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Erika Svendsen

Erika Svendsen
Research Social Scientist
Urban Forests, Human Health, and Environmental Quality
290 Broadway, 26th Floor
New York, NY 10007
United States
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 Interest

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
  • Team Leader,  New York City Urban Field Staton,  2013 - Current
  • Writer,  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
Other Publications
Citations of Non-Forest Service 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
Research Highlights

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 ...

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...

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 a...

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 lea...