SYMP 2-4
Ecosystem services in cities: A critical resource for improving equity, resilience, and sustainability

Monday, August 10, 2015: 3:10 PM
308, Baltimore Convention Center
Timon McPhearson, Tishman Environment and Design Center, The New School, New York, NY

Ecosystems are critical components of urban systems with unmet and undervalued potential for achieving goals of sustainable development and providing means for resilience to the effects of climate change.  However, rapid urbanization and other pressures threaten the ability of urban ecosystems to provide the multiple benefits that urban planning, policy, design, and management depend on for meeting sustainability, resilience, and equity goals.  Ecosystem services are the benefits that ecosystems provide to humans and, though understudied in cities, have important sometimes overlooked impacts on human health and wellbeing. Urban ecosystem services (UES) include air pollution removal, stormwater regulation, coastal flood protection, food production, water filtration, recreation, aesthetic benefit, spiritual value, and more. Cities have potential to harness this urban natural capital and deliver multiple UES benefits to urban residents.  However, UES are often not supplied in the same areas where there is the greatest social need.  For example, in New York City there are significant spatial mismatches between the places where UES are mostly generated and the location of communities with indications of the greatest social need for UES. Decision-makers and leaders need tools to address inequality in access to critical UES and to navigate transformation of their communities along sustainability and desired resilience pathways


This presentation will highlight recent insights from the three-year Urban Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (URBES) Project in multiple European cities and New York summarizing research results, key findings, and future research pathways.  Results focus on recent progress in assessing, mapping, and valuing urban ecosystem services with a focused case study in New York City. Combining an urban ecosystem services landscape approach with spatial multi-criteria analysis was used to develop a decision-support tool for minimizing trade-offs and maximize synergies among multiple UES to achieve multi-functionality goals of urban planning.  Study results highlight the importance of scale and demonstrate how recent empirical and modeling advances provide new flexible approaches to urban ecosystem services assessment and valuation allowing for both neighborhood level and citywide planning to incorporate ecosystem services to meet sustainability, equity, and resilience goals. Results also point to future research needs, in particular the focus in recent UES research on mapping and assessing UES supply, but to date little progress in assessing social demand for individual or multiple UES. Pathways for future research will be suggested in the context of critical input from urban ecological research in, of, and for cities.