Managing urban forests and hydrosocial relations: Outdoor recreation use, ecological impacts, and perceptions of unsheltered homelessness

Authors: Jeff Rose*, University of Utah
Topics: Environmental Perception, Recreational and Sport Geography
Keywords: homelessness, recreation, riparian
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Bourbon Room, Astor, Mezzanine
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban forests provide numerous ecological and social benefits, and are sites of many urban residents’ everyday encounters with urban waters. These interactions prompt a need to better understand “hydrosocial” relations in these spaces. How can urban and urban-proximate natural spaces, including forests, support burgeoning urban populations and their increasing outdoor recreational needs, and the simultaneous imperatives of resource provision, conservation, and ecological integrity?

This research engages with the sociospatial dynamics of users of a forest system that operates across existing urban-wildland interfaces in Salt Lake City, Utah. Specifically, this research leverages a political ecology approach to address outdoor recreationists’ use and perceptions of homelessness in City Creek Canyon (CCC), a riparian corridor that also serves as the urban population’s water supply and provides other ecosystem services (carbon sink, urban cooling, wildlife habitat, etc.). In this study, participants (n=149) engaged in GPS visitor tracking to determine the spatial extent of their visitation and other use patterns. Additionally, surveys (n=361) determined recreational use preferences, perceived ecological impacts, and awareness of unsheltered homelessness.

Mapping of GVT results indicates that outdoor recreation participants have high spatial likelihoods of encounters with known spaces of homelessness in CCC. Survey data show outdoor recreation participants’ ambivalence toward the presence of homelessness, its potential impacts on recreational behaviors, and its perceived impacts on ecological functioning of the forest. Implications of this research highlight the difficult imperatives that urban and urban-proximate forest managers face in providing for recreational use, ecological integrity, and the presence and persistence of homelessness.

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