Urban environmental stewardship : Roles and reasons for civic engagements in governance of social-ecological systems

University dissertation from Stockholm : Stockholm University

Abstract: Stewardship as a concept is increasingly brought forward as a goal to reach sustainability goals of ensuring human wellbeing within the limits of Earth’s life support systems. Scholarship on the required capacities for planetary stewardship is growing rapidly, as are the insights. This thesis focuses on contributing with knowledge about what stewardship implies in terms of civic engagement in environmental issues, particularly in contexts where these can be particularly challenging: rapidly changing cities. Paper I describes the internal functioning of a citizen network engaged in various environmental issues in Bangalore, India. Analyzing social network structure and desired outcomes, it shows that while the loose structure inhibits efficiency, it encourages inclusiveness and builds legitimacy among members. Despite a reduced capacity to actively mobilize members, the network facilitates ecosystem monitoring and serves as an information platform to connect diverse groups across the city. Paper II describes how local engagement to restore Bangalorean lakes can influence city-level governance of water supply. Following key events in the 1960s, Bangalore has become increasingly dependent on a single source of water and seems unable to explore other supply approaches for its rapidly growing population. The study shows that the system’s trap-like dynamics can be rewired by citizen-based lake groups by incentivizing authorities to break long-standing centralization trends. By re- acknowledging the water bodies’ multifunctional role as man-made water harvesting units, groups have gathered local support and improved monitoring to protect lakes after restoration. Together, the two papers show that civic involvement in urban environmental stewardship can improve governance by complementing and acting as a watchdog over public authorities.

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