Shifting from studying to shaping is a primary vehicle for redefining urban ecology as a transformational science. This approach is being used as a pedagogical method for bridging gaps in ecological understanding of urban ecosystems and for applying this understanding to design solutions. The opportunity to shift ecologists from studying to shaping urban ecosystems is being developed as part of the recent focus on Earth Stewardship. Through this shift in focus have an opportunity to ask what are resilient urban ecosystems and how do we design them to be adaptable and to promote urban ecosystem services, including social benefits? In addition, we can explore how we can apply scientific methods strategically at different stages to more effectively design, construct and manage urban ecosystems? Finally, in proposing urban ecological research strategies embedded as part of real world design projects we can ask how can we implement effective and adaptable experimental methods specific to urban sites and human subjects that educate people, transform behavior and guide urbanization trends?
The Earth Stewardship Initiative (ESI) demonstration projects facilitate localized solutions that build on engagement of stakeholders, from the community to policymakers. The value of ESI is in the process as much as in the results. The process lends itself to accommodating the complexities inherent in urban environments; at the same time, it creates numerous opportunities for urban ecological research. The iterative nature of the ESI process also provides opportunities for aligning public interest with research and design goals. It therefore gets us to the point of identifying what science we need, rather than relying on the best available science. The results are equally valuable. Research-based design practices reveal new ways of conceptualizing persistent climate adaptation issues that confront high-risk communities. The process and the results have so far proven to be effective teaching tools across multiple disciplines, as illustrated in Baltimore and Sacramento. ESI is taking off as an alternative research method for long-term ecological research, as a widely used teaching tool, and now as part of a national program at ESA.