Understanding biophysical and social change in the cities of the Anthropocene requires new tools, approaches, and intellectual infrastructure. Conventional, discipline-based research falls far short when our goal is to responsibly analyze and address twenty-first century urban environmental problems.
Urban ecology has emerged at the cutting edge of comprehensive, effective environmental research approaches in cities. By combining an ecosystem ecology-based approach to urban environmental systems with complex social analyses, urban ecology allows researchers from multiple disciplines to address a common set of research questions. The most effective urban ecology research projects are by definition collaborative; they demand interdisciplinary teams whose members contribute expertise and data from multiple disciplinary perspectives.
Despite its promise, collaborative urban ecology research has yet to reach its potential. This is due in part to an underdeveloped capacity to address the flows and fluxes that connect social and environmental processes. Heretofore, most ‘interdisciplinary’ urban ecology studies simply examine one question from many disciplinary perspectives, communicating each discipline’s findings to one another only after independent, disciplinary analyses are completed.
Conceptual mission: We aim to investigate the coproduction of environmental and social change through an urban ecology research design that integrates biophysical, social, and design studies inquiry. This includes all phases of research: from conceptualization, to operationalization, to analysis.
Intellectual goal: We seek to understand the flows and fluxes between biophysical and social processes as they operate in case-based approaches.
We understand cities as composed of a heterogeneous fabric in which multiple and entangled social and biophysical processes intersect. We consider social and biophysical change to be “coproduced,” since social and biophysical processes constantly interact and, in doing so, mutually shape one another.
Across the urban fabric, we find instances in which social actors make deliberate attempts to create certain forms of environmental change. These efforts and their intended effects may be thought of as “green” interventions. They can take many forms, including those of parks, urban gardening projects, or waterway improvement initiatives.
Taken together, instances of environmental intervention can be thought of as a city’s “green infrastructure.” Although they may be marked by specific sites, their interconnections with one another, and their embeddedness in the urban fabric, leave them inevitably interconnected.