A growing body of research has identified important ecological functions of urban novel ecosystems. However, urban setting, character, and aesthetics present challenges that result in novel ecosystem benefits being under-appreciated. This oversight is amplified by traditional conceptions of nature conservation and urban open space planning and management aligned with 19th century socio-cultural attitudes and aesthetics preferences. Absent successful alternative models, the lack of appreciation of novel ecosystem function may persist. History indicates that scientific evidence concerning the role and importance of under-valued ecosystems can have significant influence in shifting perceptions of such ecosystems. For example, scientific research regarding the importance of wetland and prairie ecosystems resulted in substantial shifts in policy and perception of wetland conservation and restoration in the mid-20th century. While both wetland and prairie ecosystems are recognized as endemic biomes, novel ecosystems are endemic anthromes of the Anthropocene and are by-products of human agency in both their origin and location. How will the increasing body of research regarding the importance of urban novel ecosystems influence policy and perception regarding their conservation and perhaps restoration? How can this evidence, in combination with the emerging Anthropocene paradigm and reconsideration of human-environment relations, also serve to catalyze changing perceptions and values or novel urban ecosystems and their emergence as accepted models of ecological open space?
In response to these questions, this paper examines three former industrial sites in highly urban neighborhoods of Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH, and Flint, MI and their potential function as new urban ecological reserves. Former land uses included a railyard, automotive assembly plant and steel mill and active land use had ceased for greater than 10 years allowing novel ecosystems to predominate. The general ecological, spatial and aesthetic characteristics of each site were examined and opportunities for potential re-use as urban novel ecosystem reserves were identified. A conceptual program of potential future use, access and management was modeled after traditional ecological reserves and open spaces. Program themes included wilderness reserve, restoration park, and ecology field station. Each program was applied to the project site through a project scenario methodology. The scenarios identified potential opportunities and limitations for novel ecosystems in expanding ecological and open space function within their respective urban settings. The scenarios also identified potential strategies to address local environmental justice issues. Finally, the scenarios identified promising opportunities for future collaboration between urban ecologists, landscape architects, urban ecology activists, educators and other stakeholders.