User participation in public urban woodland management : drivers and impact on green space quality

Abstract: There is widespread agreement on the many benefits citizens gain from recreational use of local green spaces such as urban woodlands, and the importance of involving users in the development of their everyday landscapes. Despite this, the impact of user participation on the quality of public green spaces has not been thoroughly studied. In this PhD thesis, resident participation in public urban woodland management including drivers for participating, impact on the quality of the woodland, and ways in which local authorities can facilitate it in a long-term perspective was explored. The topic was studied through a literature review and a seven-year longitudinal, mixed-method case study of the residential area Sletten in Holstebro, Denmark. The literature review identified a general lack of empirical support for the many assumed positive outcomes of user participation in the different phases of green space development. A particularly large disparity was found between assumed and empirically substantiated knowledge on how participation may directly benefit physical urban green spaces. The purpose of the case study was to investigate the topic with focus on resident participation in management of public urban woodlands. In Sletten, residents participate in the maintenance and management of the public woodland edge zone bordering their private gardens, called the co-management zone. It was found that clear guidelines and continuous local authority–resident communication, including municipal guidance, inspiration and control, were crucial for a functional co-management zone. The study of residents’ drivers of participation pointed at combinations of both personal and environmental drivers, the relative importance of which changed over time from gardening interest, stand height and residents inspiring their neighbours in 2010, to forest edge type and length of residence in 2015. Local authorities aiming to facilitate co-management should be aware of this temporal dimension and encourage participation by identifying people interested in gardening who inspire others, combined with strategic woodland vegetation design and management increasing visual and physical accessibility. In Sletten, it was found that social, experiential, functional, and ecological dimensions were all included in residents’ perceptions of ‘urban woodland quality’. Maintenance, accessibility, nature and facilities are aspects that occur repeatedly in quality assessment schemes for other types of urban green space. These were also central to urban woodland quality, apart from facilities. In addition, the study revealed the importance of structural and species diversity between and within woodland stands – a quality aspect that distinguishes woodland from other types of urban green space. It was also found that participation had additional benefits for participants. This research has contributed new insights, useful to green space managers in their work when involving users in management, and has provided new approaches to the scientific discussion on green space quality.

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