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Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Tree Planting Programs a Gateway to Strong Civic Engagement

Photo of Million Trees NYC Volunteers in Action City of New York / NYC Parks - NYC ParksMillion Trees NYC Volunteers in Action City of New York / NYC Parks - NYC ParksSnapshot : This study examined how tree planting projects can make an important difference to the social fabric of dense urban communities. Qualitative interview data show strong links between environmental stewardship and civic engagement. Research by a Forest Service scientist and her partners culminated in a book on the social importance of natural resource initiatives and how individual efforts to reshape communities serve to strengthen civic engagement.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Svendsen, Erika 
Research Location : New York City
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 845


Once considered the antithesis of a verdant ecosystem, cities are being hailed as efficient social ecological systems. Emerging from the streets of the post-industrial city are well-tended community gardens, reforestation areas, and other viable habitats capable of supporting native flora and fauna. At the forefront of this transformation are the residents themselves. Research by a Forest Service scientist at the agency’s Norther Research Station and her collaborators resulted in “Urban Environmental Stewardship and Civic Engagement: How planting trees strengthens the roots of democracy,” a book that discusses how people engage in stewardship and what civic participation in the environment means for democracy. The rResearchers interviewed MillionTreesNYC volunteers and found that that the simple act of planting a tree at a volunteer event was so transformative for first-time tree planters that it led them to become more civically involved in their community. As governments are investing in green infrastructure campaigns to change the urban landscape, this book sheds light on the social importance of these initiatives and shows how individuals’ efforts to reshape their cities serve to strengthen democracy.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Dana R. Fisher, Director, Center for Society and the Environment, University of Maryland
  • James J.T. Connolly, Assistant Professor, Public Policy and Urban Affairs, Northeastern University.