Urban nature is a core contributor to cultural ecosystem services in cities, comprising the non-material benefits that people obtain from contact with nature; such as improved mental- and physical health as well as feelings of sense of place. Due to the many benefits that have been ascribed to it, green space has become subject to debates on justice about its fair distribution and equal opportunities to use it. Teenage girls living in vulnerable neighbourhoods appear to belong to a societal group that falls behind on opportunities to access urban public green space.
In January 2020, Emma Blomquist, a student enrolled in MSc Environmental Science at Södertörn University, began her research on the use, valuation and perception of urban nature by teenage girls. The exploration of the research topic was done within the VIVA-PLAN research project, and the empirical part of the study was centred on socio-economically challenged neighbourhoods in the Stockholm region.
The research done by Emma sought to bring further light on these issues. In her thesis, Emma focuses on the lived experiences of teenage girls and reports on narrative interviews conducted in April 2020 with eight young respondents. Emma uses intersectionality theory which offers analytical tools to explore how the intersections of identity markers, such as age, gender, and place of residency, interact with girls’ lived experiences of green space use and valuation.
The spring of 2020 was a challenging time for many due to the coronavirus pandemic. After appeals to social distancing, Emma undertook data collection with digital tools and began experimenting with novel ways to engage respondents in interviews remotely. She experimented with what we call “the Digital Walk”, which foresees the collection of first-person narratives with the support of elicitation tools, such as satellite, aerial and street view imagery. The Digital Walk proved to be an interesting way to engage with respondents and is now being further refined and used for work under the VIVAPAN Working Package Two and Three, given that appeals to social distancing are still in place in Sweden.
The qualitative data collected by Emma reveals how urban green is an important source for well-being and quality of life for the respondents whom she talked to. Several reported how connection to nature enables connection with loved ones, the community, and with oneself. Simultaneously, respondents also talked about public green space as a place occupied by “certain others”, which contributes to experiences of it as inappropriate and unsafe for girls to visit in certain sport and during certain times. This suggests how green space works as an arena for power relations, where the opportunities for girls to benefit from its free use and from cultural ecosystem services decreases under certain circumstances. Identity markers, such as age, gender, and place of residency, intersect into a synergy of exclusion for teenage girls to fully encounter urban nature. Narratives and myths about girls being vulnerable and weak, and of green space as being dangerous for girls, surfaced during the interviews; unveiling their fears of being objectified, or becoming a victim of crime. In their stories, the fear is expressed as a fear of space, in particular green space. In turn, these experiences intersect with feelings that their neighbourhoods, and the green areas therein, are neglected by planners, politicians, municipalities and the government, and that their voices are not being heard. Still, the respondents have strong visions and aspirations to influence and co-design urban nature, which indicates prospects for empowerment and revitalisation of green urban space. The thesis concludes that identifying and recognising what perspectives girls and young women have is essential when working towards safe and accessible, but also lively and inviting, public green space.
Emma has successfully defended her MSc thesis titled “Revitalising urban public green space – Exploring lived experiences of teenage girls in socio-economically challenged neighbourhoods in Stockholm, Sweden, using Google Maps” on the 27th of August 2020.
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