UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Urban dwellers and neighborhood nature : exploring urban residents' connection to place, community, and environment Church, Sarah P.


Urban residents, in part due to issues of urban form and lifestyle choice, have become both physically and cognitively disconnected from the environment and natural processes – a disconnection that has contributed to decisions that have led to over consumption of natural resources and degradation of Earth. The form of the built environment has contributed to this separation, with city development embedded within infrastructures of concrete and pavement. Further, there is little attention paid to smaller scale integration of nature at the neighborhood level that might allow for frequent resident contact and activity. Today, whether in growth or decline, cities are faced with regulatory obligations and crumbling infrastructure. These issues are compounded by the pressing need to address sustainable development and resilience in the face of uncertainty around climate change and the need for reduced oil use. Incremental urban restructuring of neighborhoods through planning and designing to the specifics of local ecology (place-based design) has the potential to restore a balance between urban areas and natural systems. I therefore studied how urban residents perceive and interact with these systems in order to answer the question: How does active involvement in Portland’s Tabor to the River watershed health program foster place-based awareness and environmental learning? This dissertation is an exploratory qualitative case study undertaken in Portland, Oregon in which I conducted 42 semi-structured interviews of community members and 14 experts. I explored how urban nature and sustainable stormwater infrastructure in the city is seen, perceived, and experienced by urban residents, and how these perceptions influence a human connection to nature and local environmental knowledge. My analysis found that in order to address a human connection to nature and influence environmental learning, the following aspects of urban retrofit should be considered: 1) Integrate a foundation of nature in the city for everyday life; 2) Incorporate multiple scales and types of nature for multiple experiences; 3) Ensure access to nature through walking and cycling; 4) Provide opportunities for hands on work in nature and personal control of space.

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