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New York City Urban Field Station

Reading the Landscape: A Social & Site Assessment of Public Greenspace

What are the uses, meanings, and values of public greenspace in New York City?

[photo:] Conducting interviews in the field, Jamaica Bay. Photo credit: Joana Chan, City Parks FoundationForest Service social science researchers have initiated a Social & Site Assessment of Parks and Natural Areas in communities around Jamaica Bay. With financial support from the NYC Natural Areas Conservancy and a field crew supplemented by seasonal NYC Parks & Recreation employees, Forest Service staff conducted four months of field observations and data collection, exploring the uses, meanings, and values of public green space, attending both to enduring themes and to specific issues arising in the post-Sandy context.


Field research was conducted in collaboration with a team of 12 from the Jamaica Bay Restoration Corps, a workforce development program funded by the Department of Labor to support individuals displaced from their work by Hurricane Sandy (October 2012). The program employed 200 adults from diverse and historically underserved communities that were most adversely affected by the storm. Forest Service Social Science Researchers trained twelve members of this Corps in mixed social science research methods, including public interviews, qualitative and quantitative site observations, and photo-documentation.


The Corps worked alongside the research team for a month of intensive field research, learning about the many uses and values of public open space, practicing professional, interpersonal, and communication skills, and bringing their unique and diverse perspectives on public lands to our shared work. Altogether, the field crew surveyed over 4000 acres of City and Federal land and interviewed over 600 parks users, and the research team has now transitioned into data analysis, product development, and sharing findings.


This research seeks to inform the adaptive management of NYC’s public open spaces and to provide a new rapid assessment methodology for understanding the social and cultural values and services embodied in and performed by parkland. After completing the pilot study in the communities around Jamaica Bay, Forest Service researchers are exploring strategies for expanding the social & site assessment to other parks around NYC, including through the training of other members of the public and community organizations in the implementation of the rapid social assessment method.

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[photo:] the Jamaica Bay Restoration Corps at work in Marine Park, Brooklyn.  Photo credit: Gillian Baine, USFS NRS.