Planting roots in foreign soil? – Immigrant place meanings in an urban park

Main, K.

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Main, K. (2013). Planting roots in foreign soil? – Immigrant place meanings in an urban park. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 36, 291–304.

Immigrants , Latinos , Place Meaning , Public Space

This paper explores the place-based meanings of an urban public space, MacArthur Park, in a Latino and immigrant neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. Both quantitative and qualitative data analysis revealed a broad range of park experiences that were both positive and negative and produced meanings that were individual, social, cultural, and political. The study found that MacArthur Park affirms traditional national, cultural, and ethnic identities for immigrants and supports their construction of a new, translocal and Central American identity in Los Angeles. Although the study found that the park also serves as a restorative, entertaining, and social space for park goers, these positive experiences were accompanied by negative experiences and meanings of the park related to maintenance and crime and conflicts associated with inequality and access, confirming the importance of considering the full range of social, cultural, and political meanings associated with place.

Main finding
The narratives of park users of a park in Los Angeles, CA reveals that people can simultaneously hold positive and negative feelings about such places, as opposed to more one-sided feelings. Positive feelings can relate to identity, community, and restorative aspects of the park – even after a short period of time. However, ambivalent or negative feelings can also be present, such as feelings associated with longing for home or loneliness.

Description of method used in the article
A case study of a single park, MacArthur Park, in Los Angeles, California, using mixed methods, including (a) short interviews (N=180) of park users, (b) extended interviews (N = 6), (c) site observations, and (d) review of documents. Primary data collection occurred from 2004 to 2007. Short interviews were conducted primarily in Spanish and contained items related to (a) park use and (b) place attachment. Extended interviews included more follow-up questions on those topics. Field observations included observations of specific activity areas during different times of day with (a) demographics tracking and (b) activity tracking. Analysis includes some descriptive statistics, but mostly qualitative analysis of results.

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