Scientists & Staff

Erika S. Svendsen

Erika Svendsen

Research Social Scientist
290 Broadway, 26th Floor
New York, NY, 10007
Phone: 212-637-3598

Contact Erika Svendsen

Current Research

My pimary area of research is to better understand the role of individuals, civic groups and networked alliances within the context of disturbance and recovery.  My research helps identify the key drivers and levers that help to shape, create and sustain new forms of environmental governance. 

One of my most popular research projects is STEW-MAP, the Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project.  The objective of STEW-MAP is to utilize social science methods to assess the social and spatial interactions among groups working to care for their environment.  STEW-MAP techniques display groups across a landscape or region, depicting social networks, spatial gaps and overlaps, and providing partnership data in order to strengthen the shared stewardship of public and private lands. STEW-MAP captures information about environmental stewardship through (1) inventory: administering an OMB-approved organizational survey; (2) spatial analysis: geospatial mapping of stakeholder groups; and (3) social network analysis: studying relationships among civic, private, and governmental organizations.

STEW-MAP is just one part of my larger research area which asks how environmental stewardship can play a role in recovery and restoration in light acute and chronic social ecolgoical disturbance? Natural resource stewardship includes many unique forms of caring for the environment and has many benefits, from the physical, to the communal, and the personal.  Large-scale social-ecological disturbances and disasters are becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. These events often require large-scale coordinated emergency response and recovery efforts; however, they also cause consideration of how to create more resilient and just communities. My current work focuses on natural resource stewardship as an investment in creating communities that are better able to prepare for, respond to, and recover from all forms of stressors.  See here for an on-line and assessible resource: Green Readiness, Response and Recovery: A Collaborative Synthesis

Currently, I am working on research related to COVID-19 and how natural resrource mangers on our National Forests, State lands and City parks are adapting to distrubance through partnerships and civic engagment.   This work will be published and available in 2021. 



Research Interests

I am interested in amplifying the relationship between environmental governance, social ecological vulnerabilities and equitable social change. 

Why This Research is Important

Understanding the reciprocity that exists between humans and the non-human world is essential not only to a healthy environment but to a vibrant, resilient and humane world.  


  • Columbia University , Ph.D. Urban Planning, 2010
  • Yale University, M.E.S. Forestry & Environmental Studies, 1993
  • Allegheny College, B.A. Political Science, 1990

Professional Experience

  • Healthy Communities Program Associate, The Regional Plan Association 2001 - 2002
  • Director, NYC Parks GreenThumb Program 1997 - 2001
  • Fellowship Coordinator, Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) International 1995 - 1997
  • Urban and Community Forester, The Parks and People Foundation 1993 - 1995
  • Program Associate, The Rockefeller Foundation 1991 - 1993

Professional Organizations

  • New York City Urban Field Staton (2013 - Current)
  • The Nature of Cities (2013 - Current)

Awards & Recognition

  • USDA Forest Service Chief's Team Award, 2017 For advancing the work of the Urban Waters Federal Partnership Program
  • Early Career Scientist Award, 2012 For amplifying the work of place-based groups in caring for the environment through the STEW-MAP project
  • USDA Forest Service Chief's Award, 2009 For engaging urban America and the restoration of urban ecosystems

Featured Publications & Products

Publications & Products

Other Publications

  • Fisher, D.R., Svendsen, E.S., and Connolly, J. (2015). Urban Environmental Stewardship and Civic Engagement: How planting trees strengthens the roots of democracy Routledge Press: Explorations in Environmental Studies Series, 24 February, 152 pgs

National Research Highlights

Photo of the Baltimore skyline.  Baltimore is one of four urban research locations officially chartered as an Urban Field Station within the Northern Research Station.  As an engaged network, our urban field stations are national and international assets. Morgan Grove, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

IITF and NRS each established a Charter for Urban Field Stations and Networks

Year: 2016

IITF and NRS officially established charters for Urban Research Stations in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, and Philadelphia to develop and deliver knowledge that contributes to the understanding of urban social-ecological systems and the adaptation of practices that lead to sustainable, resilient, equitable, and healthy urban environments. The charters formalized long-standing field station investments.

Million Trees NYC Volunteers in Action City of New York / NYC Parks - NYC Parks

Tree Planting Programs a Gateway to Strong Civic Engagement

Year: 2015

This study examined how tree planting projects can make an important difference to the social fabric of dense urban communities. Qualitative interview data show strong links between environmental stewardship and civic engagement. Research by a Forest Service scientist and her partners culminated in a book on the social importance of natural resource initiatives and how individual efforts to reshape communities serve to strengthen civic engagement.

Social assessment crew member interviews park user on Jamaica Bay. Joana Chan, USDA Forest Service

Scientists Assess Social Meaning of Jamaica Bay Region Parkland

Year: 2014

The Jamaica Bay region of New York City is a focus of resiliency planning and adaptive management efforts. Working with natural resource managers and ecologists from the Natural Areas Conservancy and the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, Forest Service social scientists developed a method to assess the use and social meaning of parkland in the region. These social data will be integrated with ecological assessment data to inform management strategies and practices citywide.

MillionTreesNYC Training Program participants at a volunteer planting day in Staten Island, NY. Brian Aucoin, New York City Department of Parks & Recreation

Forest Service Partnership with MillionTreesNYC

Year: 2013

The demand for a well-trained green-collar labor force will increase as many cities implement sustainability and green infrastructure plans. Additionally, many green jobs training programs are intended to provide pathways out of poverty for low-skilled workers. Forest Service scientists investigated young-adult graduates of green-jobs training programs in New York City and found not just positive environmental attitudes and behaviors but also increased self-confidence in young graduates.

Last modified: Monday, April 5, 2021