Social representations of nature: citizens’ relation with urban trees

Can urban foresters really win the minds and hearts of urban dwellers when stressing the ecosystem services forests and trees provide?

Street trees are contested elements in the urban landscape, and the source of many complaints towards local authorities and tree managing agencies. Discussions on street trees can be intense and emotional, so it is good to understand where the discussions are grounded in and to understand citizens’ relations with trees. In this post I will explore if we can build on the concept of social representations to find win-win solutions regarding urban tree management.

Social representations explain how different social groups develop different understandings of an issue, based on their values, understanding, beliefs, knowledge, practice etc (Moscovici 2000; Buijs et al. 2008). They are not individual cognitive representations, but socially constructed through social interaction, both within and between groups (Buijs et al. 2011).

Different perspectives of a tree. Source: www.cyburbia.org
Different perspectives of a tree. Source: http://www.cyburbia.org