Urban green spaces and community participation: Geographies of health and community
Boyd, Stephanie Dawn
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This research explored ways in which urban green space is valued among residents of the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of southeast Nashville, with emphasis on examining the ways in which these values influence motivation to engage with community and environmentally focused opportunities for public participation. It also explored barriers that residents identified as preventing either access to green space or participation in community and environmental efforts. Interviews and participant observation were conducted among a study population that was broadly reflective of the demographic structure of southeast Nashville, including participants who were born in Nashville, elsewhere in the United States, Somalia, Mexico, and Iraqi Kurdistan. Across all groups, health-related beliefs were major motivators for valuation of green space, and were frequently tied to participant-expressed motivations for participating in community or environmentally oriented activities as well. Both immigrant and non-immigrant participants expressed strong beliefs relating to the ability of green space access to facilitate physical activity, weight loss, and general physical health, while also indicating that exercise in green space (as opposed to other locations) was beneficial for its effects on mental health. These benefits were tied to strongly held beliefs regarding the meanings of green space in relation to concepts of home and community, and access to green space was viewed as a facilitator of community cohesion. Environmental values, while generally expressed by many research participants, were listed as motivators for valuing urban green space much less frequently than were community motivators. While values associated with green space often exhibited strong similarities across groups, barriers to access and participation varied by place of origin. Primary barriers cited by participants born in the United States generally included time constraints and safety concerns, while those born in other countries were more likely to cite uncertainty about existence or appropriate use of parks, lack of knowledge about modes of public participation in the United States, and, in some cases, fears relating to the possibility of deportation.