronx neighborhoods and ride to community gardens to help gardeners. The painting on my skateboard features the New York City skyline and urban trees.
During my time at Cornell University, I moved in and out of New York City several times, and lived in the city for about two years total. Many of the places I visited and the people I met in New York City influenced my research, became part of my own identity, and represent my place meaning for this city—including communities in the Bronx, many environmental leaders and other community members, the Bronx River, the whole of New York City, Midtown, Downtown, Lower East Side, Harlem, wilderness sites, skyscrapers, architecture, museums, diverse cultures and languages, UN Headquarters,
Governors Island, the Statue of Liberty, City Hall, New York Harbor, the Atlantic Ocean in Breezy Point, Hudson River, community gardens, the subway, busy streets, green roofs, beautiful waterfronts, and boats on the Bronx River. I am thankful that I experienced first-hand all of these things and learned many stories about them, including from local people and academic publications. All of these interactions and relationships influenced my view of the urban environment and how I wrote this dissertation.
My communications with my Bronx research partners kept me going during this project. I would like to share some excerpts that brightened my days, informally validated this research, and helped me remember why our work together is valuable. Chrissy Word (Rocking the Boat, email sent on September 2, 2010) once wrote to me, “You’ll be missed around RTB! I really appreciate your hard work and commitment to both your research and to the organizations and people that are a part of it. I also look forward to seeing the results of your research and to any future opportunities to work with you again in the future.” In another email (October 26, 2011), Chrissy mentioned, “I must say that your research really helps to inform my work at RTB as well as Butterfly Project.” Damian Griffin (Bronx River Alliance, excerpt from an audio recording on August 20, 2010) said, “I’d like to tell you that I think you’ve been a big help in bringing all these organizations [along the Bronx River] together. You’ve been a really good conduit, connection between the organizations. So you’ve become a part of environmental education in the Bronx. I think that’s really neat. You’ve done this really interesting… the study itself is great. The ideas that were brought are interesting and important. And just your physical being here and moving between and looking has become like a necessary instrument. I don’t know how you are going to ever leave and not come back.” Jennifer Plewka (Phipps CDC, email sent on January 6, 2011) mentioned, “We all miss you Alex, The Bronx is not the same without our favorite super-motivated Siberian.” Carol Kennedy (Satellite Academy High School, email sent on 8/2/2010) noted, “Thanks so much for making [my project] part of your [research] program. Your input made my experiences (and the students) richer (just what an objective observer does not want to hear).” Adam Green (Rocking the Boat, excerpt from an audio recording on 9/8/2010) told me, “I am fascinated actually to… at some point hear your
consultant now to the funding agencies and you would probably be able to give them some good perspective.” Thank you all for these kind words of encouragement. It has been an honor to work with you!