Attractive public green spaces contribute to liveable cities and a satisfying experience for urban inhabitants. They also contribute towards sustainable cities [1
]. Urban green spaces reduce air pollution [3
], greenhouse gas emissions [5
] and urban heat island effects [6
]. They contribute to enhanced biodiversity and function as important urban wildlife corridors [8
]. Urban green spaces also contribute to the urban economy. Property prices are often higher near green areas [10
] and afforestation has very large potential for employment [12
]. Access to urban green spaces contributes to psychological and physical wellbeing by providing opportunities for recreation, socialization and physical activity [14
]. In recent years, awakened by the fact of depleting urban nature at the cost of sustainability, governments and policy-makers have focused on enhancement of urban green spaces, protecting and enhancing ecosystems and developing green networks [15
Parks are important elements of the urban greenscape. Neighbourhood parks are important for promoting physical activity amongst children and adults [17
]. Social safety, sociability and nature make urban parks more attractive and safe for visitors, including for children [19
]. Parks in general should have distributional equity and easy accessibility, attributes that are recognized as essential indicators of a well-functioning urban system [20
]. Other equally important characteristics that influence the likelihood of park use include safety, cleanliness and effective maintenance [17
]. Visitor aesthetic experience is another important indicator of good management [22
]. Visitors look forward to a good, positive experience from their visits [23
]. Thus, managers of urban parks are primarily responsible for providing attractive outdoor recreation resources for city residents.
Instituting and upholding good governance and responsibility measures are critical for the effectiveness and protection of the nature [24
]. Assessment of park performance appraisal of governance enables improvement in quality of the recreational experience. Apart from biodiversity indicators, a range of indicators [25
], have been developed by researchers for measuring dimensions of user satisfaction (performance) related to urban parks and urban greening. Some of the indicators of quality of visitor experience are presence of litter, graffiti, maintenance, cleanliness, appearance of parks and behaviour of park staff [25
]. Hence, the understanding of the attitudes and perspectives of both management and users of the urban parks through performance indicators generates valuable information on the functioning of park management [27
In India, parks are usually public owned and managed by different public institutions, sometimes with community participation in management. There is a need to understand the governance structure and functioning of different parks and relate them to the condition and performance of the park. This will enable administrators to have consistent information on the quality and function of the parks while formulating environmental policies and plans for a city. Such performance measures have significant impacts on administrative practices [29
Social Network Analysis (SNA) can provide a suitable approach for such studies. SNA involves mapping, modelling and measuring the relationships among suitably defined players [30
]. Network structure is important for understanding the functioning of the whole group and seeing how the behaviour of individual players depends on the group context.
SNA has begun to become more widely used to study natural resource management in a variety of contexts. Carlsson and Sandström [31
] presented an analytical framework for network study of co-management of natural resources. Bodin and Crona [32
] in their review of empirically-based literature, showed that the social networks approach has immense possibility in allowing studies of various cross-scale connections and is significant in investigating natural resource governance practices. Crona and Bodin [33
] also used SNA for communication of knowledge and information related to natural resource extraction in Kenya. Dee et al. [34
] proposed a framework that uses SNA to examine the impact of management on ecosystem services. SNA has been applied to look into the organizational structure, comparative analysis of organizations [35
], and performance of individuals, as well as groups in the organization [36
]. This study advances previous research by examining the relationships between the social network structure of the park management communication system and the performance of parks.
This comparative study aims at understanding the communication networks for four New Delhi parks, quantifying their structure by SNA and looking for the relationships between performance indicators and network properties.
We describe the methods of data collection, calculation of social network indices and park performance indicators, along with a contextual description of the four selected parks. The co-relationships identified between social network indices and park performance indicators help to understand specific factors that are important for urban park management.
The in-depth interviews of the park keepers in the four parks reflect varied views about the park’s management and functioning, manpower, changes, problems, their probable solution, involvement and their expectations from the park. The key issues which emerged in each of the parks were identified.
BJP has 30 permanent gardeners, about 30 temporary workers and seven security guards. The major problems reported by park staff are littering, hooliganism and the lack of availability of water for gardening, especially during the summer, as also evident from the presence of dry tanks within the park. The gardeners, however, express trust that administrators will find a solution to the problems, especially of water scarcity. The green cover has increased over the years, along with the enhancement of the safety of the visitors and facilities like park benches.
LG employs 85 gardeners and seven private security guards. Most visitors, as well as park staff, are very satisfied with the quality of the park. Some minor problems mentioned are the insufficiency of water for plants, littering by visitors and incursions by street dogs. Concern for the park’s cleanliness has been voiced by the park keepers, because it does not come under the gardener’s purview. The garden has been consistently in good stature with new additions, like an open-air gymnasium, herbal garden, etc.
BBP is looked after by 10 permanent gardeners. The park is not well maintained, with leaf litter and animal droppings strewn around. The park faces the problem of a lack of water for the plants. The staff size is insufficient for monitoring; personnel are old and unable to traverse the park, leading to an unsafe condition and presence of anti-social activity within the park premises. The park has a large number of trees that have been planted in compensatory plantation initiatives, leading to overcrowding of trees in recent years.
There are 11 gardeners and 19 security guards working in the ST. The park is well laid out with neatly-pruned and widely-spaced trees, yet all parts are not equally maintained. Lack of sufficient personnel has led to less visited areas of the park becoming somewhat messy, with dried leaf branches and leaf litter found on the paths. The park is impacted by water scarcity, yet very few gardeners seem to be concerned by this. The security guard’s major concern is to protect the monument from public vandalism. The park authorities are striving to plant the species of trees that were originally planted on the tomb premises.
The social network structures of four parks were derived on the basis of park keeper’s pattern of communication amongst each other. It is observed that the BBP has the smallest network, while LG has the largest network (Table 1
, Figure 3
Amongst the four parks, in terms of CG, LG (0.15), followed by BJSP (0.18), have relatively low CG, indicating a flat network. On the other hand, BBP has relatively high (0.25) CG, denoting a tall network.
In LG, MaxS is highest (11), signifying the importance of the most important person in the network and MaxS in ST (3) is the lowest among the four parks.
In general, all the park networks have low compactness. Still, amongst the four parks, ST (0.06) has the comparatively lowest compactness, followed by LG (0.08). BJSP (0.13) has the comparatively highest compactness value amongst the four parks.
The park keepers were questioned about their satisfaction regarding the park (Table 2
). Satisfaction, here, is defined as a cognitive judgmental process of the present state of affairs, based on an individual’s judgment of self-imposed standard [52
]. Studies have shown that the satisfied workers are productive workers which, in turn, has a favorable influence on the functioning of the system, as perceived by their clients [53
]. In the present study, park keeper’s satisfaction indicates satisfaction with the management of the park, ranked on a Likert scale from 1 (dissatisfied) to 4 (highly satisfied). LG’s park keepers are highly (4) satisfied with the quality of the park, whereas BBP keepers’ average satisfaction with the quality of the park is least (2.57) among the four parks.
The park keepers were also asked about the problems of the parks. All four parks have various problems. They were categorized and ranked into four categories: the following way: no problem was ranked 1; water scarcity ranked 2; issues related with visitors (littering, vandalism, visitors harming trees, hooliganism, security issues and social nuisance) ranked 3; and issues related to management (maintenance, cleanliness, facilities, shortage of manpower and stray animals) ranked 4. From the data it is revealed that the median number of problems cited by the keepers of BB is higher (3) than the rest. All the other three parks have a similar (2) median number of problems.
The visitors to each of the parks were asked about the improvements they would want to see in the park. Four categories of responses were recorded and ranked. No improvements required ranked 1; improvements related to management (maintenance, cleanliness, facilities, ward off stray animals and advertisement) ranked 2; improvements related to security issues ranked 3; and improvements related to biodiversity (flowering plants, trees, hedges and lawns) ranked 4. Visitors to ST (4) tend to have a higher median expected improvement in the park in comparison to the other three parks. The median expected improvement of visitors is lowest in LG (2).
Visitors to BJSP could identify an average higher (4.27) number of species than the visitors to rest of the parks.
The examination of the relationships between indices of social network structure and park performance indicators reveals some prominent relationships. The most obvious and significant relationship were between (a) CG and average satisfaction of the park keepers; (b) MaxS and median expected improvements by visitors; and (c) Compactness and the average number of species identified by the visitors. Hence, three significant correlations are further analysed and discussed (Table 3
The average satisfaction of the park keepers tend to decrease with the increase of CG value of the network. The LG network having the lowest CG value have highest average satisfaction of park keepers, while the BBP network having the highest CG value have lowest average satisfaction of park keepers (Figure 4
The median expected improvement of the park visitors tend to reduce with the increase in MaxS value of the network. The visitors of ST, having lower MaxS value (3), have higher median expected improvement (4). The LG (11) network having higher MaxS have lower median expected improvement by the park visitors (2) (Figure 5
The average number of species identified by the park visitors tends to increase with the compactness of the network. The visitors of ST, which has the least compact network, tends to identify a lesser average number of species, whereas visitors to BJSP, which has the most compact network amongst the four parks, tends to identify larger average number of species (Figure 6
The studied parks are managed by four different public authorities and they have different hierarchies of management. The differences in management hierarchy lead to differences in the maintenance of the parks. This experimental comparative study arises out of the need to understand the governance structure and functioning of different park managements and how this translates into better managed parks capable of providing a satisfying park experience to urban visitors. Since our observations are limited to only four parks and a smaller sample size, we are very careful in making assertions.
If the social network has a larger CG value, the average satisfaction by the park keepers is lower. This means a larger distance and poorer communication between the lower-level (workers) and higher-level (leaders) individuals. One reason for satisfaction seems to be a flat and wide hierarchy (small CG), where workers appreciate a relatively flat hierarchy where they are feel closer to higher decision-making levels. The lower CG of LG is associated with higher average satisfaction of the park keepers while, for BBP, high CG is associated with lower average satisfaction. It has been observed that the managers of LG interact with the park gardeners and security personnel on a regular basis indicating better communication. In BBP, managers seldom visit the parks, hence, poorer communication is seen between workers and higher-level managers. A study by Rad and Hossein [54
] has shown that a supportive management, demonstrated through open communication, respect and recognition between the leader and workers tends to significantly improve satisfaction of employees. A timely and smooth flow of communication is a vital feature of a strong relationship. It works through the development of trust by support in solving disagreements and in lining up views, opinions and anticipations [55
]. Hence, intense interaction and mutual communication in a network having low CG leads to higher satisfaction of the park keepers.
The park visitors’ expectation of park improvement tends to decrease with the increase in MaxS. The expectation of improvement of visitors to LG is lowest amongst the four parks and, at the same time, LG has the strongest leader amongst the four parks. LG is frequented by influential bureaucrats and politicians. Thus, the park has to be maintained well to meet to expectations of the elite group and, hence, the leader plays the crucial role in the management of the park. It is seen that the community’s expectations on nature of service delivery, their interactions with the workers influence worker motivation [56
]. From the interviews of the park keepers and visitors, it is evident that the leader’s initiatives have contributed to improvements, through setting up of a butterfly conservatory, construction of an open air gym and training of stray dogs for security purposes in the garden [57
]. A strong leader is capable of effective articulation of a convincing vision which leads to settling of high expectations by the followers and also inspires others to participate. The leaders tend to look into details of roles, responsibilities, structures and rewards in an organization [58
] and their attention and ability leads to planning, organizing, implementing and evaluating projects to maximize results [60
]. Envisioning or “future thinking” is very vital for sustainability, as it motivates meaningful actions [61
]. In ST, the in-depth interviews revealed the absence of a leader capable of taking strong initiative for the betterment of the park: such a leader was there, but was recently transferred to another location. Here the visitors want to see more flowers and trees in the park, whose absence is evident from the photograph of the park. Safety and security related improvements are expected by the visitors to the BBP and BJSP, because these parks turn into ‘safe havens for criminals’ after sunset [14
Compactness also contributes to a larger number of species being identified. This suggests that communication is also helpful in providing a better-maintained park where visitors are more aware of their surroundings, thereby promoting a greater connection between people and nature in urban settings. A study by Panzarasa et al. [63
] has shown that networks having compact structure tend to have smaller distances between the users due to which information gets disseminated faster and more accurately. The enhanced interaction of the park keepers of BJSP and BBP might have facilitated conversation, discussion and information about the species seen in the park, leading to incidental learning. According to Doucette and Cole [64
] personal interaction between visitors and park keepers is the most essential and very effective means of communication and education. Studies have also shown that bystanders observing flora or feeding wildlife tends to stimulate responses towards flora and fauna by others [65
]. There is also a possibility that visitors to parks having greater vegetation diversity tend to identify a larger number of species.
There is a general understanding that a sustainable city implies a better balance between economic, social and environmental aspects in policy formulation and activities which will have positive impacts in the long-term. Environmental sustainability refers to the efficiency in the use of natural resources which, in turn, takes into account the role, participation and co-operation of the stakeholders and stewards of urban nature in upholding the sustainability goals. The path to sustainability requires new ways to engage people, rather than convey just a body of knowledge [67
]. This typically translates directly into management policies and practice [68
]. Thus, by integrating knowledge about the park governance system with the peoples’ perceptions, experiences and satisfaction, a comprehensive understanding has been derived, which can serve as an empirically valid foundation for education, research and practice.
Three key takeaways have emanated from this analysis. Firstly, it is evident that networks having lower CG render greater satisfaction to the park keepers, owing to better communication between the highest and the lowest levels of the network.
Secondly, it is also observed that parks having stronger leadership, as indicated by high MaxS, are able to meet the expectation of the visitors for further development of the parks. A strong leader ensures that there is effective control, involvement and also a certain level of dynamism in the management of the park. Initiation and implementation of novel ideas for the betterment of the park is reflected in positive acceptance by the lower levels, translating into better work output. Demonstrated strong and dynamic leadership, i.e., value of the highest person in the chain, also translates into better managed parks capable of meeting the expectations of the visitors.
Thirdly, greater closeness of the nodes in the network, as indicated by high compactness is indicative of better collaboration amongst the workers. Having a sound interactive relationship between workers and their levels of control ensure that participation in the park upkeep is more inclusive and, in turn, enhances the park quality. This also promotes greater connection between people and nature in urban scenarios.
The results of this analysis can be used for strategic restructuring of the informal structure of parks for better management related to greater visitor satisfaction [69
] (p. 22). Thus, in order to accomplish the status of well-performing parks, which is capable of meeting the needs of the urban community, there should be restructuring initiative by integrating strong dynamic leadership, capable of providing guidance, encouragement and support to help them overcome any difficulties the park may encounter. Better communication and greater flow of information from higher levels to lower levels of the management hierarchy are also important. The interaction and relationship of the coworkers in the parks should be strengthened and maximized so that communication is broader wherein they can share job experiences and collaborative learning.
All of this can be achieved if SNA arrives at the intended combination of high Max S, high compactness and low CG. In the final analysis, this combination is the perfect match to ensure that the park management works at maximum efficiency, translates itself into effective upkeep of the park and the ability to raise expectations of visitors. Arriving at any other balance among the three would be a calculated decision that policy-makers would have to make and may have the desired results with certain limitations. What works best for each park would remain limited by local considerations, but variation from the ideal social network considerations would reflect itself in the overall park management.
This study of four parks brings out the correlation between the network indices and park performance. We note that some caveats are clear, but it is not easy to improve these aspects of this kind of analyses: the sample size is small (both the number of parks and the number of persons), the quality of the answers to questionnaires is always unknown and, finally, other types of interactions that are not considered here can also be important. Yet, we think that understanding social network effects on the performance of organizations is crucial and this kind of research is so lacking that our exploratory research can catalyze further studies along this line.
Future research can be expanded to examine the social network structure in a greater number of parks to examine variations and relationships between other network indices and the quality of the park. In these cases, the opinion about leadership, consideration of problems and park performance seem to be well correlated with the structure of the social network. This suggests that (1) social network analysis can be used as a monitoring tool to assess the performance of parks and to indicate their internal problems, and (2) social network analysis can also be used as a strategic consultancy tool for designing better functioning parks.
We have studied the park governance structure of four parks managed by four different authorities. Future research can build on this to examine urban parks in diverse contexts. The aim will be to obtain a general understanding of the social network operations of urban parks and to identify ways in which leaders and co-workers can collaborate and network to improve park management and satisfaction of visitor needs. It will also be interesting to obtain an understanding of how network awareness influences the behavior of managers and co-workers towards more effective park management.