[[#|Boston University]] pre-lecture
We began class by discussing Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) in Boston and the tremendous costs needed to fix associated problems and to clean the Charles River.The Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Chelsea combine sewer systems (CSOs) are connected to Massachusetts Water Resource Authority's (MWRA's) system. Uncontrolled CSO's was discharged into Boston Harbor from 84 active CSOs in 1987 which highly polluted the river.
The motivation for such measures is often financial; Boston began fixing CSO's when the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) was sued. “As of May 2011, CSO discharges have been eliminated from 32 of the 84 outfalls and virtually eliminated from 5 (MRWA)”. Given the challenges of replacing old infrastructure in old cities, we discussed the need to [[#|apply]] lessons learned from urbanization in the United States to other quickly urbanizing countries that have the potential to develop sustainable and environmentally responsible infrastructure before it is too late. We also discussed about the cleanup projects for the river and their extravagant expenses and what would be the alter way to bring back the life to the river.
The cleanliness of the river also fluctuates with the weather. So while 99.5% of the combined system overflow has been reduced, it can still be considered unhealthy to fish or swim in the Charles. The river is often worse after it rains as more pollutants get pulled into the water from urban sources.

NCSU Pre-Lecture:
Our class kicked off with two student presentations. First, Janet Felts discussed the Brundtland Commission report, which presented sustainable development as something humanity has the capacity achieve though the concentration on altering our concentrated centers of production, consumption and waste (the things that ultimately drive land change and overuse of resources). Typically, corporate drive for profit outweighs the needs of the people, which is in critical need of re-balancing to achieve sustainability goals. We can only achieve sustainability if we can balance technology and ecology with consumption (ban corporate marketing?). International Paper was cited as an example of a corporation that embraced sustainability -- seeing it as a moral imperative to protect people and the planets resources by drastically altering business practices. She ended with the question: "what do you think cities and earth will look like in 100 years, and will we overcome the challenges to sustainability?". It is a very broad question and illicited many different answers -- but we are all hopeful that things will get better. Next, Christina Vila Ruiz presented some of here work on the San Juan, Puerto Rico ULTRA project. She discussed plant species richness and abundance in residential yards throughout the Rio Piedras watershed. The sampled front and back yards within 6 different testing sites across a development gradient ranging from highly urbanized to rural. The vegetation census revealed that introduced species far out-compete natives (70%), with ornamental's being the most numerous. Ornamental's dominate front yards, while other species are favored in back yards. Both front and back yards support a huge number of species overall. She asked the question, "what is the best use of these data?". Maybe to see if policies and regulations that try to limit introduction are working? She mentioned one policy that mandates the planting of palms, which are non-native, which essentially amounts to a mandated species introduction.

After the presentations, we moved on to paper discussions. There was general agreement that the Pataki paper was a solid critical though piece that analyzed the effectiveness of our mitigation/adaptation/ecosystem valuation strategies. If we only look at the benefits and don't identify the costs, then we are doing ourselves a disservice. The discussion then shifted to the dangers of pointing out holes in research without identifying potential solutions. Policy makers are not interested in holes, they want solutions and will largely ignore important science if they are given even the slightest reason that it might not work -- without regard to whether or not the reasoning is valid. We then discussed ecosystem services. They are supposed to 'save' us and bring money to conservation, but there is no guarantee that will ever happen (it has not been successful thus far). The only practical example that could be identified is the NYC watershed reservoir, where a huge land acquisition program was implemented to preserve an upstate watershed rather than to build a very costly treatment plant network. Ecosystem services also don't work in the worlds most rapidly urbanizing regions in the global south. Land is valued by residents and community members much differently than it is by the ecosystem services sciences. How do we explain or convince a rural villager in Africa that not developing his/her land has ecosystem services value that outweighs upfront money offered by developers when the people living in these villages don't have access to water (and sometimes food)?

Nancy Grimm Lecture

Dr. Grimm began by describing the "urban century" in which 60-70% of the population may live in cities by 2050, and the collision between global change and urbanization drives the need for new theories, understanding, and action. Human activity leads to earth system changes, and at the same time, human population and migration increases. People move to cities for better lives. While cities may offer better opportunities for employment, people may still live in poverty and unsafe conditions. Others are simply enticed by governmental incentives. While reasons for moving to urban areas vary, the consequences for people in urban area prove consistent.

Countries or areas that have the highest population growth rate are in the developing world. These are the countries that will have the growing cities. Developed countries already have their major metropolitan areas. The only occurrence in developed worlds with regards to cities is that they are now spreading out as more people try to live in a limited space. Half of the world's cities are in the more developed world, but this proportion is decreasing.

Dr. Grimm showed the class a graph that had approximately 50 series. Each line represented something entirely random, ranging from paper use and houses, to carbon dioxide emissions and McDonalds restaurants. The common thread was that they were all increasing over time with increasing population.

The discussion focused on five types stresses on the ecological and socio-economic systems: Land conversions, changes to biogeochemical cycles, climate change, altered hydro-systems, and biodiversity loss. Associated with these changes are three important questions: 1) What are the interactions between socioeconomic systems and environmental change? 2) What changes can be made to mitigate negative environmental impacts? 3) What is the role of urban ecologists, and how can they work with experts in other fields, such as economists and engineers, on common problems?
  • Land Conversions: Urban areas take up only a small portion of the earth's surface. However, due to high generation of waste and appropriation of ecosystem services, cities have footprints that extend far beyond their boundaries. Factors such as the size and affluence of its residents, the types of technology used, and geographic locations can affect the size of a city's footprint. In other words, urban development both drives and is affected by land conversions in distant locations.
    • Countries with the largest per capita ecological footprints include USA, Australia, UK, Germany, Russia, and Japan.
    • Countries with the largest change in ecological footprint include USA, China, India, and Japan.
    • Examples of local-regional land change provided include forest fragmentation in Washington, D.C., loss of wetlands to golf courses, and loss of wetlands to urbanization in San Francisco bay region. Another example of local land-use change is the loss of agricultural land in Phoenix to urbanization.
    • Homogenization hypothesis: an increase in urbanization leads to a relative homogenization of plants and land cover across climate zones.
  • Biogeochemical cycles: At the local scale, cities emit greenhouse gases and discharge pollutant-laden water. Some of these pollutants are unique pollutants, or man-made pollutants, and others are natural but found in higher than normal quantities. While some processes may only have local consequences, many processes can quickly extend from the local scale to larger scales. For example, human activities in Phoenix produce ozone and NOx which are blown downwind to have regional effects. In terms of greenhouse gases, affluence tends to coincide with higher emissions.
    • Water-quality problems- can be found in rivers, lakes, estuaries, and/or groundwater. These typically lead to the issue of eutrophication, whereby all the oxygen is depleted with the rapid population growth of algae.
  • Climate change: (Directly related to changes in biogeochemical cycles) The geographic location of cities can affect both their response and contribution to climate change. Urbanization may be putting more people at risk of adverse effects of climate change. The frequency of extreme weather events is expected to increase, while cities concentrate increasing numbers of people near coasts. Additionally, the local urban heat island effect dwarfs global temperature increases. Urban heat waves may be worsened by the combined effects of the urban heat island and global change. Less wealthy areas may be more vulnerable to the health risks of heat waves.
  • Altered hydro-systems: Cities have high water consumption, and they put surrounding areas at risk for drought. Water security is a global concern. However, in places such as the US, Europe, and Japan, the ability to use technology decreases the risk of future water shortages. However, areas with low investment in technology become the most vulnerable to threats of water scarcity (Vörösmarty et al. 2010)
  • Altered biodiversity: Cities put intense selective pressures on organisms. Very different factors affect diversity in cities than in native habitats. For example, people intentionally increase plant diversity and decrease insect diversity. Species interactions are also altered. The outcome is usually a loss of biodiversity.

A win-win solution doesn't only focus on the environment or natural ecology of the system. It needs to acknowledge that humans are here to stay and that both nature and man have to learn to coexist.

Following Dr. Grimm's lecture, questions and discussions addressed these topics:
  • Most of the urban studies come from US cities - can the lessons learned be applied to countries in developing countries?
  • What are the fates of abandoned lots in Phoenix, and how do they differ from abandoned lots in the northeast US?
  • How can questions on such complex and global issues be framed to spur interest and influence policy? How can policy-relevant questions be incorporated into research?
  • When discussing studies on future water scarcity risks, it appeared that more affluent countries were able to use technology to reduce their risks. Less affluent countries, however, seemed to become more vulnerable to scarcity risks. This raised the question of how solutions to environmental and health problems in some regions may have negative consequences for people in other parts of the world. In the context of cities, urbanization may reduce resource availability for people in the areas surrounding large cities.
  • The roles of mitigations versus adaptation in terms of preparing for climate change.
  • Food security can be a risk in cities, even in developed countries such as the US. What is the role of urban ecologists in social justice issues such as varying levels of food security within cities?

Boston University post-lecture
After Nancy Grimm's lecture, we discussed the challenges of urban transformation. First we discussed these challenges in term's of Pitaki's paper. The paper, took a negative stance, stating that current notations of green are "short sited oversimplifications". The paper pointed out that:

1. Urban green infrastructure is often assumed to be the best alternative both economically and environmentally speaking
2. The benefits of green infrastructure are often considered a default, without consideration for specific cities climatic issues, legacy effects, etc.
3. Economic disservices are not given the weight they deserve
Using bioswales as an example, we considered the costs and benefits of green infrastructure as a mitigation strategy for urban ecological problems. The bioswales in California and Portland and their related expanses were discussed. Dr. Hutyra found 6 peer-reviewed articles concerning bioswales (expensive green infrastructure) on Web of Science which indicates a disconcerting dearth of knowledge about bioswales and their effectiveness. We were left with the plea to do further research. Ultimately, we were also left with the consideration that, as ecologically minded individuals, we must be careful in applying what we know versus what we assume as ecologists, in urban planning decisions. For instance, as ecologists, a tree planting program may seem the logical option. However, the Pataki paper showed that trees may only take care of 6% of CO2 emissions in the Boston, DC corridor, despite there other environmental benefits. Because Urban Ecology is such an interdisciplinary feild, at times it may be necessary to take a step back and view the same problem through the lense of an economist, sociologist, or law maker. This way we consider not only the ecological benefits of solutions, but also the cost benefit analysis and can appropriately weigh the visual social metrics. Urban Ecology is a new frontier in science and researchers are continuously working to learn from each other, adapt old tools, and invent new ones to better understand the nature of the urban socio-ecosystem. Already, old cities and new cities are using ideas from urban ecology to become more sustainable. The scientific community must do its best to understand and find solutions to these "wicked problems" so that we can make better informed decisions and improve the health and longevity of our increasingly urban world.


Eric Bullock
I wanted to post a link to a study I stumbled upon that relates to something we have been talking about recently. One idea we've discussed recently is the ineffectiveness of urban trees at reducing carbon and possible other negative effects they might have. On top of this, they can be expensive. Well here is a study that says that houses lined with trees were found to have a 50% reduction in airborne disease-causing particulate matter. While this surely could bring up environmental justice issues, it is an interesting and optimistic finding of the use of urban greenery. Here is a link to the article if anyone is interested:

Bahareh Sanaie:
I personally enjoyed Nancy Grimm lecture. She talked about how urbanization put people at risk of adverse effects of climate change. It reminds me of an article which I read while ago about China urbanization and how it effect climate change ( Pan Yu (Deputy Director of China's State Environmental Protection Administration) talked about how developed countries have transferred their industry to developing nations as a form of environmental colonialism which leads to the growth of private businesses during this decade. Therefore, immigration rate to urban centers increased in China within the past twenty years. China became the world’s number one consumer of energy (especially coal) and the largest producer of CO2. Eventually, most of the China cities have the most serious air pollution problem recently (Breathless in Beijing, Pan Yu pointed out that pollution does not limit with boundaries and ultimately it would affect global climate change.

We also talked about ecological foot [[#|print]]; here is some links which give you the ability of calculating your foot print and reduce it! or or

Mary Farina
One of the topics that came up during the questions and discussion following Dr. Grimm's talk was the set of figures from the
Vörösmarty et al. (2010) paper. The first figure shows global incident threat to human water security (HWS), while the second figure displays how water security threats shift when the effect of technology is included. In the incident HWS threat figure, the incident threat is based on the combination of 23 stressors - major factors affecting water security include cropland and nutrient, pesticide, and organic loading. In the technology scenario, the adjusted HWS threat is calculated by adding the effects of investments in supply stabilization, improved water services, and access to waterways.

In the first figure, high-threat areas occur in Europe, the Middle East, India, eastern China, and parts of the US and Mexico. In the second figure, sub-Saharan Africa, India, eastern China, and parts of the Middle East have the highest threats. Notably, the US and western Europe have relatively low threats when technology is considered. Sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, has low threat in the incident case but high threat in the adjusted case. This set of figures raises important questions about whether technological solutions to water security threats in affluent parts of the world can have adverse effects in less affluent parts of the world. However, I'm not sure that these two figures can be directly compared in terms of which locations are "worse off" after accounting for technology. Instead, I think each figure emphasizes the relative differences between geographic locations in each scenario. In other words, the increased threat in Africa may not reflect a physical reduction in water supplies, but a reduction in water security relative to more affluent areas.

When comparing the figures of incident and adjusted HWS threat, differences between the two figures demonstrate the high benefits from infrastructure investment. Moving from the incident to adjusted figure, western Europe and much of Australia show lower threat. In Australia, there are concerns with allocation and management of water resources during prolonged droughts. However, these concerns have been addressed through demand management and major investments in recycling, and reuse, desalinization plants. Even during droughts, water resources are properly managed and people are not at risk of scarcity of water for drinking and sanitation. In sub-Saharan Africa, investments in water-related infrastructure are low relative to the rest of the world. The adjusted threat becomes higher, in relative terms, due to this lack of infrastructure.

Eric Thompson
Bahareh, thanks for the links to the footprint calculators. I tried those out (2 were working), as well as a few others I found. As I was comparing them, I noticed that some questions were all the same (e.g., how far do you drive in a given period of time?). However, there were definitely some novel questions (e.g., how much did you spend on new jewelry last year?) or variations in how the questions were calculated (e.g., whether to include business flights or not). Obviously, the results of these calculations varied wildly in estimating my ecological footprint, and each final number is deeply and fundamentally flawed in its own way. But more importantly, these little quizzes got me thinking about comparisons. There were always bits of educational text talking about how to change your footprint, and I think that change is where the meaning lies. (Well, the education part too, but I’ll skip over that for now).

Nancy Grimm showed us a line graph without labels that measured several dozen variables related to human activity (e.g., paper use, McDonald’s restaurants). Less important than what each line was specifically measuring was that they were all increasing with human population, and spiked dramatically in recent decades.

Multiple times in this class, we have seen calculations that attempt to quantify variables on the city or global--scale such as bird diversity, air pollution, or water use. For example, in the Grimm (2008) reading, the authors discuss how the concept of urban metabolism views the city as an organism that takes in resources and releases wastes, and how the greatest utility of this analogy has been in quantifying longitudinal trends (p. 757). Like the ecological footprint websites, I think that given the complexity of the systems being measured, there’s usually no way to calculate an exact number that is either entirely correct or entirely relevant. However, if you can watch that number being measured the same way over time, you can see some kind of change in the system. That difference in numbers over time is something you can bring to policy makers or individual consumers to offer quantifiable evidence to support advocacy, even if your absolute numbers are dubious.

Kyle Lange: To add to Eric B, Massachusetts has done some studies on urban greening in relation to a lot of socioeconomic factors. After the Asian Longhorn beetle attacked trees in the Worcester area, clear cutting was blamed for a rise in electricity prices due to shading and wind-breaking. While urban trees may not help with our carbon problem, it would be interesting to see the pros and cons compared from a price stand point to see if urban trees actually help in some way whether it be an environmental way or saving people money way or don't help at all.

Katy Lawless
Those articles on China’s air pollution are great, thanks for sharing them Bahareh! China’s air pollution problem is a great example of how environmental issues have no set boundaries. I am taking a global environmental policy class this semester and I am researching Beijing’s air quality and the policies that have been developed to improve air quality and protect human health. Although Beijing has taken measures to improve their air quality within their city limits, it may not be enough to solve the issue. Air pollution in Beijing is transmitted from other cities and preventative measures need to expand outside of the city. I really enjoyed Nancy Grimm’s discussion, it was a great way to wrap up the semester.

Michelle Predi:
Throughout this semester, paper's such as the Pitaki paper have often made me question the usefulness of the research that is put out in the field of Urban Ecology, because, as is exemplified by the bioswales example, science or cost-benefits analysis is often not the main consideration for policy makers. But Nancy Grimm brought up the point that she often tries to frame her research is a way so that it can be most useful to policy makers. She said that she asks herself "What are the policy relevant questions?" and "Can I frame my research in such a way to optimize it's usefulness?". In this way, her aim is "use inspired research".
She admitted that this was easier said than done, and that she does does not feel that she has always succeeded in her quest to produce the most applicable research. However, I feel that this is a vital step in breaching the communication gaps between scientists and policy makers in the Urban Ecology field. For instance, if your study aims to determine the extent of a carbon sink in Massachusetts, you as a scientist may use physical boundaries that make the most sense to you according to data availability when presenting the data. However, laws that aim to protect carbon sinks may be applicable on county levels. For this reason, even a very well conducted study with important findings may not be useful to policy makers if the way in which policy is made is not considered. Of course, this type of framework brings with it the possibility of error, in that you are framing your science around a policy issue, which may skew the way you present your results. However, I personally feel that this is a necessary hurdle to be overcome in order to put new scientific findings at the forefront of decision making.

Scott Beck:
First, it was very exciting to have Nancy Grimm present to us. I've read dozens of her papers as primers for my masters thesis, so this felt like a culmination of all that work. It was also a very nice ending to the course -- integrating many of the themes that we have explored throughout the semester. I appreciate her discussion of scale -- moving from local to regional to global -- which recognizes how local and regional changes can influence global processes that effect people at local and regional levels (not as complex as it sounds). Something that I understand but don't always consider is how consumption and environmental mitigation in developed countries can negatively effect marginalized populations -- and although countries like the US generate a majority of global emissions, its developing countries that bare the brunt of the environmental and climate damages. These are incredibly important issues to solve, and I wouldn't even know where to start, but it seems like we might need to revisit our economic systems and take a closer look at unrepentant, free-market capitalism and the inequality it breeds. On that note, I'm defending my thesis soon and someone sent me this cartoon from I thought it was an accurate depiction of the urban ecological knowledge I've gained during this course... and how I'll try to use it during my defense.