The cities of Rochester, NY and Malmö, Sweden share many features, including a parallel industrial history that declined in the late 20th century and geographic proximity to ecologically sensitive international waters. Malmö is transforming into an urban center for technology and investing heavily in green infrastructure and sustainability. Through a university partnership, we created an urban ecology course that compares the two cities and culminates in a study abroad experience pairing Malmö University students with Rochester Institute of Technology students. The course focuses first on the natural systems of an area and how those systems function (ideally) in an undisturbed setting and the types of ecological functions and service those natural systems provide. Second, the course focuses on how humans have impacted those natural systems through development, and how those impacts can be mitigated or avoided by using the natural systems as templates to influence smart development and maintain or enhance ecological functions and services. The course was designed to be adaptable to be jointly taught at RIT and a number of RIT's partner institutions to help foster STEM learning, critical thinking about humans and place, and key concepts of sustainability.
During the semester, the course followed a workshop format, blending lectures, in-class exercises, and field trips to both local problem areas and examples of sustainable solutions. A dozen students from each university participated, and students created projects that emphasized key urban ecology initiatives found in the host country and were presented/disseminated through the use of ESRI Storymaps (https://storymaps.arcgis.com/en/). These are being submitted to ESRI Fall, 2017. The study abroad “lab component” allowed RIT students to work on projects collaboratively with international students and faculty, helping strengthen global understanding and cultural awareness.
Urban Ecology examples used in Storymaps found in both Rochester and Malmö included:
1) Reducing stormwater runoff and flooding that result from increases in impervious area through green infrastructure (rain gardens, eco swales, vegetative roofs, wetlands restoration for flood control, water supply, and nutrient/waste management systems);
2) Climate change mitigation and energy issues (the roles of urban trees and vegetation and urban heat islands, enhancing carbon sequestration in urban settings, low emission transportation systems, energy efficient and sustainably designed buildings, reducing air pollution through alternative energy);
3) Enhancing biodiversity by integrating natural landscapes into the built environment (pollinator gardens, permaculture, restoration ecology/refugia, land use/land cover analyses and urban planning).