Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Conceptualizing Urban Green Space within Municipal Sustainability Plans: Parks, Tree Canopy, and Urban Gardens
by Rowland, Jennifer, M.A., The George Washington University, 2014, 215; 1556725
Abstract (Summary)

As the concept of sustainability gains prominence in the U.S., municipal governments have begun adopting official sustainability plans to outline their goals for a sustainable future. However, with an absence of national guidelines or a streamlined definition of sustainability, these plans contain infinitely diverse goals, policies and motivations. One aspect of sustainability which has a diverse array of benefits and challenges is urban green space. This research uses content analysis and coding of municipal sustainability plans to gain insight into how U.S. cities conceptualize urban green space in the forms of parks, tree canopy and urban gardens and in the greater context of sustainability. This thesis specifically looks at the creation of municipal sustainability plans, how cities organize green space, how cities value green spaces, the kinds of green space goals and benchmarks that cities set, and the inclusion of equity in the realm of green spaces. The 20 case study cities have shown green spaces are an important component of sustainability planning and are conceptualized and included in varying and unique ways. The way a plan is created, the people involved or excluded from the plan creation process and the agreements or groups that cities join can impact how cities envision sustainability and how they conceptualize green space within the plan. The concepts of sustainability and green space appear to be best articulated and operationalized in the context of many voices, viewpoints and opinions. In the categorization of green space, this research found that only a few cities had headings specific to green space, but instead associated it primarily with other aspects of the natural environment. This research also found that the language used to describe green space is broad and varied. Standardization or concrete definitions of these terms may make plans more accessible. Cities discussed environmental, economic and social benefits of green spaces in their plans. Overall, cities valued environmental benefits the most and the majority of benefits identified in the plans are anthropocentric in nature. Some of the best practice green space goals identified within the plans were the inclusion of green corridors, native vegetation, increasing the tree canopy, changing zoning codes to include urban agriculture and goals related to equity and access. Overall, both the goal setting and measurement processes of urban green space serve as beneficial ways for cities to achieve their broader sustainability goals. However, these goals cannot be fully realized when their distribution and access are unequal across the city and when decisions are made without the input of local residents. This research found that there is a gulf between equity being mentioned in a plan, and the depth to which it is explored in the context of green space, leaving room for cities to improve their incorporation of equity in their planning for green spaces. This research has shown that cities conceptualize green spaces in a variety of ways and while there are several successes, there is also a lot of room for improvement in both green space planning and sustainability planning.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Benton-Short, Lisa, Keeley, Melissa
School: The George Washington University
Department: Geography
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: MAI 53/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Geography, Sustainability, Urban planning
Keywords: Green space, Sustainability, Urban planning
Publication Number: 1556725
ISBN: 9781303926792
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