Cultural Narratives on Constraints to Community Engagement in Urban Water Restoration
Author: Amit Pradhananga, Mae Davenport, and Emily Green,Issue #166
Natural resource professionals increasingly recognize that water protection and restoration efforts require not only technical solutions, but also the active engagement of stakeholders who live and work in the local community. People of color, and those of lower income brackets, are frequently underrepresented in water-related programming or decision-making, although they are often disproportionately affected by water problems. Effective engagement of diverse community members in water programs and projects requires understanding and addressing constraints to action. We conducted 25 interviews with community members who live or work in a highly urbanized Minnesota watershed to explore perceived obstacles to community engagement in local water resource protection and restoration. Based on self-reported race, ethnicity, and general community engagement level, interviewees were assigned to one of three “stakeholder groups” for comparative analysis: formal decision-makers, active white community members, and active community members of color. Qualitative analysis of responses revealed perceived constraints to engagement common to all three groups: inaccessibility and invisibility of water, lack of local leadership in water issues, and limited community dialogue about water problems and solutions. Additional constraints were perceived uniquely by community members of color: cultural constraints around water uses, recreation, action, and inequities or disenfranchisement in community decision-making processes and water programming. Study findings suggest partnership building is needed for collaboration in designing civic engagement programs
and improving water protection and restoration projects.