Place-making to transform urban social–ecological systems: insights from the stewardship of urban lakes in Bangalore, India

Author(s): Murphy, A., Enqvist, J.P., Tengö, M.
In: Sustain Sci. DOI
Year: 2019
Type: Journal / article
Theme affiliation: Urban
Link to centre authors: Tengö, Maria
Full reference: Murphy, A., Enqvist, J.P., Tengö, M. 2019. Place-making to transform urban social–ecological systems: insights from the stewardship of urban lakes in Bangalore, India. Sustain Sci. DOI


With cities expanding globally and human populations becoming increasingly urban, sustaining ecosystems that support human well-being in cities is both increasingly challenging and urgent. City residents can take on important roles in the stewardship of public parks, trees, and waterbodies in their neighbourhoods, and sense of place is often brought forward as a motivation for engagement. In Bangalore, neighbourhood lake groups have partnered with public authorities to improve the restoration and upkeep of the city’s disappearing and increasingly polluted lakes. In this study, we focus on five lake groups to investigate the influence of sense of place on stewardship, specifically place-making—a term used to describe intentional practices to design, improve, and manage ‘good’ public spaces. In each group, three-to-six members were interviewed and a survey tool was used to assess the place attachments and meanings associated with their specific lakes. Findings show that approaches to place-making were influenced by childhood experiences with nature, and an appreciation for what is becoming increasingly scarce in a fast-growing city; greenery, pleasant temperatures, free-flowing water, clean air, and access to nature. Over time, involvement in lake care has reinforced attachment for certain place meanings, but also broadened the range of meanings people are attached to, including seeing the lakes as places to express national and cultural pride. Findings also show that longer involvement in stewardship tends to give rise to a more complex understanding of the lakes’ social and ecological functions, which in turn motivates the lake groups to advocate for a more socially just and nature-oriented approach to lake management. Based on our findings, we propose that stewardship groups can influence how a broader community interacts with and cares for urban green spaces, foster a more complex understanding of the varied benefits green spaces generate, and carve out alternative and more sustainable pathways for the governance of urban ecology.

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