Background/Question/Methods Teens participating in programs at Rocking the Boat (RTB), a positive youth development organization in the South Bronx, engage in a host of Bronx River-based activities, including boat building, sailing, and environmental stewardship. The notion of the Bronx as a stigmatized place pervades the social imaginary in the United States, and yet the Bronx River is the site of a large and successful grassroots environmental restoration effort, and the Bronx itself brims with myriad other environmental, cultural and historical assets. We worked collaboratively with RTB through an engaged process to understand how their environmental stewardship programs impacted positive youth development outcomes; in this case, we focused specifically on positive ties to place and to people, conceiving of connection through the lens of group and place identity. Positive connections to people is one desired positive youth development (PYD) outcome, and positive connections to place impact youth’s ability to envision positive future selves and to rescript narratives of stigmatized places. We employed a variety of qualitative methods, including participant observation, individual and group interviews, and mind mapping. Group interviews and mind mapping activities were embedded in the program and served both as research tools and as in-program evaluation tools.
Results/Conclusions Results suggest that citizen science activities like water quality monitoring and birdwatching were important factors in youth negotiating their perceptions of the River, in developing social cohesion and, for some, a stronger group identity. This research adds to scholarship linking group and place identity in three ways: 1) it highlights intertwined cognitive and place-based processes important in shaping identity and 2) it highlights place as an important salience factor in determining identity-congruent behaviors and 3) it illuminates how positive notions of group and place support youth contestation of stigma. We found that youth who participated in environmental stewardship activities at Rocking the Boat engaged in a process of identity construction that enabled them to contest the hegemonic, racialized representations of Bronx-based stigma. Environmental activities, alongside other crucial positive youth development activities at RTB, serve as ‘loci of resistance’ (Sisson, 2021) against territorial stigmatization of the Bronx.