Research Summary

The impact of environmental education on sense of place among urban youth

Urban environmental education programs shown to improve ecological place meaning

Ecosphere
2012

The purpose of this study was to investigate the development of “place attachment/sense of place” in urban youth through the mechanism environmental education in an urban environment.  Sense of place can be defined as the mixture of features that make a place special to specific cultural groups.  The authors in this study sought to investigate the impact of urban environmental education programs on sense of place. In 2010, a pre/post survey design was used with a population of youth enrolled in five-week environmental and non-environmental summer youth programs in the Bronx area of New York City. In the environmental programs, there were four primary areas of activity: (1) environmental stewardship, (2) recreation, (3) environmental monitoring, and (4) trainings and workshops. The surveys were completed by 63 students from the environmental programs and 24 students from the control group.  The primary survey content included a modification of an existing place attachment scale and a newly created ecological place meaning scale.

Using paired t-tests to compare pre/postprogram mean scores, researchers found that place attachment showed no significant change in either group. However, the mean score for ecological place meaning increased significantly in the experimental group from 3.16 to 3.57, and did not change in the control group. These results suggest that urban environmental education programs can be successful in nurturing ecological place meaning, which is of particular importance in a rapidly urbanizing world in which many youth do not have daily access to natural environments. The researchers discuss that "developing ecological place meaning could redefine self-identity of urban residents, which, given the link between self-identity and pro-environmental behavior..may influence how people interact with their environment."