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Project Summary

For more information, visit our project website.

This inquiry is designed to improve understanding of resilience in urban socio-ecological systems, with the over-arching question: How do human governance and biophysical systems respond interactively to both press and pulse disturbances in urban socio-ecological systems? We focus our research on a pair of cities, Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, two anchors in a single metropolitan area that have developed over the past 30 years under contrasting policy regimes at the state, regional and local levels. Research projects and cross-cutting, unifying activities are guided by the following questions:

  1. How do differences in local and state levels of governance and policy affect the resilience of both social and ecological landscapes?
  2. How do alternative land use planning strategies affect provision of ecosystem services in response to different disturbance factors?
  3. How effectively do the processes and outcomes of monitoring ecosystem services provide a usable feedback loop in urban socio-ecological systems?

Our research team spans three universities, as well as local and federal agencies, with strengths both in urban ecosystem research and in the broader regional environmental context, allowing us both to intensively study within the urban areas of interest as well as to integrate our results regionally with the HJ Andrews LTER and the Wind River Experimental Forest NEON.

Our study design addresses our research questions through four focused research projects and two project-wide unifying activities. The first research project examines governance effects on the spatial pattern and timing of development at the regional scale. This research provides an integrative framework for all studies, and will draw on existing data and previously-tested empirical modeling approaches to describe, project, and map development rates and patterns in the region as influenced by distinctly different land use policy regimes. The second project examines relationships among disturbances resulting from development, and urban water quality. Projects three (riparian vegetation changes) and four (green infrastructure) both focus on the exchange and use of information and interactions among social actors at the city and neighborhood scale. Complementing these research projects are two cross-cutting and unifying activities that address specific aspects of the human experience in perceiving and managing urban ecosystem resources. The first activity examines civic ecology and information for decision making activity. This investigation will apply a common research framework to all four research projects (above) to study how ecological information feeds back into social decision-making processes. The second activity is designed to engage 6th-12th grade teachers and their students in the Portland/Vancouver region in select urban environmental projects having both an ecological and a public purpose. The project will create and support networks of teachers, youth and organizations conducting socio-ecological research and to develop meaningful measures of how teacher and student involvement in socio-ecological projects contributes to urban resilience.

Intellectual Merit

The integrated, multidisciplinary nature of our project maximizes opportunities to advance understanding of coupled natural and human systems. We feature a novel, micro-level and meso-level focus on the connections among human perceptions, citizen engagement, and ecosystem services in developing urban resilience, leading to insights about how human systems adapt to disturbance. Additionally, the study area, a metropolitan region containing cities with contrasting policy and governance systems whose land use effects have played out vividly through time, is particularly well suited for analysis and comparison of complex interactions between social and ecological systems. Finally, inclusion of external forces of population growth and climate change while simultaneously examining internal community adaptations will help identify unanticipated feedback loops or failures, and increase knowledge of how changes in boundary conditions can shift system behavior.

Broader Impacts

Working across jurisdictional, disciplinary, institutional and geographic boundaries will create a network of learners and associated synergies as we collaborate to understand the complex systems that are urban areas. Our approach provides both specific and general examples of how interactions within complex urban socio-ecological systems manifest through time. Besides these nodes of theory development, we foresee findings being put in place both experimentally and institutionally by cities and metropolitan agencies interested in building on the synergies to be found in integrative approaches to management. Our results should help to productively break down past divisions between social and ecological thinking and point the way toward an improved understanding and application of factors controlling how human governance affects socio-ecological resilience in urban areas.