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Neighborhood change and the role of environmental stewardship: a case study of green infrastructure for stormwater in the City of Portland, Oregon, USA

Vivek Shandas, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University; Sustaining Urban Places Research Lab


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Throughout the history of cities, the ecological landscape has often been buried, removed, or taken for granted. A recent recognition that humans are part of the global ecosystem, and that human actions both cause and are affected by ecological change, brings with it an awareness of the value of nature in cities and of natural systems on which cities depend. The feedbacks between humans and their environment within an urban context can have profound implications for the growth of and change in cities, yet there is a limited understanding of the interactions between biophysical changes in cities and the implications of these changes on the quality of life for residents. The application of a coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) framework provides a timely and fruitful opportunity to enrich the theory, methods, and understanding of these feedbacks and interconnections. Here, I integrated biophysical and social dimensions relevant to managing urban stormwater by examining a case study of Portland, Oregon, USA. I used empirical data from a pre-post survey (2-yr span) of residents in eight urban neighborhoods to describe feedbacks and interactions between a localized biophysical change in the form of a large-scale decentralized stormwater program and the resulting changes in resident’s perceptions in neighborhoods undergoing rapid change. My findings corroborate earlier findings suggesting that people with higher income and education levels are more likely to participate in stewardship actions. The results also suggest an overall and initial negative perception of neighborhoods facilities and services immediately following the construction of decentralized stormwater facilities, but conversely, high levels of anticipation for their construction. By describing these findings through a CHANS framework, I make explicit the importance of integrating scientific understanding, governance efforts, and human behaviors to address acute urban environmental challenges.

Key words

CHANS; stewardship; stormwater management; urban

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087