Urban ecosystems are especially prone to disturbance from extreme events that are increasingly frequent and severe due to changing climate. Urban aquatic systems, in particular, are highly modified and even designed to accommodate urban or riverine flooding or coastal storms. In the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network (UREx SRN), we are developing a framework for urban ecosystem services (or simply, urban services) from a social-ecological-technological systems (SETS) perspective. That is, we understand urban services to be co-produced and delivered through a combination of social, ecological, and technical structures and functions. The UREx SRN is comparing ten cities across the US and Latin America that differ in population size and demography, topography, proximity to the coast, and other contextual variables. Using the SETS framework, we evaluate the potential for urban stormwater systems or other protective infrastructure to deliver protection from damaging high flows, inundation, and storm-driven pollution events while also delivering co-benefits of additional provisioning or cultural services.
Urban aquatic services are co-produced by people, ecosystems, and technological infrastructure over time and space in the context of city’s developmental history. This SETS interaction is key to understanding and using the concept of ecosystem services to enhance resilience to extreme events in cities. Urban stormwater management systems are designed across a spectrum of gray–hybrid–green infrastructure. Examining such infrastructure transects in our ten cities, we find variation in affordability, effectiveness, public acceptance, and co-benefits among various urban services. Ongoing research is exploring the value and potential tradeoffs (or synergies) of providing the same service from a diversity of system components across the SETS spectrum. Our ten cities represent a range of characteristics and settings, illustrating that the appropriate stormwater management solutions across this spectrum will depend on local physical, social (including economic), and infrastructure conditions. The holistic SETS approach allows us to compare and contrast multiple services provided by aquatic systems in cities—including ecosystem services and other urban services—and examine tradeoffs and synergies. Rather than minimizing the contribution of ecosystems, this perspective is simultaneously inclusive of the value of ecosystems and other features (technological in particular) of cities, which we hypothesize are important in enhancing urban resilience to future climate change.