Seeking to understand in order to be understood: Markets, messages, and messengers for community-based adoption of sustainability practices
We have tested the idea of an Ecology of Prestige. This theory posits that housing styles, yard characteristics, tree and shrub plantings, and green grass can be considered social-ecological symbols, reflecting the type of neighborhoods in which people live. These social-ecological symbols can be interpreted as the outward manifestation of each neighborhood’s placement in a social hierarchy of group identity and social status in the urban patch mosaic. As such, trees and other yard-care behaviors can be understood as something that is socially valuable, namely, an individual’s publicly visible contributions to upholding neighborhood prestige.
Three important findings emerged from our research on neighborhood patches and an ecology of prestige in Baltimore. The first finding was that lifestyle factors such as family size, life stage, and ethnicity appear to be stronger predictors of private residential land management than population density or socioeconomic status. The second finding, which builds on the first, is that the relationship between lifestyle indicators and residential landscape structure and practices provides evidence for the idea that there are ecological indicators of different neighborhood-based and geographically coherent markets associated with different groups’ needs, sense of social status, and group identity. Third, combinations of different messages and messengers may be more or less effective with different markets. In Baltimore, we found that free or reduced-cost programs for tree planting on private lands were most effective in the most affluent neighborhoods. These areas tended to also have the most existing tree canopy on both private residential lands and the public right of way. An outcome of this research is a framework for testing which land management messages and messengers are most effective, where, and with whom in order to improve the ability to plan and enhance urban sustainability through urban forestry