New paper on urban green space performance and resilience

In an innovate publication Erik Andersson and Stephan Barthel explore social-ecological memory as way to diagnose and engage with urban green space performance and resilience.

They argue that future earth will be characterized by, among other major changes, climate change, biodiversity loss and rapid changes in land use. “Whilst halting global warming requires transitions in socio-technological systems, halting the loss of biodiversity also requires thinking about how to foster continuity”, the authors argue.

Metropolitan regions are loci of both drivers and impacts of such changes. These landscapes often include cities, peri-urban- and ex-urban landscapes, and impacts are partly due to cross-scale drivers of change related to rapid and dynamic demographic transitions, intense financial speculation, and changes in property right regimes. How then do we secure continuity in the midst of rapidly changing land-uses and shifting life styles in metropolitan regions?

Rapidly changing cities pose a threat and a challenge to the continuity that has helped to support biodiversity and ecological functions by upholding similar or only slowly changing adaptive cycles over time. The authors found that continuity is perpetuated through memory carriers, slowly changing variables and features that retain or make available information on how different situations have been dealt with before. Ecological memory carriers comprise memory banks, spatial connections and mobile link species. Ecological memory carriers are often intertwined with social memory carriers, represented by collectively created social features like habits, oral tradition, rules-in-use and artifacts, as well as by media and science.

The thesis of Andersson and Barthel is that the loss or lack of memory can be diagnoses by the absence or disconnect between memory carriers. “The inclusion of memory carriers in planning and management considerations may facilitate preservation of feedbacks and disturbance regimes as well as species and habitats, and the cultural values and meanings that people attach to them”, the authors argue.

Practitioners confronted with novel urban landscapes may find support in the knowledge that whilst novel in configuration and processes of interaction not all parts of these landscapes are new. The authors argue that these landscapes contain more or less comprehensive pockets of social-ecological memory—or bio-cultural refugia—and these can be drawn on to ensure continuity by providing support mechanisms for bio-cultural diversity. In their approach to social-ecological memory, ecological memory carriers are the first necessary components upon which continuity can be built. If ecological memory is in place it may be self-sustaining, but in cultural landscapes like cities this is more likely that ecological memory carriers are dominated by, or even dependent on, human management and stewardship. The relevance of social memory carriers is therefore contingent on the connections to ecological memory. The authors draw on a set of example situations in metropolitan landscapes, and outline for a look-up table approach that connects ecological memory carriers to the social memory carriers that support them and use these connections to set diagnoses and indicate potential remedies.

In line with the purpose of IHOPE, the authors conclude that history matters, since it can be an active and dynamic component in the present. Read the paper here.