Ecological field experiments as working landscapes for community engagement
In an effort to develop cities that work for people and ecosystems the Earth Stewardship Demonstration Project seeks to integrate ecological science with community based planning. Building on activities developed as part of the Ecological Society of America conference, a team of ecologists and designers are working to integrate ecologists into real world community-based education, outreach, and planning situations. We are exploring ways of incorporating ecological science into grassroots planning and design using designed ecological experiments to increase research opportunities as well as the relevance of ecologists, while supporting community interests. This approach highlights how different disciplines, from soil ecologists to human ecologists, can engage with the built environment and community-based planning. The integration of ecology into design is an opportunity for designers and ecologists to collaborate on urban design projects and well as for community engagement around their public spaces. Through designed field experiments the integration of research with community engagement deepens our understanding of what collective working landscapes designed to adaptively manage for sustainability and resilience could look like. By establishing a core role for the ecologist from the start of the design process, designed experiments realign the research goals of the ecologist, the aesthetic goals of the designer and the sustainability goals of the client. The designed-experiment approach offers (a) a new platform for ecologists to design and situate hypothesis-driven research in urban areas on sites that have been historically inaccessible to ecological experiments; (b) a new method for generating replicable scientific data about the ecological processes of constructed urban ecosystems; (c) a new framework for connecting ecologists with stakeholders, including city agencies, contractors, and park users; and (d) a new means for designers and park maintenance staff to update their underlying assumptions informing urban land management and to expand their ecological knowledge. In addition, designed experiments can be applied at the parcel scale, and they can be integrated into the patchy nature of urban systems. Using precedents of urban field experiments including the work on Bridgeport’s bio-retention gardens, and examples of projects in Baltimore, we illustrate the values and the challenges to integrating designed experiments as a tool to promote community grassroots planning and design.
Through the use of designed experiments the incorporation of ecological science into grassroots planning and design increases research opportunities and the relevance of ecologists, while supporting community interests.