The urban politics of greenspace: exploring community empowerment for greenspace aspirations, justice and resiliences. A participatory action research project in Glasgow

Fifield, Shivali (2020) The urban politics of greenspace: exploring community empowerment for greenspace aspirations, justice and resiliences. A participatory action research project in Glasgow. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Over the past decade, greenspace policy has grown in prominence, associated with providing opportunities to address health inequality, urban regeneration and climate adaptation. In parallel, within community development, the discourses of community empowerment and resilience are employed as a response to the same challenges. Yet in Scotland’s urban neighbourhoods of highest deprivation, there remains the triple jeopardy of living in proximity to derelict land, poor environmental quality, and ‘the absence of environmental goods’; all of which can be summarised as poor access to good quality greenspace. At the same time, in relation to the lived experience of socio-political marginalisation, both community empowerment and resilience are contested concepts.
The aim of this thesis is to identify the enablers and constraints to fulfilling local greenspace aspirations as rights. Central to realising this aim is the theorising of a trivalent conceptualisation of environmental justice (comprising distributional, procedural and recognition dimensions) and an eco-socialist positioning to inform community and urban resilience strategies. First, clarity is sought by distinguishing between five primary discourses. These pertain to climate policy, city planning, public health, community development, and community transformation. Greenspace is then presented as a ‘boundary object’ that intersects the discourses of resilience; and social, environmental and climate justice concerns.
The significance of this research is to foreground greenspace aspirations from the perspective of people living with area deprivation. Located in one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Glasgow, five interrelated participatory action research projects were undertaken over two years, culminating in a neighbourhood greenspace network. Using participatory inquiry generated critical awareness of greenspace inequality and demonstrated local motivation to work collaboratively for greenspace action. It also exposed the deficits in procedural practices to facilitate inclusive decision-making. Conceiving these tensions as the urban politics of greenspace draws attention to the forms, spaces and levels of power within and between local authority and neighbourhood ‘social worlds’.
The empirical findings provide important insight into the visceral experience of greenspace inequality; reflect wider concerns about community engagement practices; and problematise empowerment in relation to greenspace policy and land reform. Notwithstanding, this study identifies the potential for developing greenspace networks to provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for bottom-up deliberation and instituting local greenspace priorities. However, in recognition of individual and organisational resilience factors in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, the participatory action research projects also highlight the importance of local authority actors playing a leadership role in procedural implementation, and in facilitating the visions that transpire. In order to do this, existing community engagement budgets and priorities need to be reappraised. Further, a more radical community development practice is required to pursue a rebalance of distributional environmental burdens and benefits, rights and responsibilities.
Improving the accessibility and quality of greenspace as a right, I argue, is political. It establishes a coherent thread through diverse greenspace policy objectives and serves to crystallise the strategic and operational gaps between the five discourses of resilience. By doing so, it shifts the debate from assets to rights in order to address sustainability and inequality for neighbourhoods experiencing multiple deprivation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: community development, community empowerment, environmental justice Scotland, eco-socialist, feminist research ethic, Glasgow, greenspace inequality, participatory action research, resilience, urban environmental justice, urban deprivation, urban greenspace.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Urban Studies
Supervisor's Name: Hastings, Professor Annette
Date of Award: 2020
Depositing User: Ms S Fifield
Unique ID: glathesis:2020-81371
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 May 2020 08:02
Last Modified: 07 Sep 2022 11:38
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.81371

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