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The spatial, biophysical, and social factors driving community access to ecosystem services in the Chicago metropolitan region
thesisposted on 28.04.2021, 17:33 by Mayra I Rodriguez-Gonzalez
Ensuring equitable access to nature’s good and benefits is an important socio-environmental justice matter in today’s climate. Unequitable access in urban-to-rural areas is rampant. Not only does income dictate accessibility to higher grade greenspaces, but the place where a resident lives can reduce their access to a limited number of ecological goods. In response, local governments have adopted frameworks grounded on equity, socio-ecological resilience and socio-environmental justice. Scientists can help local professionals produce research-based findings that support these efforts and equip communities with evidence documenting the limitations, barriers and issues they face when accessing natural resources. In this study, I investigated ecosystem services, or the goods and benefits people obtain from nature, in terms of their distribution across the third most populous urban area of the country, the Chicago metropolitan region, and their accessibility to local communities. In the first part of this project, I adopted a purely geospatial approach to map disparities in ecosystem services access by looking at their distribution in relation to local demographics and other attributes that influence access. I summarized findings across various subregions that represented different urbanization intensities, and illustrated how poverty, both urban and rural, is a predictor of accessibility for ecosystem services produced by top-ranked ecosystems. The second part of this project focused on exploring the inherent differences behind how different groups of people, i.e., from different incomes, educational preparation, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and levels of ecological involvement, interact with nature. I explored these human-nature interactions by looking at self-reported valuation, preferences and delivery of ecosystem services, and at access and usage of local outdoor spaces based on responses from a survey instrument. This look into the perspectives and attitudes of residents across a metropolitan extent allowed for dissecting the underlying phenomena that supports service delivery, which I explored in the third part of this study by combining this newfound understanding of residents’ perspectives with the ecological mapping from the first part of the project to identify underserved communities. Although grounded on the need to inform local planning, findings from all three parts of this project produce knowledge on the ecosystem services accessibility and consumption patterns that characterize metropolitan areas of the country. These results can, thus, inform local alleviation strategies in regards to unequitable access to ecological goods, but also provide an interpretation to how the socio-environmental injustices faced by a myriad of communities can carry onto their ability to enjoy nature and its most important benefits.