Place meanings on the urban waterfront: a typology of stewardships

  • Johan P. EnqvistEmail author
  • Lindsay K. Campbell
  • Richard C. Stedman
  • Erika S. Svendsen
Special Feature: Original Article Sense of place in social-ecological systems: From theory to empirical exploration


Civic engagement in environmental management is often seen as linked to sense of place, sometimes with an assumption—explicit or implicit—that strong place attachment promotes a deeper stewardship commitment. This study challenges this idea by arguing that stewardship can develop along different pathways depending on people’s place meanings. We investigate sense of place and stewardship practices by examining three types of civic groups engaged in protecting and restoring waterfronts and water bodies in New York City: environmental groups, community groups and recreational groups. Using semi-structured interviews and Likert scale surveys, we assessed stewardship activities, place attachment and place meanings that group members (n = 31) associate with their site. Our findings show that place meanings help differentiate between groups based on how they currently view the site (as a place of work, a place of home, or a place of use), and the goals of their stewardship. Some groups work to restore what the place was previously, others work to protect what it currently is, while others work to transform their place into something new. These findings demonstrate how stewardship can develop along different pathways, and by taking place meanings into account we can extend knowledge about how sense of place is linked to behavior as well as better describe the different pathways. Place meanings thereby provide a basis for a typology of stewardships that helps describe different roles that civic engagement can take in environmental management.


Civic engagement New York City Place attachment Place meanings Sense of place Stewardship 



The authors would like to thank the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program, particularly Rob Pirani and Kate Boicourt (now with the Waterfront Alliance) who provided expert advice and input for this study before and during the fieldwork. We are also very thankful for the time taken by interviewees and others to meet with us, share their work and show their sites. We thank three pilot interviewees and the students and staff of the Human Dimensions Research Unit (now the Cornell Center for Conservation Social Sciences) at Cornell University’s Natural Resources Department, for input on our survey. The fieldwork was carried out by the first author with assistance from Ailbhe Murphy. We thank Vanessa Masterson, Maria Tengö, Amanda P. Hickey, Andrew Merrie, Erik Andersson, Thomas Hahn, Diego Galafassi and Morgan Grove for comments on early drafts of this manuscript, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable feedback. This study is funded by a core grant to the Stockholm Resilience Centre from Mistra, a grant from Sweden-America Association, and C.F. Liljevalch J:or’s travel grant. US Forest Service provided support for this research, especially through Michelle Johnson and during fieldwork.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Japan KK, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.African Climate and Development Initiative, Department of Environmental and Geographical ScienceUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.U.S. Forest Service Northern Research StationNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell UniversityIthacaUSA

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