Urban ecology and sustainability: The state-of-the-science and future directions

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May 01, 2014
Author: 
Jianguo Wu

Abstract

Ecosystems and landscapes around the world have become increasingly domesticated through urbanization. Cities have been the engines of socioeconomic development but also the centers of major environmental problems since the industrial revolution. Numerous studies have shown that our urban ecosystems and landscapes are on an unsustainable trajectory. Global sustainability depends critically on cities, and urban ecology can – and needs to – play a key role in the transition toward sustainability. In this paper, I review different definitions and perspectives of urban ecology, discuss major advances and key issues, and propose a framework to help move the field forward. After almost 90 years of development, urban ecology has evolved into a truly transdisciplinary enterprise that integrates ecological, geographical, planning, and social sciences. The most salient thrust of current research activities in the field is the emerging urban sustainability paradigm which focuses on urban ecosystem services and their relations to human well-being. While urbanization is complex in many ways, we do know a lot about its patterns, processes, and effects. More specifically, we know a great deal about urban growth patterns in space and time, the underlying drivers and mechanisms, and myriad effects of urbanization on biodiversity, ecological processes, and ecosystem services. Compared to their ancient counterparts, contemporary cities tend to be bigger in physical size and ecological footprint, faster in growth rate in terms of both population and urbanized land, and more irregular in landscape composition and configuration. As coevolving human-environment systems, cities are spatially heterogeneous, complex adaptive systems. As such, the dynamic trajectory of cities can never be fully predicted or controlled, but can and should be influenced or guided in more desirable directions through planning and design activities that are based on urban ecological knowledge and sustainability principles.

This resource can be accessed at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.01.018

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