Publication Details

Stories, shrines, and symbols: Recognizing psycho-social-spiritual benefits of urban parks and natural areas

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Journal of Ethnobiology. 36(4): 881-907.


Urban parklands are biological and social resources. While there is a growing recognition that park users interact with these resources to promote well-being, the diversity of these practices and benefits is not fully appreciated. Here we draw upon data from a social assessment of 40 New York City (NYC) parks spanning 11,200 acres and we focus on psycho-social-spiritual benefits that are co-produced by park users and parks. Our methods include interviews (n = 1,680), field observations, and photo documentation. Given our large and diverse sample, the data show that psycho-social-spiritual engagement with parkland is important across geographic, sociocultural, religious, and other identities throughout NYC. While specific practices may be culturally differentiated, we find that urban parks support psycho-social-spiritual well-being for a wide range of people who engage in practices that reflect personal desires to connect with nature and a larger reality, as well as via a broader set of practices focused on connecting with self and with others. Our approach is novel because it integrates data on park users from interviews, observations of activities, and material evidence of prior use of parklands. We describe our findings and present a typology of psycho-social-spiritual engagement with natural areas in NYC parklands. This study advances theoretical understandings of the psycho-social-spiritual as it manifests within the dynamic relationship between humans and the urban environment, raises questions about the implications of these findings for the management of social-ecological systems, and suggests future research that delves into the practices of specific cultural and park user groups.


urban park; psycho-social-spiritual; well-being; New York City; social-ecological systems


Svendsen, Erika S.; Campbell, Lindsay K.; McMillen, Heather L. 2016. Stories, shrines, and symbols: Recognizing psycho-social-spiritual benefits of urban parks and natural areas. Journal of Ethnobiology. 36(4): 881-907.

Last updated on: February 7, 2017