Designing an Urban Green Infrastructure Network: Balancing Biodiversity and Stakeholder Needs

Jan 02, 2015
Emilie Stander, Myla Aronson

In an increasingly urban world, the sustainability and resiliency of human settlements will depend on our ability to understand and manage urban landscapes as socio-environmental systems. This case draws students into these issues by putting them in the role of environmental managers charged with protecting species of conservation interest in urban landscapes. In groups, students will be asked to design a green infrastructure network to conserve one particular species across a network of parks, open spaces and natural areas that act as patches of habitat (or hubs) and linkages (or corridors) between those patches. Students will choose from a set of potential sites in a particular geography (this case study was designed for the Jamaica Bay watershed of New York City but can be adjusted for different geographies) to establish new parks and/or restore degraded natural areas or vacant lots. They will be given a budget limit and will have to incorporate stakeholder concerns and needs at different scales (i.e., neighborhood, city, state, and federal) into their designs. A field trip and/or an opportunity to interview a park manager can be incorporated into the case study, at the instructor’s discretion. Then groups will be rearranged so that each contains one member of each original single species groups. The multiple species groups will redesign the network to protect all of the species at once. This will require the students to balance the sometimes opposing needs of different species in finding an optimal design. Finally, the groups will balance the needs of their group of species with stakeholder interests to explore the political, economic, and social realities associated with natural resources management and land use planning in human dominated landscapes. 

Estimated time frame: 
Multi-week unit within course
SES learning goals: 
  • Understand the structure and behavior of socio-environmental systems
  • Consider the importance of scale and context in addressing socio-environmental problems
  • Co-develop research questions and conceptual models in inter- or trans-disciplinary teams
  • Find, analyze, and synthesize existing data, concepts, or methods
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