COS 104-4 - If you build it they will come: A new approach to urban ecological research

Thursday, August 11, 2011: 2:30 PM
Ballroom B, Austin Convention Center
Alexander J. Felson, School of Architecture, Yale University, New Haven, CT and Mark A. Bradford, School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT

We have established a new scientific model for advancing urban ecological research. The model reconsiders how science may be deployed as a component of urban design and sustainable land management. Partnering with designers, ecologists and city agencies on the NYC Million Trees Project, we have combined hypothesis driven research with public park design to build an unprecedented research platform for urban forestry. Our proposal recognizes that to advance our understanding of urban forest ecosystems, researchers must go beyond monitoring and data collection on existing urban conditions and seek to generate well-replicated experimental research platforms that facilitate diverse research studies and attract scientists to study a range of applied and fundamental ecological questions. We illustrate how ecologists have worked through a cross-disciplinary collaboration with designers to proactively reconfigure the urban environment in New York City and to design experimental research and monitoring systems that couple urban design and public space enhancements. This contemporary urban ecological approach engages with urban occupants and stakeholders. The approach strikes an effective balance between assessment and action—between the time it takes to derive sound scientific evidence and the need to take decisive action that aims to fill the gap created by the dearth of empirical evidence guiding urban forestry practice.


The research platform addresses applied management concerns, socioecological exchanges, ecosystem services, as well as green infrastructure. The study will allow practitioners to examine the structure and function of a successional urban forest ecosystem and to empirically define the effectiveness of varied afforestation practices. The first six stages of an eight stage collaborative research and design model have been achieved. These include the establishment and generation of: (1) applied and basic hypotheses, (2) viable experimental designs that fit within a public park context, (3) construction drawings and specifications that combine park design practices, design aesthetics, site knowledge, urban forestry practices, and community input, (4) baseline data sampling of existing vegetation and soils prior to construction, (5) implementation of the park layout based on the construction drawings including invasive species controls, tilling and soil amendments, pathway layout, and tree, shrub and herbaceous planting, and (6) educational outreach with the local community including board meetings, research days, and curriculum development. Subsequent research stages include: (7) post construction data collection on tree growth, carbon sequestration, invasive species controls, seed recruitment and soil microbes and organic matter build up, (8) funding for future research and monitoring.

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