Sunday, October 11, 2009

Adaptive Capacity of the Baltimore Socio-Ecological System: A Discussion Document for the Baltimore Ecosystem Study

Adaptive Capacity of the Baltimore Socio-Ecological System: A Discussion Document for the Baltimore Ecosystem Study

This essay lays out thoughts on guiding questions and conceptual approaches to guide research and synthesis in the third phase of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES III). It is intended to help inform the planning meeting on Tuesday, October 20, 2009.

Urban systems are undergoing vast changes around the globe. Changes in economic and commercial strategies, human migration, land conversion, household structure, lifestyles, and global climate are among the most conspicuous kinds of change, to which urban systems must respond. These complex urban systems, spanning central cities, old suburbs, new suburban enclaves, edge city business centers, exurbs and the lands beyond, will adapt in part or whole, and to differing degrees. The principal question facing both researchers and managers of urban systems today must be, “Is this urban area capable of adapting to the suite of drastic biological, physical, and social changes it is now experiencing?”
As we envision Phase III of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study (BES), Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project, we can use a form of this question to organize our research, scholarship, education, and engagement with our host communities:

• What is the adaptive capacity of the Baltimore socio-ecological system?

Adaptive capacity of a socio-ecological system is its ability to experience perturbations, shocks, and novel inputs and still remain in a given domain of attraction. That domain has environmental, social, and economic dimensions, and hence relates to the idea of sustainability. Adaptive capacity is the ability to respond to alterations in a way that retains its overall structure and functional processes. Adaptive capacity is closely related to resilience, and reflects the ability of a system to adjust to changing conditions. It is an evolutionary concept that recognized that fixed stability is unlikely in biological and social systems, but that the components, interactions, and feedbacks can often alter in ways that maintain system identity and identifiable or desirable functions.

This overarching question requires attention to several, more specific questions:
1. How can the adaptive capacity of Baltimore be measured?
2. How has adaptive capacity changed in the past?
3. How might it change in the future?
4. How can education enhance the adaptive capacity of Baltimore?

These questions will engage and integrate work that emerges from a variety of disciplines, including soil science, biogeochemistry, atmospheric science, hydrology, community ecology, human demography, sociology, environmental economics, and education. Accomplishing our goal of understanding the adaptive capacity of Baltimore will also engage us in a dialog with citizen groups, community leaders, decision makers, and managers within and beyond government. Through this dialog, scenarios will be developed to help the citizens and leaders of the Baltimore region evaluate the adaptive capacity of their metropolitan home.

This new guiding question builds on the field and synthetic research platform developed through Phases I and II of BES. It will continue to require data organized around patterns and processes of watersheds, ecosystem biogeochemistry, physical and biological components, social dynamics, group identity, and institutional behaviors, among others. Yet it extends the scope of BES into new arenas. In particular, we employ several theoretical and modeling tools for the first time in our research strategy:
• Socio-economic theory of locational choice by households and firms;
• A version of the river continuum concept developed for urban watersheds;
• Meta-community theory to understand biodiversity in the urban mosaic.

Furthermore, we extend the spatial scope and temporal reach of our research. Although we have employed some sampling efforts that encompass both Baltimore City and Baltimore County, we have acquired extensive social and land cover data that cover Baltimore City and all of the five surrounding counties. A new partnership with the Maryland State Archives has yielded unprecedented access to historical records useful for understanding development of the current urban mosaic and its interaction with the countryside. To allow our future scenarios to be most relevant, we will focus not only on changing areas within the old city, such as conversion of old industrial lands to new residential development on the waterfront, and thinning row house neighborhoods near the core, but also on changing inner ring suburbs, and new residential and commercial development on the urban fringe in Carroll County and Harford County. Scenarios will be driven by a variety of social and ecological assumptions, to be informed by dialog with community and policy stakeholders. These assumptions can include different estimates of physical conditions such as sea level rise, storm surge, and heat stress, as well as contrasting assumptions about lifestyle, migration, economic investment, and spatially explicit policy options.

The Urban Meta-mosaic

An integrated spatial framework is required to address the adaptive capacity of the metropolis. The landscape perspective provides a useful way to conceive of urban ecosystems as complex systems, and to build the data bases to assess adaptive capacity. Landscape heterogeneity is a key feature of urban systems. The spatial heterogeneity of cities and suburbs is often referred to as urban fabric by designers and planners. Similarly, ecologists have employed a patch dynamic approach to understand this same spatial complexity. However, two insights from prior research and social-ecological synthesis in BES indicate that a conceptually layered approach to urban heterogeneity may be productive as we investigate adaptive capacity.

The urban mosaic is in reality a series of different landscapes, each generated or perceived by different actors in the urban ecosystem. For example, Don Outen of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management alerted us to the existence of a “landscape of policy” which interacted with other landscapes, such as that defined by watersheds, or social identities, which we were already studying (Figure 1). This insight led us to postulate the other kinds of landscape that could organize our research. The different landscapes when composited illustrate that the city-suburban-exurban region is actually a complex land mosaic. This multilayered compilation can be called a meta-mosaic. Having a complete model of the meta-mosaic can help ensure that we assess the key factors contributing to or constraining the adaptive capacity of metropolitan Baltimore.

To organize the complicated topic of multiple landscapes, we group them into three categories. There are landscapes of 1) ecosystem process, 2) human choice, 3) and social outcome (Figure 2). Each kind of landscape can act as a constraint or enabler of structures and actions that are perceived as a different kind of landscape. In other words, there can be connections among different landscapes. In addition, local or regional landscapes can be connected to neighboring or distant landscapes. The point of this classification is not to put landscapes into distinct categories. Rather, it recognizes different processes that complex landscapes embody.

Landscapes of process

These landscapes are characterized by fluxes. The spatial patterns of biogeochemistry, with their recognition of “hot spots” and cool spots and gradients between them, or the topographic and infrastructural networks of water and sewage flow, are examples of landscapes of process. Spatial fluxes of human migration, and the movements of plants, and animals are also process landscapes.

Landscapes of Choice

We identified one of the landscapes of choice, that of policy, as the stimulus for the meta-mosaic approach. Policies are diverse in origin and effect. Zoning regulations, economic investment and disinvestment, and transportation strategies are examples of spatially explicit policy choices that generate landscapes. Other landscapes of choice include the landscapes defined by design, and by lifestyle. Lifestyle, an increasingly important features as economies shift from production to consumption bases, determines how households deploy their resources and influences decisions about purchasing, yard management, and transportation, for example.

Landscapes of Outcome

The interaction of process and choice yields outcomes that can be mapped and modeled as another kind of landscape. The biodiversity landscape of urban systems results from the interaction of the biophysical landscapes defined by topography, buildings, infrastructure, and flows, with policies about land and species management, and household preferences for lawn and garden species, for example.

Design landscapes generate outcomes in terms of the mix of built and green, the distribution of social groups, and the array of solar and wind exposures, for example. Landscapes of injustice result from formal regulations, informal norms, differential investment, and the locational choices of polluting firms or of households. Landscapes of safety and vulnerability result from different degrees of social cohesion, economic opportunity, and exposure to natural, artificial and hybrid hazards.

Landscapes of outcome can have an important temporal dimension. Some outcomes can be legacies of past conditions, as for example when neighborhood composition reflects past policies of lending or investment. Landscapes of inheritance can exist in situations where the amenities or structures now in place were established by prior occupants of different social class, identity, or status. Furthermore, the order in which decisions are made may have important implications for the structure of contemporary landscapes. Path dependence in landscape structure thus is a third temporal dimension of outcome in urban landscapes.

Interaction of Landscapes

All the individual landscapes can act as enablers or constraints of other phenomena and landscapes. Indeed, this is well recognized in planning theory and practice, where site evaluation combines different thematic maps. The fact that urban systems are often managed by distinct disciplines or professions, means, however, that the various urban landscapes may sometimes be treated as separate, isolated entities. The meta-mosaic that results from combining the landscapes, as well as their changes and interactions through time, can provide a convenient way to conceptualize the complexity of urban systems. Documenting the connections between landscapes, and understanding the nature and dynamics of the linkages among them is an important goal for the science of ecology and for design, planning, and management of urban ecosystems. It is important to recognize which landscapes reflect legacies, or which are inherited from prior occupants and their decisions. Similarly, present day landscapes may reflect path dependence. That is, the order of past events and decisions may be important to the present state of the landscape.

The interactions across the different landscapes evoke theories of control that represent different disciplines. In biophysical sciences hierarchical causation is relevant. From the social sciences concerns of structuration emerge. In geography, cross scale interactions appear as a theoretical motivation. A shared question across all these perspectives is “How do top down and bottom up causation interact in the urban meta-mosaic of linked landscapes?”

In order to address questions of control and causation between the different landscapes, we can employ the Integrated Science for Society and Environment (ISSE) model template developed by the LTER Network. This model template, which has sometimes been called a framework,shows potential linkages between the social and biophysical components of ecosystems. These are linked by ecosystem services, which reflect human values and economic interests, and by the inclusion of modes of change that range from pulsed events to gradual or continuous press events (Figure 3). In essence, the kinds of landscapes we have enumerated above are tools for highlighting and quantifying the interacting, spatially explicit elements of socio-ecological systems. These two model templates together provide a powerful way to organize empirical research, modeling efforts, education, and policy dialogs in urban systems.
A research strategy guided by this formulation of interacting landscapes and the ISSE requires these steps:

1. Identify the drivers, including human choices, that are key influences for each landscape type;
2. Include both external, that is global and larger regional, and local drivers;
3. Identify the consequences in each landscape of the biophysical drivers and human choices;
4. Identify the feedbacks between the different landscapes, paying attention to those that are lagged or indirect.

This strategy can be employed in contemporary time as well as retrospectively by employing historical information. It can also be projected into the future by addressing assumptions about emerging or possible landscape structure and drivers based on economic, social, climate, and other biophysical factors. Hence it is appropriate for scenario generation as well as historical and contemporary model building.

Choices and Constraints in Urban Mosaics

The landscapes that constitute a complex urban mosaic reflect human choices. The choices that individuals, households, communities, institutions, agencies, and various levels of government make, can of course have both intentional and unintentional effects. In either event, the linkage between choice and environment is what unifies different components of urban ecosystems. Hence, the adaptive capacity of Baltimore depends on a suite of decisions and their consequences, and the feedbacks to subsequent decisions. Such a cycle can be represented by the ISSE mentioned earlier.

To promote our research agenda, the role of human perceptions in the interaction between choices or decisions and environmental effects must be recognized. Three classes of effects or outcomes can be used: goods, services, and hazards. The Millennium Assessment provides an excellent outline of these outcomes. Goods include materials people derive from socio-ecological systems. Services
include processes in ecosystems that result in benefits, including material, aesthetic, and spiritual ones. Hazards are conditions or events that pose a threat to human wellbeing or survival. Hazards include such things as climatic stresses, severe storms, or earthquakes.

The features of the native ecosystem, the human choices, and their subsequent effects are the source of the adaptive capacity of the urban system. Choices reduce or enhance the services provided by the native biophysical environment, generate new services in the hybrid socio-ecological system, or constrain the capacity of the hybrid system to continue to adapt and provide crucial or desired services. We propose examining a subset of the possible drivers in order to focus our research, but also to respond to widely expressed social concerns about urban systems in general and about metropolitan Baltimore in particular.

New Focal Processes for BES III

To answer our principal questions requires us to quantify the adaptive capacity of Baltimore, and to examine its changes through time. Three major areas are of interest:

• Climate change and vulnerability;
• Land change and locational choices; and
• Status and regulation of biodiversity.

These factors are significant for a variety of reasons. First, they resonate with components of the
Figure 5. An outline of the main topics and their subtopics from the Baltimore City Sustainability Plan. (
sustainability plan adopted by Baltimore City and reflect concerns addressed by sustainability planning in Baltimore County and the State of Maryland. These factors are in common with urban accords about sustainability that many cities have adopted. Each has important ramifications for other components of the urban socio-ecological system. Climate change and vulnerability relate to economics of infrastructure loss, sea level rise, coastal and storm surge flooding, human health effects of heat waves and air quality, and environmental justice, among other effects. Land change reflects locational choices by households, institutions, and business firms, as well as government regulations and agency actions. Such choices reflect personal and household preferences, community activism, zoning rules and variances, and legal environmental regulation. In addition, land change follows or influences transportation policies. Land change and the spatial patterns of lifestyle or institutional culture it arrays across the metropolitan area are concomitant with different modes and intensities of resource management and use, along with waste generation and management. Land change in the Baltimore region includes shifting pockets of vacancy within the city, shifts in use of waterfront parcels, and greenfield conversion in some outlying counties. Biodiversity reflects the preferences and capacity to manage for tree canopy, horticultural planting and maintenance, interaction between exotic and native species, and management public or open access properties. Biodiversity influences quality of life, the potential for regulation of disease organisms, and the mitigation of microclimate. The spatial patterns of biota, lawn, vacant lots, and tree canopy throughout the metropolis can have feedbacks to crime, property values, and environmental inequities.

These three synthetic features of the conurbation – climate change and vulnerability, land change and locational choice, and biodiversity – will be subjected to scenario modeling. In consultation with stakeholders in communities and government, we will identify specific indicators of these three features to project into the future. The assumptions shaping alternative scenarios in each realm will also be derived from dialog with stakeholders. The involvement of stakeholders throughout the process of scenario development will increase the likelihood that the scenarios will be useful in the policy process and in education.
The three areas of focus for BES III are important for the theoretical motivation each invokes, and for the potential for integrating social and biophysical processes. These three areas also retain a connection with the data bases established in the first two phases of BES.

Climate change addresses models of sea level change, hydrology and flooding, storm severity, and urban heat islands. Hazard and vulnerability theories apply to this topic as well. Climate change will likely affect the structure and function of urban stream networks and the drainage and sanitary infrastructure with which they interact. Hence, we draw on an emerging theory of the “urban stream dis/continuum.” The mid- to fine-scale spatial heterogeneity that may interact with and modify these climatic effects is particularly important to parse out in an urban meta-mosaic.

Locational choice is relevant to theories of demography and migration. Furthermore, in a consumption based economy, locational choice requires an understanding of market segmentation and lifestyle. Environmental justice can be affected by locational choices and the procedural inclusion by which these choices are made.
Finally, urban design and planning theory are also relevant to locational choices. Again, hydrological and stream processes are relevant to locational choice, both as constraints that may change with climate or perception of hazard, and as outcomes of land change.

The status and regulation of biodiversity draw on the ecological theory of the metacommunity. This theory is hypothesized to be applicable in urban mosaics where biotic populations may be arrayed among isolated yet potentially interacting patches. Models of this theory address the degree of connectivity between population patches, the vagility of the biota themselves, or the transportive activities of people. Biodiversity in the metropolis also invokes theories of regional species richness, and ecosystem services, the ecology of infectious disease, and of psychological, behavioral, and educational effects on people. Soil differences are key to understanding community composition. Both aquatic and terrestrial biodiversity are related to watershed structure and function, and the recognition that urban riparian and watershed functions are modified by drainage infrastructure. Hence, biodiversity also relates to the urban stream dis/continuum concept. Certain aspects of biodiversity are addressed by models of community and individual preference and neighborhood cohesion.

The different landscape perspectives used in this research will promote cross-disciplinary synthesis. Ultimately, the scenarios will be a powerful synthetic tool, as implications of one realm for processes and structures represented on other landscapes will be drawn out. However, even before the full scenarios are developed, implications of one landscape, say in the biophysical realm, for another in the socio-economic realm can readily be determined. Finer scale statistical models are a tool to permit exploring the relationships between structures and processes residing in different of the urban landscapes we will quantify.

Data Requirements for Assessing Adaptive Capacity

Because adaptive capacity reflects human needs and perceptions, it is embodies values. This puts our analyses of ecosystem processes in the realm of ecosystem services, and invokes concerns of environmental justice. Adaptive capacity in a social context should enhance ecosystem services and reduce inequitable access to environmental services, amenities, and hazards. The ecological structures and processes, and the socio-economic patterns and processes that are required to assess adaptive capacity can be spatially represented as different landscapes. The landscapes can be related to one another using the interactions such as those suggested by the ISSE.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

BES Integrated Theory Planning Meeting

Planning Meeting #4 for BES 3
“New Hydro-Ecological-Social Theory”
8:30 AM – 5:00 PM June 23rd, 2009
Preliminary Agenda
Meeting Goals
• Develop an intellectual framework for understanding the interaction between human communities, terrestrial landscapes, and the hydrologic system.
• Brainstorm new approaches for characterizing the state and condition of watersheds and streams and how future ecosystem functions and services may be altered in response to scenarios of watershed restoration, stormwater management, and sustainability initiatives
• Brainstorm new approaches for linking watershed land-use with processing of materials and energy along the urban Gwynns Falls river continuum
• Generate new research questions linking landscapes to streams and streams to receiving waters that are critical in developing and testing these frameworks
Organizing Questions
1. What are the ecosystem functions and services provided by a healthy hydrologic system?
2. What macro-scale land use factors have been found to be associated with impairment of watershed and stream functions and how do these vary across the urban-rural gradient? How might these change under climate change, sustainability initiatives, and watershed restoration practices?
3. What site-level factors drive and mediate both the physical and chemical processes that impair watersheds? What is the role of landscape design and restoration factors in facilitating or inhibiting impairment and influencing stream ecosystem functions and services?
4. What is the role of the urban river continuum in transporting and transforming ecological fluxes of energy and matter delivered from landscapes? Where are “hot spots” located along urban stream networks?
5. What are the social, economic, policy and planning factors that drive macro-scale land use patterns? How do these factors and the resulting land use pattern mediate the ability of the urban river continuum to process biogeochemicals at this scale?
6. What are the social, economic, policy and planning factors that drive site-scale land use and design? How do these factors and the resulting land use pattern mediate the ability of the urban river continuum to process biogeochemicals at this scale?
7. How can we develop a system to spatially characterize sites or parcels in terms of their contribution to hydrologic impairment, and watersheds and stream networks in terms of their expected level of impairment? What data and models are needed to generate scenarios of watershed change and corresponding changes in processing of materials and energy transported downstream?

8:30 Breakfast

9:00 Introduction and overview (Sujay and Austin)

9:10 Overview of renewal process (Steward Pickett)

9:20 Panelist presentations (15 minutes each; 10 minutes for talk, 5 minutes for questions):
Sujay Kaushal: Urban river continuum
Austin Troy: Integrating spatial methods and social research to address watershed processes
Larry Band: Headwater alterations in watersheds and links to downstream transport
Bill Stack: Managing materials and energy in urban streams: Emerging Questions

10:25 Large-group feedback on question 1.

10:45 Break

11:00 Break-out session 1: Groups 1 &2 address question 2; Groups 3 & 4 address question 3.

11:45 Present results and large-group feedback

12:15 Lunch

1:30 Kenneth Belt: Urban river continuum: Hydrology walk and talk

2:00 Break-out session 2: Groups 1&2 address question 4&5; Groups 3&4 address question 5&6

3:00 Present results and large-group feedback

3:30 Large group discussion of Question 7

4:30 Wrap up and synthesis of questions (Steward, Sujay, Austin)

5:00 Adjourn to picnic on BES lawn

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Discussion Questions for Land Change and Locational Choice Meeting

1. What aspects of land use and or land change (LU/LC) change is most important to you? What are the drivers? Impacts?
2. What are the relevant policies (existing, hypothetical)?
3. What does sustainability or resilience mean to you? How is it best defined/represented/modeled/operationalized?
4. What are the biggest challenges that cities will have to solve in the next 10/20/30 years?

Food for Thought: Land Change and Locational Choice Meeting

BES Quarterly Meeting – Planning for Renewal – April 16, 2009

Topic: Land Change Scenarios and Locational Choice Modeling
Organizers: Elena Irwin and Mary Cadenasso

(1) What aspects of land use/land cover (LULC) change are the most important from your perspective? What are the drivers? What are the impacts?

The peri-urban fringe I suspect will continue to be the battleground for LULC and for lots of good reasons. No one likes conversion of pristine farmland or forests to suburban tracts (unless you are the developer or the person buying a house in the suburban tract, and then you want it to stop there). The waste and pollution associated with fragmented leap-frog development will mean a continued focus on the dynamic edge. But I want to make sure that the central city and older inner suburbs are not neglected. What is really important to me is how LULC impacts quality of life (livelihood, safety, security, happiness, health). It is also very important to show how LULC creates uneven consequences for city dwellers and to find ways to mitigate or rectify those inequities. Regarding drivers and impacts, I sent Elena a list a few months back that I think is a good synopsis. C. Boone

Changes in impervious surface and a measure of hydrologic connectivity (does water flow continuously to stream or have opportunity to infiltrate before reaching more impervious surface)
o Drivers: development (roads should be a separable category) and mitigation efforts
o Impacts: hydrologic and aquatic living resources degradation – e.g., loss of spawning and nursery habitat for resident and anadromous fish, loss of water quality treatment and quantity moderation

Changes in Forest Cover, with subcategories for forest buffers and wetlands
o Drivers: development, and mitigation efforts (reforestation/afforestation),
o Impacts: forest fragmentation/habitat loss, loss of forest cover = loss of ecosystems services – clean air, water, good hydrology, carbon, etc

Research needs are to support better data (either better products or techniques for measuring) and to link the land use data to resource conditions of concern, like excess nutrients or fish habitat. Social issues are relevant for the patterns of development, the drivers, and who feels the impacts in human health, safety, and welfare. Anne Hairston-Strang and Christine Conn

From my perspective, land cover is the critical variable rather than land use because changes to land cover more directly influences ecosystem processes. I view changes to land use as an aggregated change that includes changes to cover and potentially to human action at that location. The consequences of human actions for ecosystem processes are most likely modulated by characteristics of land cover. Therefore, I view land cover as the most important indicator of potential impact to ecosystem processes.

At finer spatial scales, the change of land cover from pervious to impervious surfaces is critical for many ecological features of the system including heat dissipation, alteration to hydrology and the loss of “natural” or “green” space. These green spaces may be used by a variety of organisms or important for the regulation of ecosystem processes such as nutrient cycling. At coarser scales, the important aspect shifts a bit for me to one of the spatial patterning of the change. Where on the landscape relative to other biogeophysical features such as slope, soil type, and vegetation characteristics is the land use/land cover change occurring? Also, how aggregated or disaggregated is the conversion relative to previously converted land or land yet to be converted?

Economic incentives or disincentives seem to be important drivers. This is all balled up for me with policies and levels of decision making. The choice of the individual is constrained by personal economics as well as economics and policy that drive higher levels of decision making by businesses, institutions and governments. “Choices” at all levels are constrained to a certain extent by biogeophysical features such as slope. Engineering strategies often allow development to skirt those constraints. On the other hand, biogeophysical features may provide opportunities such as ridgelines that offer views of surrounding landscapes making them more profitable for development.

Impacts are too numerous to consider and would be different for each characteristic of concern. Obviously there are impacts to air, water, health and how people spend their time and resources. Also important are impacts that may constrain future scenarios or available options. Mary Cadenasso

The pattern of land development—i.e., land converted from agriculture or a natural state to urban land use—in and around urban areas is a critical aspect of land use/land cover change. This form of development has led to major increases in per capita land consumption and in low density urban land use. In 1950, the conterminous United States had less than 1% of land at urban densities (more than one house per acre) and about 5% at exurban densities (between 1 and 40 acres per house); by 2000, these densities had grown to nearly 2% and 25% respectively (Brown et al. 2005).

Understanding the human behaviors and decision making processes that underlie land development is critical, as is an understanding of the ways in which individuals respond to policies that influence land use and location decisions. Land use patterns are the result of many, autonomous and heterogeneous individuals making location and land use decisions. What are the factors (land markets, policies, location, amenities, neighborhood quality) that influence individual location and land use decisions? How do these decisions vary across individuals and what sources of heterogeneity—e.g., income, race, education—matter the most? How do individuals’ location and land use decisions influence each other, e.g., how do changes in a neighborhood and the landscape around someone influence their decision to relocate? Looking at this from a political economy viewpoint, what influences policy makers? How do societal preferences influence what policy makers do or don’t do? What determines political pressure? These are not questions that I as an economist am equipped to answer, but they are critical questions.

A key question is: What are the connections between “inner urban” and “outer urban” changes? The City of Baltimore lost substantial population in the 1950s onward due to people moving out of the city and into the Baltimore suburbs. Where did people move from/to and why? How do these jurisdictions compete for good growth or interact in other ways? How has the loss of population in the City influenced the overall “health” or “sustainability” of the region? Elena Irwin

In thinking about vulnerability analysis, the most important aspects of land use/land cover change are those which result in higher levels of population exposure, reduce abilities to withstand exposure to a hazard or stress, and those which may diminish abilities to recover and capabilities to adapt to changing conditions. Usually, US environmental justice research investigates equity among groups and whether there are disproportionate, adverse impacts on low income and/or minority populations. Answering this question from an environmental justice perspective becomes more complicated if we consider the multiple normative standards of procedural and distributional justice, e.g. Rawlsian ideas of arranging inequalities so they maximize the benefit to the least well off, or utilitarian concepts focused on the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
The drivers of these processes are very diverse. In thinking about the intersection of vulnerability, climate change, and environmental justice, examples include:
• gentrification of coastal areas at risk to flooding and sea level rise;
• increases in impervious surfaces combined with factors such as poor housing quality, lack of social services, and neighborhood safety concerns could change the pattern of vulnerability and environmental justice concerns related to heat waves; and,
• land-use/cover changes that alter nutrient cycling and result in greater nutrient burdens on the Chesapeake Bay and shift risks and costs to other groups.
These examples only address the first-order impacts of potential climate changes. Other issues that involve complex linkages are much more difficult to anticipate. For instance, the factors driving the land cover changes could differ by parcel, neighborhood, and region within the city. Uneven investment in land use/land cover changes designed to mitigate environmental hazards, such as flood protection or development of green spaces, and uneven enforcement of regulations are potential driving forces of environmental justice concerns.
The draft white paper Larry and I have started from the earlier meeting offers some other ideas related to climate change and public or environmental disease and pest threats.

The impacts are typically measured by changes in exposure (number of people, property values, infrastructure at risk) to a particular hazard or stress. If the event occurs, measures of mortality, morbidity, emergency room visits, numbers of buildings damaged, presidential natural disaster declaration, claims against the National Flood Insurance Program, and public and private insurance claims are all standard measures. Issues of job loss, business failure, mental health consequences and increased levels of domestic abuse are widely acknowledged but less often measured. Kirsten Dow

(2) What does sustainability or resilience mean to you? How are these terms best defined, represented, modeled, operationalized in the context of cities and metropolitan regions?

A brief definition of sustainability is the simultaneous consideration of environmental, social, and economic variables in all our actions. I don't like the way that sustainability has shifted emphasis from the original conceptions of sustainable development, which put poverty reduction, human health and well-being as the central priority. Increasingly the social component is an afterthought. I also believe strongly that sustainability should be normative. It should not be about "keeping going" but finding a better way forward, one that includes concepts of justice and fairness. There are a variety of sustainability indicators that municipalities have developed. These are a beginning. But I think starting with a few, directly measurable variables would get cities moving in the right direction. If I had to pick a handful they would be: 1. percent living in poverty; 2. violent crime rate; 3. number of EPA non-attainment days; 4. racial/ethnic/income segregation index; 5. Emergency room visits for respiratory diseases; 6. a water quality measure (leave that for my ecology colleagues); 7. high-school graduation rate. C. Boone

Ability of an ecosystem to remain functional and to recover after a disturbance or while environmental factors are changing – for example, an ecological network of hubs and corridors (Green Infrastructure) provide habitat refugia and migratory corridors that are important for allowing species to adapt and move in response to climate change.

CONNECTIVITY is a key element of sustainability and resiliency. Look at context for metrics that build understanding of connectivity and context. Watershed resiliency can relate structure to function; watersheds can continue to have higher function if they are structured in the right way – all riparian zones and floodplains forested – large blocks of forest in upland areas – good stormwater control – this refers to creating resilient ecosystems for extreme flood and drought events anticipated now and getting more intense via climate change. Anne Hairston-Strang and Christine Conn

Sustainability and resilience are similar in meaning for me though there is a slight and important difference. Sustainability is the ability of a system to maintain processes, functions, diversity, and productivity into the future with minimal effect on the environment. Resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb a disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to retain essentially the same identity, function and feedbacks. The nuanced differences between the two definitions may be that sustainability emphasizes lack of change to system structure in the face of use or extraction whereas resilience emphasizes dynamics and adaptability of the system in face of changing process both internal and external to the target system. For both sustainability and resilience it is often helpful to be more specific than simply to ask whether the system is sustainable or resilient. Specifics such as sustainable for what or for whom, etc.

These concepts are extremely difficult to represent, model or operationalize. They require an acceptance, if not an understanding, of change across multiple spatial and temporal scales. The changes are complex and affect and are affected by physical and social patterns and processes. This makes sustainability and resilience not only difficult to understand and study but also to regulate and requires a flexible management approach. Mary Cadenasso

Sustainability is concerned with some notion of sharing scarce resources across generations in some reasonable or equitable manner. Resilience is concerned with how resistant a particular “state” is given to external changes or shocks to the system. The “state” could be defined in terms of economic (e.g., growing, declining region) or social (e.g., segregated neighborhoods) or a type of land use pattern, e.g., sprawl. It could be a desirable state (healthy region) or an undesirable state (declining region). For example, the suburbs may be growing relative to the city, but how resilient is this growth to an economic shock (downturn in the economy, hike in gas prices) or other shocks (e.g., from policy or change in environmental conditions)? Resilience certainly has something to do with how well off a community is – with vibrant neighborhoods, good public services, etc. a neighborhood is clearly much more resilient than one without these resources.

Sustainability could be either a static or dynamic concept. Resilience is a dynamic concept. The two are related. For example, certain economic or social states in which the system is in, or the system is tending towards over time, can be more or less sustainable. There are many different possible states, some more likely than others. Suppose we identify a sustainable path for the metropolitan area in terms of the amount of land development and its pattern over the next several decades. How does this compare to where the region is now? How resilient is our current state? What sorts of changes (policies, regulations, incentives) may be needed to guide the system to the desired sustainable state? What are the costs and benefits of the different policy options (i.e., how costly is implementing the policies that would kick the system into a more sustainable state? What are the chances of success? What are the benefits if the policies are implemented? What are the consequences of maintaining the current state?)

All of these questions raise basic questions about how we can best evaluate sustainability and resilience. What are the factors/features of the Baltimore region that make it more or less sustainable and resilient? What factors should be counted and how should they be “added up”? The notion of ecosystem services is useful in this regard: ecosystems produce a variety of services that benefit people (at the most basic level, human life is dependent on these services). How are these services valued by people, e.g., what are the benefits that accrue to individuals, communities as a result of these services? Elena Irwin

Many times sustainability and resilience are defined as properties of systems, natural, social, or coupled human environment. In those cases, they refer to the ability of a system to either continue functioning over the long term with no specification of the variability, hazards are stresses or to maintain functioning following a perturbation or stress. From a perspective of vulnerability and environmental justice, I think it is necessary to look at sustainability and resilience with respect to marginal groups. To my knowledge, these marginal groups - poor, low income working people, elderly, minorities - are not typically identified as important in the modeling of systems, but circumstances resulting in disproportionate harm to any of them would be unjust.
With respect to next-generation of BES work, if we are going to approach sustainability and resilience in systems, I think it would be wise to include infrastructure systems. For example, the design of storm water systems is critical to the management of flooding in Baltimore. Is it adequate to meet potential future variability in precipitation and storm surges? Damage to infrastructure systems from natural hazards can have long-lasting and far-reaching social and economic consequences (e.g. New Orleans and Katrina; Flooding in Iowa 2008; California earthquakes). Being prepared to do immediate and long-tern studies of how resilience and adaptation occur following major climate-related events would provide a very rare and valuable data set. Kirsten Dow

(3) What are the biggest challenges that cities and metropolitan regions will face in the next 10, 20, 30 years?

One of the biggest challenges will be how to retrofit and redesign existing cities to be more sustainable. We cannot escape to the suburbs to solve the problems of the city, as Henry Ford once declared. Cities represent huge amounts of fixed capital (housing, other buildings, infrastructure) and human (and place) resources that in many cases is being underused. At some point, perhaps already passed, there will be renewed and growing interest in the old cores. It may be driven by potential return on investment, rising energy costs, demographic shifts (ageing population stranded in the suburbs), yearning for sense of place, or a host of other factors. Brownfields and abandoned houses cannot go on forever. Municipalities stand to gain huge efficiencies in redeveloping existing urban spaces rather than plowing under fields for new suburban growth. A related challenge will be to ensure that central cities can provide safe environments, excellent schools, and neighborhoods that are meaningful and welcoming. C. Boone

The biggest challenges will be the multiplicity of challenges. How issues of crime, economy, transit-oriented development, response to catastrophic events, failing urban infrastructure can all be dealt with simultaneously. Are there better decision paths for this that could support long-term environmental improvement that would not be funded on its own?

The climate change adaptation efforts may be a framework that makes us look at issues more interdependently, but it is still very difficult to implement them in a coordinated fashion with the multitude of players. Another approach may be principles of/building incentives for redevelopment, to avoid further sprawl and address the large existing environmental problems that new environmental regulations seldom address. The challenge for all cities is to recreate the urban environment – add more trees, gardens, open recreational places, trails, jobs, good schools, etc. Diversify the American dream – not the big house in the country, but the elegant, spacious urban penthouse or condominium that is safe and accessible to music, culture, good food, outdoor opportunities. Anne Hairston-Strang and Christine Conn

One of the biggest challenges is planning for or managing a constantly changing system. The changes are happening within the system and are reactions or consequences of actions within the system, but there are also changes occurring at spatial and temporal scales coarser than the system that have to be accounted for. In addition, there is little certainty of the changes at the level of detail often sought to establish policies or programs. A large challenge may be to build regulatory structures that can accommodate changes across multiple characteristics, and spatial and temporal scales and do so in a socially equitable way. Establishing acceptable risk which cuts across physical and social concerns will be a challenge.

An additional challenge is retrofitting cities or dealing with the constraints and opportunities established by past events or decisions. Mary Cadenasso

Rising energy costs: urban regions will have to contend with rising energy costs and face questions about what the “least cost” ways are to reduce high energy consumption. This will require evaluating any number of different energy saving options in terms of the costs (what does it take in terms of capital, government investment to implement, what is the opportunity cost) and benefits (likely savings in the future).
Carbon emissions: Related to energy issues, cities are major sources of carbon. What impacts will federal policies that seek to reduce carbon emissions have on metropolitan areas?
Climate change: Others will be much more articulate than I on this topic. It is certainly an important challenge facing cities.
Intermetropolitan growth: The Baltimore region will continue to compete with other metro regions for the desirable growth (firms that bring jobs and that stimulate economic growth, high skilled workers). Baltimore is at a disadvantage relative to other metro regions (regional climate, older manufacturing city, poverty of central city). How will these factors and other factors shape this dynamic in the future? This has a lot to do with the evolution of other metro areas as well. Baltimore has a strong neighbor in Washington D.C. and has benefited from the outward growth of this metro area. How will this evolve in the future? Lang and Nelson (2007) discuss their predictions in terms of emergence of “megapolitan areas” in the U.S.—large regions that encompass more than one large city typically. They argue that economic interdependence extends beyond a single metro region and thus the future of urban management depends on understanding and managing the growth of these megapolitan areas. Baltimore is located with the area they call the Chesapeake megapolitan area, which includes Washington DC and Richmond VA as well.
Intrametropolitan growth and decline: The process of household sorting implies that regions will become more, not less, segregated over time. This arises from preferences that people have over wanting to be around people like them, regulatory constraints and policies that have fostered this, and also from feedbacks that reinforce growth of prosperous neighborhoods and decline of poorer neighborhoods. Like most metro areas, many areas of Baltimore are relatively segregated. How will these patterns evolve in the future? What are the implications for the overall sustainability of the region? How is inner urban change dependent on outer change? And how does inner impact outer urban change (and vice versa)? This could be a useful way to characterize issues of intrametropolitan growth, decline and equity. Also, the notion of “favored quarter”—i.e., the subregion within a metro where a disproportionate share of the growth flows—could be a useful. Elena Irwin

This is a hard question that involves some value judgments and assumptions about the pace of science as I understand it. With that disclaimer, let’s call these speculations shared among friends.
Cities and metropolitan regions will continue to face a wide variety of compelling social priorities and goals. Updating infrastructure and regulating land-use/cover will take place in the context of strong social and budgetary competition. Therefore, in the area of environmental management, I believe that developing robust, credible, legitimate models of decision-making under climate change uncertainty will be an important near-term 10-15 year challenge. The transition from environmental management strategies which are scientifically and legally justified based on an assumption of stationary of environmental processes across time to something based on dynamics and a different standard of evidence and proof will be a tremendous societal challenge in the US. The rapid pace of scientific advance around climate change issues will add to this challenge. Cities and metropolitan areas will be waiting on the state, federal, and perhaps international bodies for guidance, precedence, and rules. My rationale for identifying this issue among the biggest challenges includes: the likely degree of social controversy; the cross-scale institutional complexity in developing acceptable approaches to dealing with high uncertainty and high decisions stakes problems (see Ravetz and Funtowitz on post-normal science). I expect this issue will be prominent in land use planning efforts and controversies related to climate adaptation.
This is just my back of the envelope calculation, but over the 20 to 30 year time frame, I expect that some key uncertainties about climate change threats will be better characterized on a regional level if not reduced. If that is right, levels of uncertainty and decisions stakes around some urban environmental management issues be within a range that allow for the use of more familiar engineering and expert judgment practices for dealing with uncertainty that will facilitate more action on adaptation. Kirsten Dow

(4) What are the relevant policies (existing and potential) that are needed to address current and future challenges?

o Clean Water Act:
 Total Maximum Daily Load limits for streams and Bay- existing and under development (nutrients, sediment, biological, bacterial, mercury….)
 Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permits (MS4)- existing and increasingly detailed
 Antidegradation (Tier II Waters)- partly located not yet regulated
o Clean Air Act:
 Air Quality State Implementation Plans- Ozone, others
 Maryland Climate Action Plan
o Maryland Planning Requirements
 Sensitive Areas
 Water Resources Element
 Land Protection, Park, and Recreation Plans

o Large blocks of forest should be considered critical habitat and have greater levels of protection,
o Impervious surface fees should be developed,
o Ecosystem markets should be developed (may require governmental regulation) to develop high quality mitigation banks for forests (FIDS), habitat, wetlands, etc…..

Research can help improve the effectiveness of actions and investments of public funding that will be required to be spent over the next decade to address existing problems.
The research need is to develop metrics that can better support workable land use planning, regulation, and markets. Where and how much reduction of impervious surface, stormwater retrofits, and increase in forest cover will make a difference to nutrient reduction or aquatic health? Neither enforcement nor ecosystem markets work well unless metrics are clear and meaningful. Anne Hairston-Strang and Christine Conn

Having no expertise in this area, I make these suggestions in the spirit of dialog. I think we need to continue moving along the path of regional planning and management. Perhaps the “boundaries” of systems need to be multiple, depending on what is being planned or regulated for. The multiple boundaries can be drawn to coincide with the spatial or temporal scale of the anticipated dynamic (e.g. flooding) or to coincide with the structural features or extents (e.g. commuting distances). I’m suggesting fluid boundaries that shift depending on the issue. Because the future challenges are also fluid, policies and programs that are flexible and can incorporate learning from past efforts would seem to be key. This is different from being open to admitting failure but rather recognizing that all decisions or actions are embedded within a specific context that will shift, requiring a reassessment of the original decisions and actions and a willingness to change course as new lessons or insights are gained.
Mary Cadenasso

On a general level, we need policies that will change individuals’ behaviors and actions in ways that lead to improvements in sustainability and the resilience of sustainable states (and likewise, decreases in the resilience of unsustainable states). So in order to answer this question effectively, we need to know: (1) how are current or hypothetical changes in policy likely to change individual choices? How will different people respond differently and why? (2) how will the metrics by which improvements are measures (sustainability, ecosystem services, distribution of resources, resilience of the system) change as a cumulative result of individual responses to policy? (3) What are the costs of the human impacts on ecosystem services? What are the costs of various policies aimed at altering behaviors?

More specifically, policies should be targeted to central city, suburbs, exurbs and the social/economic/ political role that each play. Also, we need policies to coordinate across these different areas of the metro region to incorporate the interdependencies among them. For example, central cities should foster creativity and innovation; investments are needed to prevent to onset of decay. Also, it would be useful to better understand the right timing of investments in central city neighborhoods, e.g., what is the optimal time to invest in revitalizing a dying neighborhood , e.g., in terms of tearing down vacant structures and investing in new or renovated housing that can attract new residents—this has to do with understanding the potential demand for this kind of redevelopment. Suburbs house the majority of metro residences and provide the majority of the metro jobs and thus have most of the “assets” of the metro. While they are semi-autonomous from central cities, their well-being is also dependent on the well-being of the entire metro, which is determined by the central city and exurbs as well as suburbs. Exurbs contain many of the ecological assets of the metro, e.g., forested areas that provide a sink for carbon. However, they also generate nutrients that contribute to water quality problems. Policies should be designed to encourage exurbs to invest in the metro’s ecological resources and the rural landscape.
Brown DG, Johnson KM, Loveland TR, Theobald DM. 2005. Rural land use trends in the contemporaneous United States 1950-2000. Ecological Applications 15(6): 1851-1863.

Land, R, Nelson AC. 2007. Beyond the Metroplex: Examining Commuter Patterns at the “Megapolitan” Scale. Lincoln Institute for Land Policy Working Paper WP07RL1. Elena Irwin

This is another hard, interesting question and I am sorry I will miss the discussion of it. Reasonable people disagree about many aspects of what represents needed policy for climate change. I think there is increasing broad support for efforts directed to building adaptive capacity or social learning across agencies and organizations at different levels to assure that needed new information on climate-related issues is collected, the capacity exists to interpret the information, and flexibility to act on information. Some would advocate a strong precautionary principle approach and make efforts to reduce GHG emissions. Others may interpret that precautionary approach as calling for what is termed a “no regrets strategy,” or focusing on efforts that reduce current risks and will have long-term positive consequences. One can imagine several land-use/ land cover strategies that would meet this criterion. Several participants in adaptation processes have pointed out that climate change efforts will need to be "mainstreamed" into other policy agendas. For instance, decreasing the urban heat island effect within the city would support energy and economic efficiency as well as broader sustainability agendas. Kirsten Dow

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Keeping up in BES

This year, I will focus here on activities related to the preparation of our renewal proposal for the Baltimore Ecosystem Study. We anticipate the proposal will be due in early 2010.

But there are many important and interesting things going on in BES besides our planning for the renewal.

One of them is the launch of our Education Newsletter. You can find that at Alternatively, it appears under the "Education" menu on the main page of the BES web site.

I also encourage people to check the "What's New at BES?" link right in the middle of the main BES web page. You'll see a date beneath the link letting you know when it was last updated.

If you have any materials that you would like to share with the larger BES community through our website, please send them to Holly Beyar, Project Facilitator at

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BES April 16 Planning Meeting

All researchers, educators, and collaborators of the Baltimore Ecosystem Study are encouraged to attend the next in our series of planning meetings for the 2010 renewal proposal.

Planning Meeting #3 for BES 3
“Land Change Scenario and Locational Choice Modeling”

8:30 AM – 5:00 PM April 16, 2009
Technology Research Center, UMBC Campus

Leaders: M.L. Cadenasso and E. G. Irwin

• Lay the groundwork for identifying key research questions that can motivate and guide our development of new spatial models of urban social-ecological systems (SES’s) for BES 3. The modeling approach would seek to explain spatially heterogeneous land use/cover dynamics as an integrated system that evolves as a result of human decisionmaking, ecological functioning and biophysical processes over multiple spatial and temporal scales. The approach would account for interactions among these processes that occur within and across different scales, as well as other feedback effects and constraints that influence land use/cover outcomes. It would also seek to quantify and understand the emergence of system-level properties such as sustainability and resilience.
• Facilitate discussion of key management goals for urban SES’s, e.g., sustainability, resilience, adaptive capacity. What do these things mean in the context of the BES program? How have these concepts been formalized in the literature? Are there predictive theories or testable hypotheses? How could BES 3 make progress on formalizing, developing and empirically modeling/testing these theories? Local governments within the BES study region (including the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County) and the State of Maryland are engaged in sustainability efforts. How can BES models complement and inform these efforts?
• Link our discussion of questions and models to discussion from previous meeting on climate change and environmental justice and suggest potential hooks to future meetings.
• Identify how we can build on existing data and research, modifications that are needed to existing data collection efforts, new data collection efforts that are needed
• Link our discussion to ISSE framework (see Figure 1). This is represented by the following conceptual diagram and the “six question” format that links human and ecological systems:
1. How do long-term press disturbances and short-term pulse disturbances interact to alter ecosystem structure and function?
2. How can biotic structure be both a cause and a consequence of ecological fluxes of energy and matter?
3. How do altered ecosystem dynamics affect ecosystem services?
4. How do changes in vital ecosystem services alter human outcomes?
5. How do perceptions and outcomes affect human behavior?
6. Which human actions influence the frequency, magnitude, or form of press and pulse disturbance regimes across ecosystems, and what determines these human actions?

Tentative agenda

8:30 Breakfast

9:00 Introduction and overview (Mary and Elena)

9:10 Overview of renewal process (Steward)

9:20 Guided discussion #1: Urban spatial models of land use change and location choice (Elena)

10:10 Guided discussion #2: Ecological models of spatial heterogeneity and patch dynamics (Mary)

11:00 Break

11:15 Guided discussion #3: Management goals for urban SES’s

12:15 Individual response exercise: ask each participant to write down what they think the key research questions are; turn in responses before going to lunch

12:30 Lunch

1:30 Synthesis of key research questions with full group and formation of breakout groups

2:00 Breakout groups (by research question) respond to a series of tasks (guided by white paper format):
(i) Provide clear statement of research question and motivation for this question
(ii) Articulate key processes, scales, feedbacks and constraints that need to be studied in order to address research question
(iii) Illustrate how this fits into the ISSE diagram (Fig 1)
(iv) Identify key variables and data needed to measure these variables
(v) Suggest ideas for sampling plan to gather needed data
(vi) List anticipated findings

3:45 Break

4:00 Reports from breakout groups

4:30 Wrap up (including assignment of writing tasks for white paper)

5:00 Adjourn

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BES Renewal To Use New Version of ISSE

As stated in the previous post, the Baltimore Ecosystem Study has chosen to use the human-biophysical system feedback loop produced by the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Network. This conceptual tool is sometimes called the Integrated Science for Society and Environment loop. The LTER Network has produced two versions of the loop, and during our 23 January 2009 planning meeting it was decided to use the version that is found in the LTER Decadal Plan ( You can click on the figure above to see a larger version.

There are two advantages of this version of the human-biophysical feedback loop: 1) It identifies six research questions, expanding on the human perceptions and actions component. 2) It includes the possibility that external events – whether biophysical or socio-economic – can affect the social component, the biophysical component, and the events linking the two.

The six questions, keyed to the figure above, are as follows:

1. How do long-term press disturbances and short-term pulse disturbances interact to alter ecosystem structure and function?
2. How can biotic structure be both a cause and a consequence of ecological fluxes of energy and matter?
3. How do altered ecosystem dynamics affect ecosystem services?
4. How do changes in vital ecosystem services alter human outcomes?
5. How do perceptions and outcomes affect human behavior?
6. Which human actions influence the frequency, magnitude, or form of press and pulse disturbance regimes across ecosystems, and what determines these human actions?

Because this feedback loop is an important tool for ensuring that we incorporate more effective linkages between social and biophysical patterns and processes in our renewal, the more complete set of questions will be helpful to us.