Thursday, March 11, 2010

Baltimore Ecosystem Study: Renewal Proposal

The Baltimore Ecosystem Study LTER renewal proposal was submitted for the February 1st 2010 deadline. This was a massive effort involving the contributions of more than forty researchers, educators, community practitioners, and administrative and information management staff. The proposal emerged from a series of meetings begun more than two years ago. These meetings, which have been discussed in previous posts, involved the entire BES community in identifying crucial measurements to continue, important research to add, and new strategies to better integrate our biogeophysical and social research approaches. Continuing conversations with our partners at various levels of government identified points of contact between their policy and management concerns and the emerging research and education plans.

The title of the proposal includes the phrase, “from sanitary to sustainable city,” in recognition of the emerging vision of sustainability in the world’s growing urban realm, and to help us better link with on the ground activities in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, and the State of Maryland. We use the word city here to represent the entire city-suburb-exurban (CSE) system. The sanitary city identifies the present form and function of the CSE, with its separate, engineered systems and management by sector – housing, transport, waste, health, and so on. The sanitary city is the result of more than a century of efforts to overcome the negative effects of the industrial city and reduce the risks of contagion in dense agglomerations of people. The sanitary city achieved many of its local benefits by transferring waste downstream, downwind, or segregating disamenities in disempowered neighborhoods. The sustainable city seeks to meet environmental goals throughout its extent and beyond, while at the same time improving social conditions and economic opportunities. The move toward sustainability in systems reinforces the cross-disciplinary integration we seek by requiring attention to the environmental, the social, and the economic structures and processes in our study region.

A sustainability focus also encourages us to look to the future. An approach we will develop in cooperation with our partners in government and in communities is scenario building. This is a modeling technique that will explore alternative forms that change can take. Scenarios can be generated that explore responses to policies, or to projected environmental conditions. Policies thus become a part of the landscape we study as much as the effects of climate change or shifts in investment and human population.

We have spent more than a dozen years laying a firm foundation of understanding the structure and function of metropolitan Baltimore as a socio-ecological system. Our proposed new work aims to focus and refine our theoretical framework. The planning process identified three theoretical areas, each with its own disciplinary interest and motivation, but which we believe will also stimulate integration. One is locational choice theory for households and firms, which combines economic and social processes. The second is biological metacommunity theory adapted for CSE systems. The third is the urban stream dis/continuum concept, a version of the river continuum originally developed for non-urban watersheds. These three theories advance our existing concerns with socio-demographic structure and dynamics, with urban biodiversity, and with inhabited and infrastructurally invested watersheds. Linkages through the economics of decision making, feedbacks between biota and different scales of social features, and exposing the complexities of connection and disconnection in CSE watersheds are benefits that can emerge from these new theoretical foci.

For more information, we invite you to peruse our renewal proposal, available as a pdf here or as a zip file here.