OOS 28-3 - Addressing the institutional challenges of green infrastructure development: The Eco-Techno Spectrum as organizing heuristic for interdisciplinary research

Wednesday, August 9, 2017: 2:10 PM
Portland Blrm 256, Oregon Convention Center
Marissa Matsler, Urban Studies and Planning, Portland State University, Portland, OR

Green infrastructure (GI) development is desirable in many municipalities because of its potential to address pressing environmental and social issues. However, despite technical optimism regarding benefits provided by GI, institutional challenges create significant barriers to effective GI implementation and maintenance. A wide spectrum of disparate facility types make up GI, spanning from large-scale natural areas to small engineered bioswales. Here, this variety is organized along the Eco-Techno Spectrumwhich arranges facilities according to the proportion of biological components to human-made technological components – on the ‘eco’ end of the spectrum we find natural areas where nearly all components are biological; on the ‘techno’ end of the spectrum we find highly engineered bioswales comprised mostly of human-made technologies .

Across this spectrum, GI facilities are subject to different performance metrics, jurisdictions, and asset classes; this presents a major knowledge systems' challenge to GI implementation, namely it brings ecological knowledge into traditionally engineering-dominated decision-making spaces where it does not easily fit procedures for defining, measuring, or valuingexisting facility component types. Therefore, municipal governments have needed to create and vet new practices, protocols, and occasionally new institutions to appropriately implement and manage GI.


The Eco-Techno Spectrum captures the diversity of technologies, institutional actors, scales, jurisdictions, and ecosystems that make up ‘green infrastructure’ in cities today. While relatively simple, this heuristic is powerful because it organizes facilities across different social, ecological, and technical boundaries into a single framework. This unified framework can generate and organize variables of interest from different disciplines. It ensures alignment of data conceptually (i.e. technological, ecological, and social performance data can all be collected to better understand the same facility type across cities) and can expand disciplinarily-siloed studies (i.e. an ecological study could analyze a wider range of facility types than initially planned).

Additionally, this spectrum is powerful in organizing ecological data in a way that is more meaningful to practice. This is because across the Eco-Techno Spectrum we encounter all the institutions that design and manage nature in the city; most of these institutions manage nature differently with differing public mandates and funding streams. By collecting data across this gradient, ecological studies can be linked directly to these different institutions and their management approaches, providing an assessment of their ecological performance. Therefore, this spectrum can help create the link between research and practice.