URBAN ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION AND SENSE OF PLACE
by Alex 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, Kudravtsev applies the sense of place framework to environmental education, and explore the development of sense of place among high school students in seven after-school and summer urban environmental education programs in the Bronx, New York City.
First, Kudravtsev reviewed the academic literature on urban environmental education in the United States to better understand educational programs in the Bronx. He 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, Kudravtsev reviewed the literature on sense of place, including its role in environmental education. He 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, Kudravtsev explored the impact of urban environmental education on sense of place among students. He 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 non-environmental, 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, Kudravtsev 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 these programs themselves become part of students’ ecological place meaning.
Download the full text: http://alexk.name/docs/2013-dissertation.pdf