by LM Westphal

Journal of Arboriculture 29(3):137-147


Many urban forest advocates emphasize the social benefits that trees provide, e.g., health improvements, crime reduction, economic development, without fully understanding the subtle mechanisms involved in the provisions of these benefits. Similarly, the term “empowerment” is often used to describe the social benefits of trees without a clear meaning. This paper seeks to address these concerns in three parts. First, a framework is presented to allow urban forestry practitioners to clarify the social benefits of a project. Questions include: To whom do benefits accrue—individuals, organizations, or communities? Are the benefits passive (e.g., viewing nature) or active (e.g., participating in planting projects)? Second, a qualitative research project on empowerment outcomes of four urban greening projects in a low- to moderate-income neighborhood in Chicago is presented. Two projects seen as successful and two perceived as unsuccessful by their funding agency were selected, and residents were interviewed about their perceptions of these gardens. The perceptions of residents did not line up with those of the funders (many interactions among participants and nonparticipants were not visible to outsiders), and the empowerment outcomes were not as expected. Finally, the paper closes with recommendations for improving the likelihood of social benefits arising from a project and for putting empowerment into action.

Publication Type: Journal article
Keywords: case study, community gardens, community participation, gardens, public perception, social benefits, and urban greening