COS 12-8 - A research framework for exploring urban ecology and sustainability that is based on “Design with nature” infrastructure

Monday, August 8, 2016: 3:40 PM
222/223, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center
Daniel L. Childers, School of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ and Nancy B. Grimm, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
Background/Question/Methods: Homo sapiens is becoming an increasingly urban species, underscoring the profound importance of understanding urban ecosystems. This has been the focus of to the Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER Program (CAP) for nearly 20 years. In this talk we will articulate a new framework for urban ecosystems research, built by scores of CAP scientists, that is central to CAP but relevant to cities everywhere. Our conceptual framework articulates the interconnectedness of human motivations, behaviors, actions, and outcomes with urban ecosystem structure and function. It includes new theoretical foci on: 1) urban infrastructure as a critical bridge between the system’s biophysical and human/social components; and 2) a nexus of ecology and design to enhance urban sustainability and resilience, ultimately making Phoenix a better place to live. Urban infrastructure includes ecological features (e.g., green, blue, and turquoise infrastructure), built structures (gray infrastructure), and social institutions. Per Ian McHarg and others, we consider urban ecological features to be “design with nature” infrastructure. CAP scientists are exploring new social-ecological frontiers of interdisciplinary urban ecology in residential landscapes, urban waterbodies, desert parks and preserves, the flora, fauna, and climate of a “riparianized” oasis desert city, and urban design and governance.

Results/Conclusions: Nearly two decades of CAP research has made numerous contributions to urban ecology. Thinking of cities as complex social-ecological systems requires a holistic, ecology of cities perspective. We are now evolving this thinking to an ecology for cities approach that enhances urban sustainability through transdisciplinary partnerships with city practitioners. We have found that climate, vegetation and water use, biodiversity, and social equity are linked, and that environmental perceptions are related to residential landscape decisions, neighborhood-scale ecological characteristics, and property values. A new interdisciplinary focus on residential landscapes and neighborhoods is further articulating these linkages. We have found that urban and desert habitats are both structurally and functionally different, and our focus on urban mountain parks and the Salt River is shedding new light on these differences. Finally, we have found that the functions and services provided by both “design with nature” and built infrastructure are not always as intended. We are addressing this with a new transdisciplinary focus on urban design, governance, and future scenarios, and because the ecosystem services concept does not articulate well to urban systems, we posit that it is both conceptually and empirically better to refer to infrastructure benefits as urban services.