The Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland hosted the Urban Environmental Stewardship Conference (UESC15) on April 17th, 2015 at the University of Maryland. The full day conference was co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), and the University of Maryland Department of Sociology, College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, and Graduate School. UESC15 included nine speakers from esteemed universities and government agencies in the US as well as Canada, South Africa, and France, in addition to 13 poster presenters. In all, approximately 80 people attended the conference. Participants included faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates from the University of Maryland and other academic institutions, as well as members of local environmental stewardship organizations and representatives of local and federal government agencies.
Author: Anya M. Galli
The first panel was designed to unpack the definition of urban environmental stewardship; the ways in whichthe practice of urban environmental stewardship works across varying social, political, and cultural settings; and the gaps and opportunities in current conceptions of this notion. All three speakers for this panel used case studies to explore these questions.
To begin, Dr. Henrik Ernstson of Stanford University helped the audience to reflect on these themes by providing two theoretical questions about urban environmental stewardship: first, “who gets left out when we think only about ‘green’ groups?” and second, “what if the term ‘stewardship’ is too narrow to capture what is really going on in the city?”
The second panel of UESC15 focused on questions of how environmental stewardship contributes to conceptions of resilience, diffusion of local agriculture, and place attachment in urban areas.
Dr. James Connolly of Northeastern University started off with a discussion of stewardship organizations in New York City after Hurricane Sandy. Using data from the STEWMAP NYC study of civic organizational networks, Connolly explored how socio-ecological resilience was supported by bridge groups that provided resources to smaller groups by connecting with larger funding agencies. Connolly described the temporal quality of disaster response, wherein immediate response was targeted to existing organization networks and longer-term response was aimed at both “ecological restructuring” and expansion of the social infrastructure.
The final panel of the day addressed the variation of environmental stewardship across space, place, and time, focusing on comparative research findings and the evolution of stewardship.
Dr. Dana Fisher of the University of Maryland, and Director of the Program for Society and the Environment, spoke about how “stewardship strengthens the roots of democracy” by using comparative data from surveys of participants in tree planting initiatives in New York City, Washington DC, and Philadelphia. Fisher focused on the role of organizational structure in volunteer mobilization and participation, showing that trees are being planted in a diverse range of urban areas. Fisher’s survey data indicate that volunteer stewards are significantly more civically involved than the general US population, and that excluding voting and religious activities, stewardship precedes the development of democratic citizenship. To conclude, she remarked that “dirt on your hands matters when it comes to strengthening the roots of democracy.”