Thursday, May 25, 2017

Diversity and Synthesis

Dear BES Community,

The April Quarterly meeting was a dynamic, interactive day. We were happy to see new faces from graduate students to visiting scientists and hear their voices in the discussion. The activities of the day offered those of us that have been involved in the project the opportunity to consider it from a different perspective and to challenge our own comfortable assumptions. We are anticipating an outcomes report with recommendations from the Diversity Committee by the end of June and a new draft of the Diversity Plan in a similar timeframe.

Next week’s topic for the June Quarterly research meeting is Synthesis. We will examine synthesis tools such as HERCULES and others, examples of BES synthesis past and present as well as examples from the Central Arizona-Phoenix (CAP) LTER study. We will introduce the new BES Synthesis Questions and provide a brief overview of each integrative focal question. This introduction will be followed by a participatory session where the entire group will brainstorm answers to the questions below for each of the three focal areas:

1. What is the current state of synthesis?
2. What are the immediate and 5-year synthesis goals?
3. What data are available or needed?
4. What modeling approaches are warranted?

The important work that takes place in these meetings supports our revisions to the Renewal Proposal and strengthens the project in all areas including collaboration and integration. If you do attend the Quarterly meetings – thank you. If you haven’t been to one lately or at all – please join us. Your point of view is important in our research community.

And please remember - include our handle (@BESlter) when you are tweeting about BES-related publications, field work, or other BES news.


Thank you,
Emma

Friday, May 12, 2017

The MetaCity: Baltimore's Transportable Idea in Thailand



I hope I will be forgiven for calling the MetaCity a Baltimore idea, at least in part.  Architect and leader of the BES Urban Design Working Group, Brian McGrath is the senior parent of the idea of the MetaCity.  The co-parent of the idea is architect and architectural historian Grahame Shane, famous for his ideas of recombinant urbanism (among others).  Maybe I'm an uncle.  At any rate, I have to admit a close relationship to this offspring idea, and admitting that will leave the reader unsurprised that I think it is an important contribution to the emerging theory of urban systems.  It is certainly an important feature of contemporary urban ecological science, and can serve as a useful link with other disciplines struggling to firm up urban theory for the 21st century.

This essay is stimulated by two recent papers by McGrath.  One is called "Collecting and Disseminating Knowledge on the Architecture of the Metacity" (McGrath 2016), and the other is called "The Architecture of the Metacity: Land Use Change, Patch Dynamics and Urban Form in Chiang Mai, Thailand" (McGrath et al. 2017).  I was fascinated by these two papers for several reasons.

First, they provide a good description of the metacity idea, where it came from, how it differs from other currently circulating perspectives on extensive urban systems, and what it means for the connection between ecological science and the theory and practice of urban design (which is inclusive of planing, architecture, and landscape architecture).  Second, the papers suggest that the metacity idea applies well beyond Baltimore, where at least some of its roots extend deeply.

Chiang Mai City (Wikimedia Commons)

Description. 

The term metacity (prounounced with more or less equal emphasis on both syllables) was first used by the United Nations as a marker of size.  The prefix was used to describe cities larger than megacities. But that seemed to McGrath (and me) a waste of a powerful term.  Meta in ecology refers to a process or phenomenon that abstracts or stands beyond some other concrete or localized one.  For example, a metapopulation is a spatially distributed aggregation of individual populations each of which is undergoing its own dynamics, and which are differentially connected by migration or flow of genes with other populations in the aggregation.  The term meta, derived from a Greek preposition, has lots of other meanings, but the sense of beyond or above is the one that is relevant here.  

A metacity is thus a level of aggregation above that of individual urban or urbanized settlements, and which suggests that the different nodes in the aggregate are spatially distributed and differentially connected with each other by flows of people, goods and services, economic resources, information, waste procucts, and so on.  McGrath and Shane (2012) emphasize that the metacity involves electronic and hand held media, which makes connectivity much more rapid, individualized, and flexible than the kinds of connectivities that fueled modernism since the eras of Gutenberg, the Dutch East India Company, Marconi, and Alexander Graham Bell.

The metacity concept is not restricted to any particular spatial scale.  Aggregations of differentially dynamic and differentially connected settlements can exist within a county, a nation, or at global scales. It is pattern, connection, and dynamics that are key to the concept, not a set size.  McGrath et al. (2017: 53) emphsize that the metacity is "a new urban form." 

Distinctiveness

The metacity brings together several themes that have been emerging over many years to summarize the changing nature of urban processes and urban forms.  Earlier terms, such as metropolis and megalopolis have embodied specific assumptions. Metropolis, for example, suggests colonial or regional control by a large core city.  Megalopolis as originally coined referred to a linearly array of regionally significant metropolises, powered by coal and steam, and connected by rail and wire.  Even the familiar term "urbanization" carries assumptions of a set temporal sequence of development from economies based on managing the resources of a nearby hinterland, through trade across ocean basins, through industrial productivity and connectivity.  Such a sequence is implied in the term "post-industrial," for example.  The metacity concept, although it is manifestly a dynamic one, does not assume a single or even predominant historical sequence of urban development.  The metacity is a framework that can accommodate the successful assumptions of a variety of different urban ideologies, histories, and projections, but is not limited by the erroneous or narrow ones.  Perhaps McGrath's term "metaurbanization" is useful for pointing out the distinctive conceptual contributions of the metacity concept.
Rice terraces in Chiang Mai area (Pixaby, public domain)

Connecting ecology and urban design

Contemporary urban ecology has brought the perspective of ecology of the city, in contrast to ecology in the city to the fore.  This means that ecological science as an integrative pursuit linking with social sciences, economics, and other modes of understanding human agency and concerns, studies entire urban systems, not just the "green" areas embedded within them.  That is the meaning of ecology of the city.

Connecting with urban design can also employ a perspective of rather than in the city.  Architecture, McGrath points out, has focused on specific sites and projects.  That is, it has been a practice within the city.  Following architect Aldo Rossi, McGrath espouses an architecture of the city, meaning that the concerns of architecture and other design fields must be the larger urban context, not just a particular client's property, or a gem of "starchitecture" intended to elevate a neglected downtown to international attention.  The parallels in architectural thinking and ecological thinking about the nature of urban systems and involvement in them is striking.

The metacity concept demands scientific understanding of the dynamics of individual patches in urban areas, the differential connectivity among patches (and indeed with other urban areas and non-urban ecosystems), and the shifting structure and processes of entire urban mosaics.  Such information can in turn help understand the kinds of impacts -- both positive and negative -- that individual designs or networks of designed urban places can have.  The concerns of both designers and ecological scientists with the nature, change, and benefits of spatial heterogeneity or patchiness is a powerful bridge between the disciplines.
Rental ad for suburban bungalow in Chiang Mai (Wikimedia)

Broad applicability

McGrath, Sangawongse, Thaitakoo, and Corte (2017) apply the metacity framework to the Chiang Mai urban area in Thailand.  The first part of their paper is a comprehensive overview of the metacity concept.  The second part indicates how metacity dynamics in the Chiang Mai urban region has evolved to reflect "the demands of global digital financial networks and neo-liberal trade policies" while also "grounded in the ecology and life worlds of particular localities" (p 53).  Features that show up in their analyses of land change in the context of the metacity are comprehensive understanding of the patch array, including "natural," managed, constructed, and incidental patches; the role of social production of space; and the hybridity or urban and rural spaces.  In these aspects the analysis suggests parallels with the continuum of urbanity (Boone et al. 2014).  

The important point here is that the metacity is applicable to places as disparate as post-industrial Baltimore, MD USA, which exhibits dispersed dynamics both "shrinking" and growth, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, which exhibits a trajectory of patchy and complex land change involving local shifts in livelihood and embedding in global financial networks and regulatory models.

Steward T.A. Pickett, Director Emeritus

Literature Cited

Boone, C. G., C. L. Redman, H. Blanco, D. Haase, J. Koch, S. Lwasa, H. Nagendra, S. Pauleit, S. T. A. Pickett, K. C. Seto, and M. Yokohari. 2014. Reconceptualizing land for sustainable urbanity. Pages 313–330 in K. C. Seto and A. Reenberg, editors. Rethinking urban land use in a global era. MIT Press, Cambridge.
McGrath, B. 2016. Collecting and Disseminating Knowledge on the Architecture of the Metacity. Urbanisation 1:13–18. DOI: 10.1177/2455747116640431
McGrath, B., and S. T. A. Pickett. 2011. The Metacity: A Conceptual Framework for Integrating Ecology and Urban Design. Challenges 2:55–72.  DOI: 10.3390/challe2040055
McGrath, B., S. Sangawongse, D. Thaitakoo, and M. B. Corte. 2017. The Architecture of the Metacity: Land Use Change, Patch Dynamics and Urban Form in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Urban Planning 2:53–71. DOI: 10.17645/up.v2i1.869
McGrath, B., and D. G. Shane. 2012. Metropolis, megalopolis and the metacity. Page in C. G. Crysler, S. Cairns, and H. Heynen, editors. The Sage handbook of architectural theory. Sage, London.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Asphalt: Evolving Urban Boundary Object



Asphalt.  What could be more pedestrian, literally underfoot?  Or ignored as a dull gray ribbon somewhere beneath the floorboards as one navigates along city streets, concentrating on one's destination?  Or still more invisibly, as the cladding along the ditches keeping parking lots and pavement from flooding during rainstorms.

In reality, asphalt is a complex "boundary object" that points out how cities, suburbs, and exurbs are intricate social and ecological systems.  Asphalt as a boundary object links the consideration of social processes and ecological phenomena across the three-dimensional spatial mosaics of urban systems.  Furthermore, as those systems change, the role of asphalt as a boundary object can change through time as well.  

A recent paper by BES colleagues Geoff Buckley, Chris Boone, and Morgan Grove (2016) provides an excellent example of the changing role a boundary object may play, and it does so by elevating the virtually ubiquitous and nearly invisible substance of asphalt to our full attention. I recommend this paper not only for its scholarly rigor, but for the poetic imagery and narrative power it employs in bringing the roles and dynamics of asphalt to our attention.  This post is a teaser for that paper.

Contemporary urban residents would hardly recognize the streets of cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  There was a time when city streets were paved with bricks, cobblestones, and even wood blocks if they were paved at all.  The expense and unstable footing for horses were points contributing to contentious civic discussion about these paving materials.  Buckley and colleagues show in detail how asphalt rose to primacy among a welter of available materials, economic considerations, and networks of political influence.  Asphalt achieved its familiar roles only after it had been argued for by automobile drivers, bicyclists, and those concerned with provision of mud-free school playgrounds.  

Franklin Square school yard, asphalt partially removed.
But as a multifaceted boundary object, the perceptions and actions focusing on asphalt have proven to be anything but permanent.  For example, as cities have shifted from the engineered "sanitary" focus of the last 150 or so years (Melosi 2000) to an emerging sustainability focus by looking toward a future that is jointly motivated by ecological, social, and economic integrity (Grove et al. 2016), so has the role of asphalt shifted.  Now, city policy makers and activists promote the removal of asphalt from school yards in an effort to reduce stormwater runoff and lessen the heat island effects around schools.  So too is asphalt reduced by replacement with pervious pavement, or by piercing the streetside with bioswales or rain gardens.  Over the century of the sanitary city and moving into the desired sustainable city century, asphalt has illustrated an integrative, but changing role in the social-ecological functioning of urban areas.

As a boundary object, asphalt focuses urban social-ecological researchers on the shifting networks of concern and changing understanding of what constitutes an amenity or disamenity among urban ecosystem structures.  The very factors of imperviousness and availability that led to the widespread adoption of asphalt ultimately contributed to its disavowal by environmentally conscious policy makers and by communities and agencies sensitive to social equity.  Have a look at Buckley et al's (2016) paper to understand this compelling history and its ecological implications more fully.

Steward Pickett, Director Emeritus

Literature Cited

Buckley, G. L., C. G. Boone, and J. Morgan Grove. 2016. The Greening of Baltimore’s Asphalt Schoolyards. Geographical Review:n/a-n/a. DOI: 10.1111/j.1931-0846.2016.12213.x

Grove, J. M., D. L. Childers, M. Galvin, S. Hines, T. Muñoz-Erickson, and E. S. Svendsen. 2016. Linking science and decision making to promote an ecology for the city: practices and opportunities. Ecosystem Health and Sustainability 2:n/a-n/a. DOI: 10.1002/ehs2.1239

Melosi, M. V. 2000. The Sanitary City: Environmental Services in Urban America from Colonial Times to the Present. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Renewal and Diversity

Dear BES Community,

As we begin 2017, we are grateful for the opportunity to clarify our research outlook. We are hard at work developing a new conceptual model, research questions, hypothesis and experimental plan for the 2018 Renewal Proposal. At the January Quarterly meeting, we had some great input from our Hydrology, Biodiversity and Social Science Breakout Groups. Since then, our ideas have been reviewed and insightfully critiqued by an independent Ad Hoc Advisory Committee and the iterative process continues. We look forward to sharing the new conceptual model once it is finalized.

Long-term Climate data was also discussed at the January meeting with a focus on what is needed for Baltimore disaster and all-hazards planning. Thanks go to Kristin Baja, who presented at our meeting and provided information about the status of the All Hazards Management Plan (AHMP).  This plan is updated every five years and looks at historical hazards. We also looked at Regional Climate Trends – John Dillow and Bob Shedlock, Climate Trends Analysis in BES – Ellen Woytowitz, Climate data sources – Bernice Rosenzweig, and NEXRAD rainfall data for spatial and temporal patterns and links to models (Jim Smith, presented by Peter Groffman).

In February we welcomed a new co-Investigator, Colin Studds, Ph.D., from the Department of Geography and Environmental Systems at UMBC. Colin has plans for investigating mammals and further research on birds in BES to complement our ongoing research on bird dynamics led by Dr. Charles Nilon.

Looking ahead to our April 26th Quarterly Meeting, we will be exploring ways of increasing diversity in BES.  Alan Berkowitz and Bess Caplan have provided the following goals for discussion at our upcoming meeting:
1.      Raise awareness within BES community of the importance and challenges of increasing diversity within our community.
2.      Help BES make progress towards crafting a visionary and feasible Diversity Plan.
3.      Evoke a shared understanding of the roles of diversity in science, and the current landscape of diversity in environmental careers and interventions.
4.      Build bridges for collaboration and contribution within BES and between BES and others in the region.
5.      Make concrete plans for the future of diversity in BES.
6.      Consider producing a short paper about diversity in, of and for BES and the urban social-ecological “workforce.”
We are anticipating a very productive meeting and hope to see you there!

Finally, we are restructuring our social media strategy and want to share the latest details. We hope that these changes will better serve the BES Community and help to raise the profile of the quality research that our project does every day and year after year. We will be archiving the existing Facebook Group and the Education page (BPESL) at the end of March 2017. There will be one BES Facebook page with more varied content appealing to investigators, educators, and artists alike: Baltimore Ecosystem Study - BES. In addition, you can follow us on Twitter @BESlter. Follow us, like our page, comment and discuss! We want to hear your thoughts on what’s happening.

Thank you,
Emma

Friday, January 13, 2017

BES Annual Report 2017: Part 3 - Key Activities for the Year


Major Activities.

There are a large number of contributors to BES, including senior scientists, post-doctoral researchers, undergraduates, and even high school students. Their activities are presented below, divided into the Core Areas for urban LTER research, and ending with the Core Activity of engagement, especially through education. Some of the published papers explaining the methods and approaches, and recent results are cited.  These can be found in the publication list of the BES website here: http://beslter.org/pubs_browser.asp

This post is complementary to two earlier ones, focusing on the goals of BES (https://besdirector.blogspot.com/2017/01/bes-annual-report-2017-part-1-what-have.html), and the theory motivating our research (http://besdirector.blogspot.com/2017/01/bes-annual-report-2017-part-2-what-is.html).


  1. Primary Production- BES measures parameters that support understanding the growth of dominant plants in terrestrial and stream environments. Woody plant biomass and change over time are assessed via extensive and intensive sampling. The i-Tree-Eco model is used to quantify woody plant production every five years based on 195 randomly located plots (Nowak et al. 2013). Eight intensively measured permanent plots combine assessment of vegetation and soil biogeochemistry (Groffman et al. 2006). The RHESSys model simulates coupled ecosystem primary production, hydrology, and nutrient cycling (Band et al. 2001; Tague and Band 2004). The primary production by stream biofilms and the effects of pharmaceutical contaminants on that production is investigated (Rosi-Marshall et al. 2013).

  1. Population Studies- Population studies and biodiversity assessments are a component of BES research. The organisms were chosen to satisfy specific criteria: sentinels for human health (mosquitoes), invasion of exotics (trees and herbaceous plants, mosquitoes, aquatic invertebrates), impact of pollutants and contaminants (aquatic biofilms); transformers of organic matter in soil nutrient cycles (earthworms); landscape integrators (birds); and predominant structuring elements (trees). Therefore, populations of birds (Rega et al. 2015), soil invertebrates, such as earthworms and isopods, are measured in both long-term and short term studies (Szlavecz et al. 2006, 2011, Pickett et al. 2011, Parker and Nilon 2012, Parker et al. 2014). Aquatic invertebrates are quantified in streams and in constructed stormwater detention ponds (Sokol et al. 2015). Plant populations are assessed in the 195 randomly located i-Tree permanent plots, which are sampled in all land uses (Nowak 2012). Plant population studies include experiments in vacant lots and measurements in residential lawns (Johnson et al. 2015), and assessments of alpha versus beta diversity along gradients of management intensity (Swan et al. 2015). The populations of introduced disease vectors are measured relative to their habitat and food web relationships along the urban-rural gradient and in neighborhoods of contrasting social-demographic characteristics (LaDeau et al. 2013).

  1. Movement of Organic Matter- Soil organic matter is assessed in Baltimore soils, including forests and lawns. Organic matter dynamics are also included in the studies of streams ecosystems (Kaushal et al. 2014), including assessment of stream burial which alters metabolism (Beaulieu et al. 2014). The input and dynamics of organic matter in streams is examined (Martinez et al. 2014). The effects of dissolved organic carbon on stream water quality has been examined (Duan 2014). Intercity comparisons of decomposition include work in Baltimore (Yesilonis et al. 2014). Several of the focal groups in the biotic population studies are important in decomposition of organic matter in soil (Szlavecz et al. 2011).

  1. Movement of Inorganic Matter- Inorganic nutrients and nutrient pollutants are routinely measured in BES watershed and stream research. Nitrate, phosphate, and particulates are key pollutants in metropolitan streams, and in the receiving waters of the Chesapeake Bay (Groffman et al. 2004; Kaushal et al. 2011). Nitrate and chloride are also drinking water pollutants. Nutrient processing data are collected in the permanent plots, in streams, and in riparian zones. Decades of road salt application have been assessed by historical analysis and now are complemented by on-going measurements of chloride concentration in Baltimore region streams, including those draining into the region’s reservoirs (Kaushal et al. 2005). Heavy metal contamination of soils is measured because those elements have implications for both public health and soil nutrient processing (Yesilonis et al. 2008; Schwarz et al. 2012). A flux tower on a suburban edge of the city measures a variety of inorganic compounds and physical conditions connecting soils and atmosphere (Chun et al. 2014).

  1. Disturbance Patterns- Disturbances, detected as pulsed structural alterations in ecosystems and landscapes of the Baltimore region, appear in long-term data on the geomorphology of stream channels, the alteration of forest cover, and the mortality of trees in permanent plots and coarse-scale vegetation surveys. Extreme climatic events are exposed as disturbances in long-term data sets on stream flow and nutrient loading. More subtle press disturbances include invasion of novel exotic species, and differential alteration of forest regeneration along urban-rural contrasts. Disturbances also take the form of social presses and pulses, such as shifting economic investment and disinvestment, migration of racial groups and social classes, and policy interventions such as the court-ordered retrofitting of Baltimore's sanitary sewers. An integrated urban research program such as BES must account for both biophysical and social disturbance (Grimm et al., forthcoming 2017).

  1. Land Use/Land Cover Change- The National Land Cover Database is now available to provide coarse scale (30-m resolution; 16 categories) land cover information for Baltimore allowing the project to explore land cover/land use changes over time and to compare with other regions in the United States. However, the high degree of heterogeneity characteristic in cities, older suburbs, and in any urban area that has experienced parcel-level vegetation change, changes in occupancy and density, and shifts in use of industrial and commercial lands, requires more detailed characterization. A first step has been developing a sub-meter land cover mapping suitable for parcel analysis and as input for the patch-based HERCULES classification, which combines biophysically and socially generated cover elements to differentiate patches (Cadenasso et al. 2007). This results in a highly refined set of classes, currently being used to quantify "signatures" of urban cover in Baltimore to allow for temporal and inter-city comparisons. Forest patch change continues to be analyzed based on new remote imagery (Zhou et al. 2011). Fine scale assessments of land cover are being used to clarify the nature of shading both to improve patch discrimination and to provide data on insolation and shading of surfaces and buildings. Land use/cover change is being quantified at the level of suburban subdivision, using data on transacted price of home sales, as well as size and density of subdivisions (Irwin et al. 2014, Zhang et al. 2016). These are compared to distance from urban core, the different regulatory contexts of various counties in metropolitan Baltimore, and the nature of adjacent stormwater infrastructure. Lifestyle information is being extracted and mapped based on market segmentation data (Grove et al. 2015).

  1. Land Use/Land Cover Effects- The ecological effects of land use/land cover are being explored as a driver of Urban Heat Island effects by measuring land surface temperature relative to the census block geography of Baltimore (Zhou et al. 2011, Huang et al. 2011). Additional work focuses on the relationship of "hotspots" of land surface temperature to impervious and built land covers to assess the role of spatially explicit configuration of trees and buildings on UHI heterogeneity. Land cover heterogeneity is being explored relative to stream flow and chemistry, biodiversity in yards and vacant lots, and biogeochemical processes in urban forest fragments and lawns.

  1. Human-Natural Feedback- Feedbacks are best assessed through temporal changes following design and management interventions, policy shifts, and external disturbances. Activities to assess the fedbacks between social and ecological patterns and processes employ both extensive and intensive sampling frameworks that can be applied at multiple scales. The long term field-based sampling represents diverse urban landuses (e.g., i-Tree; stream gages). The high-resolution landcover mapping is being analyzed relative to the biogeochemical processes and social features including both demographic and lifestyle or consuption-based models. The 3000-household telephone survey, referenced by address and latitude/longitude, assesses environmental knowledge, attitudes, activities, and social involvement with the resident's neighborhood in order to facilitate integration with biophysical measurements and social and economic census data. The role of environmentally active institutions is assessed via inventory and network analysis of stewardship organizations. A new theoretical structure for following human-natural causality through temporal sequences of intervention and response in a heterogeneous matrix is being explored.

The final requirement, to engage with local school systems, is exemplified by research on ecological teaching and learning. Through participation in the Pathways to Environmental Science Literacy project, BES continued to explore patterns in student thinking and learning about key concepts in environmental science. Work this year focused on data from biodiversity assessments, learning progression framework, and patterns of student accounts based on this framework.

BES educators are collaborating with three other LTERs to explore factors shaping how ecology is taught in middle and high school classes. Work during the reporting period continued on a case study that included four BES teachers looking in depth at supports and constraints on learning progression-based teaching. Researcf specific to Baltimore focused on teachers’ responses to the BES professional development program.