Operationalizing Sense of Place Concepts and Cultural Ecosystem Services to Explore Urban Ecosystem Rehabilitation Performance from A Socio-Cultural Lens: The Case of Wadi Hanifah—Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
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Urban ecosystems (UE), and urban wetlands specifically, are considered coupled human-natural systems; meaning, they rely on the complex interdependencies of human and ecological components. As such, any intervention procedure (i.e., rehabilitation or restoration) and their evaluations would require an integrated socio-cultural approach to better understand their impacts and promote congruent design and development. The importance of integrating the human dimension in the rehabilitation of UE has been highlighted recurringly in the literature. There have been several calls within the ecosystem services (ES) management and socio-ecological systems (SES) scholarship to operationalize sense of place (SoP) concepts in the evaluation of rehabilitated UE performance, particularly from the socio-cultural lens. Despite that, practice has been slower to follow suite with application. The following research study presents a framework that links the socio-cultural dimension into the assessments of UE interventions. Primarily, it examines rehabilitated UE performance from a social lens and tracks the changes to their SoP, more specifically their place-image, as a result of the intervention. To achieve these aims, it operationalizes SoP components, as proposed by the literature. The framework essentially relies on the components of place triad (physical attributes, activity, and meanings and conceptions) as variables; to be examined by the visitation and popularity of the ecosystem, the uses and activities, the conditions of the physical environment, and the perceptions and associations of end-users to the rehabilitated UE (the indicators). To demonstrate the proposed framework, I examined a recently rehabilitated urban wetland in the arid context of Saudi Arabia, namely that of Wadi Hanifah. Wadi Hanifah is a historic valley wetland, teaming with heritage and natural sites that cuts through the capital City of Riyadh. This renders the valley a rarity both for its ecological (i.e., milder micro-climate, and provision of blue and green spaces) and its socio-cultural contributions (i.e., recreational and leisure activities). Seeing as the rehabilitation was never examined from a social lens, this research aimed to fill that gap and provide the first iteration of a socio-cultural study of the rehabilitation. Data for this study was gathered primarily using online social surveys and one-on-one semi-structured interviews. The results rendered several overlapping dimensions intrinsic to Wadi Hanifah’s identity: Nature and natural landscapes; activities; utility; history and heritage; personal experiences; and the rehabilitation itself. The analysis results highlight the factors responsible for the changes in Wadi Hanifah’s place-image, such as the introduction of the socio-cultural programs, including but not limited to outdoor and physical activities and the provision of picnic areas. The most noticeable trend was the transition of the perceptions of the Wadi from primarily provisional ES to one that is focused on CES. Furthermore, in terms of performance, the Wadi has reflected positively against the socio-cultural themes adapted from Bin Sulaiman and Almahmood (2022) (safety and security, sociability, accessibility, physical environment cues, attachment, and distinctiveness). It garnered a predominantly positive reception from the participants, where it was viewed as safer, more sociable, accessible, and unique, compared to before the rehabilitation. The value of this research lies in its contributions to theory, methodology, and practice. Where in theory and methodology, this framework links between the ES scholarship and urban design’s SoP. It can also be adapted for other similar UE interventions, especially ones that introduce an intentional socio-cultural agenda. Furthermore, in terms of practice this study sheds light on some of the current issues; provides a baseline for future studies of the Wadi; and provides a pragmatic approach to the improvement of its design and development guidelines.
Cite this version of the work
Shahad Kashmiri (2023). Operationalizing Sense of Place Concepts and Cultural Ecosystem Services to Explore Urban Ecosystem Rehabilitation Performance from A Socio-Cultural Lens: The Case of Wadi Hanifah—Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/19580