OOS 18-1
Moving from the ecology of cities to ecology for cities: Integrating urban ecology, design, and decision-making for urban sustainability

Tuesday, August 12, 2014: 1:30 PM
307, Sacramento Convention Center
Daniel L. Childers, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Steward T.A. Pickett, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, NY
Melissa J. Davidson, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Background/Question/Methods: Understanding urban sustainability and improving the ability of policy-makers to achieve sustainable management are pressing needs of the 21st century. As urban ecologists become involved in the “knowledge to action” mantra of sustainability, they are moving from the holistic study of the ecology of cities to an urban ecology for cities. Learning how to enable sustainable transitions for cities requires an understanding of the myriad transitions urban systems will face. We will present a conceptual framework that expands the Industrial to Sanitary to Sustainable City model to include non-sanitary cities, “new cities”, and transition options for cities encountering “triggers of change”. Several existing theoretical frameworks, including sustainability, resilience, adaptation, and vulnerability, may be helpful when considering urban transitions. We suggest that these theories interact through inertia in urban systems, and that institutional, infrastructural, and social inertias impart degrees of rigidity that make urban systems less flexible when facing transitional triggers and change. Solutions to urban sustainability challenges include: 1) those that “tweak” the current systems and work with the inertia in those systems, versus; 2) those that are more “transformative” and confront systemic inertia.  

Results/Conclusions: We will present integrative examples from an Urban Sustainability Research Coordination Network (RCN) that is integrates urban ecological research while incubating solutions-oriented products and collaborative partnerships with practitioners. We argue that a novel strategy to accomplish this involves the co-production of real-world solutions by urban ecologists, architects and designers, engineers, planners, and citizens. One example of this is an experimental streetscape project in Goodyear, AZ (part of the Phoenix Metropolitan Area). At the behest of city planners we assembled a team of urban ecologists, landscape architects, and social scientists to design and implement four streetscape options with differing landscaping, water use, and microclimate impacts. City planners and community members from the adjacent neighborhood provided input on the designs.  Before construction of the experimental streetscape, we collected data on microclimate (air temperature, humidity, insolation), soil properties, and water use. Educational signage kept the neighborhood updated on new findings and project progress. After full build-out we will continue the biophysical and social monitoring to quantitatively identify the best, and most desirable, streetscape design. The project is a showcase for how integrating ecology, design, social science, and policy moves us from an ecology of cities to an ecology for cities.