Governance as a concept reveals the complexity of decision making in social-ecological systems. It is a multifaceted, multi-level, and evolving system that includes formal government processes and informal decision making across public, private, and civic sectors. Because governance emerges from such a wide variety of sectors, perspectives, and goals, it can affect environmental conditions and ecological processes in many, sometimes contradictory ways. We ask two questions: What are the legacies of past governance decisions in Baltimore, MD? How do these legacies shape contemporary ecology?
Drawing on several projects from the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, we explore the governance roots and ecological implications of five legacies: 1) fine scale labor access in a "walking city," 2) residential redlining, 3) inequity in siting of environmental hazards, 4) differential planting and maintenance of urban trees, and 5) unintended results of subdivision regulation. Environmental limitations of outmoded governance paradigms suggest opportunities for improvement.
1. The fine scale integration of labor and managers at the block scale produced a legacy of inner-block versus street-facing housing. With urban renewal in the 1960s, the inner blocks were converted to parks which became disamenities.
2. Redlining in Baltimore City delimited areas that are today depauperate in well-maintained vegetation, although they support large amounts of "weedy" cover. While the policy had the goal of ensuring economic stability, the result was uneven disinvestment that has environmental consequences.
3. Analysis of environmental zoning variances over time documented the actual process of inequitable governance. Governance of zoning is revealed to be causal and not merely corelational to environmental inequity.
4. Some urban residents view trees as a disamenity. Conflicts about tree planting exemplify contested governance among agencies, social groups, and different neighborhoods. City-wide urban canopy governance must navigate these conflicts.
5. Long-term analysis of the creation of subdivisions in the Baltimore metropolitan area demonstrate that regulations intended to limit the impact of large developments on the urban fringe in fact result in a proliferation of smaller subdivisions that fragment the exurban fringe.
Recognizing the unintended or cryptic goals of government policies, and inclusion of various sectors and communities, can improve environmentally relevant decision making. Evaluating governance processes through both equity and environment, as suggested by the sustainability paradigm, may reduce problematic legacies in the future.