Guest post by our friends at the United States Forest Service’s NYC Urban Field Station
Hey New Yorkers! If you are a gardener, a park champion, a food justice activist, a kayak club member, an educator, a researcher, or a community organizer—we need your help in putting your group on the map! The 2017 STEW-MAP survey is now open! Check your inbox and respond to the survey to make sure your hard work is recognized. (If you have not received a survey but are a part of a stewardship group you would like to see on the map, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Worldwide, cities are grappling with aging infrastructure, shifting populations, and a changing climate, necessitating the use and expansion of green space in equitable and creative ways. Many are embracing a transition from the “sanitary city”–comprised of siloed functions and grey infrastructure–to the “sustainable city”–comprised of regenerative and distributed systems that require ongoing coordination. At the same time, municipal budget constraints create an urgent need for leveraging civic capacity. City agencies do not have the funding or human power to maintain these systems alone, and rely on a growing network of civic organizations and volunteers.
The urban landscape is a co-creation of many. If we want to improve the quality, accessibility, and viability of our natural resources then it is important to understand not only the resource as an ecological system, but those who care for it as part of that system. STEW-MAP (the Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project) began in New York City in 2007 as a way of visualizing the civic groups that provide capacity and take care of the local environment. Mapping these groups helps point out overlaps and gaps in stewardship and can help groups identify potential partners, funders, and events. At the NYC Urban Field Station, we define stewardship groups as two or more people working to conserve, manage, monitor, transform, educate on and/or advocate for the local environment–from the group of friends or block association planting flowers in tree pits, to the large environmental education NGO, to the grassroots environmental justice campaign. STEW-MAP surveys these groups on their:
- Characteristics: Their capacity, capability, longevity, structure, and theory of change. Questions address the motivation and the mission of groups, as well as the metrics used to track progress.
- Turfs: The physical spaces that stewards care for (waterfront, block, park, etc.) and the spaces where systems (waste, air quality, etc.) touch down in place. Unlike the jurisdictions that govern private property, political districts, and formalized public space, civic stewards are not held to arbitrary boundaries. Instead, they determine and shape their own turf based upon a number of social-ecological factors. Stewards can self-define their turf in the STEW-MAP survey, whether they work on a specific lot or an entire borough or waterway.
- Networks: The public agencies and NGOs that stewardship groups go to for support and collaboration. Do these social networks generate resources like materials, labor, funding, or rules of governance? Who are the key nodes or brokers in this network?
The data collected from the STEW-MAP survey were analyzed and made into a public database and interactive map designed to help stewards better understand how they fit into their city. Data from the 2007 survey can be found here. Since 2007, STEW-MAP has expanded to cities internationally. STEW-MAP projects are currently underway in Baltimore; Philly; Seattle; Chicago; Portland; LA; Hilo & Honolulu in Hawaii; Paris, France; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Valledupar, Colombia.
In 2017, we are working to update and expand STEW-MAP New York through a regional survey of stewardship groups. STEW-MAP 2017 builds upon this past research, providing the first update in 10 years on previously participating groups. In addition to capturing change over time, the 2017 survey data will reveal the ways in which the larger stewardship landscape has evolved in the New York Region, including how the changing climate, political administration shifts, social movements, and environmental disasters have influenced the goals and methods of stewardship groups.
Through this research, we have learned that people will not care for what they do not love and understand – they care for that which has meaning in their lives. STEW-MAP helps to understand how groups are making meaning of their local, everyday environment.