Framing Conceptual Advances in Urban Ecological Science as Tools for Sustainability

08:00-10:00, Mar 16 2022, CST; 20:00-22:00, Mar 15 2022, EDT

Video for the presentation.

Steward T.A. Pickett is an ecologist internationally known for contributions to urban ecology, social-ecological systems theory, and the study of natural disturbance. He served on the faculty of Rutgers University until 1987, when he moved to Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, where he is now Distinguished Senior Scientist. He has authored or edited more than a dozen books, and over 300 research publications. He has served as President of the Ecological Society of America, and on the boards of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, Defenders of Wildlife, and City as Living Laboratory. He is a recipient of the Botanical Society of America’s Centennial Award, a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America, and its 2021 Eminent Ecologist; He was one of three recipients of the BBVP Foundation 2022 Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Ecology and Conservation. He is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.


With global urbanization and the associated local and regional transformations of urban places, urban ecological science faces a “moving target” for research and application. The global realities behind this shifting science include sometimes discordant trends in densification and shrinkage; shifts in economies, livelihoods, and lifestyles; the changing forms of urban ecosystems themselves that are both bound by and destroy familiar spatial legacies. Such a complex (in the strict scientific sense) subject may require scientists and practitioners to jointly conceptualize urbanized places – from cities, through suburbs, peri-urban, and “hinterlands” – in distinctly new ways.  This talk will enumerate key dimensions of the changing global realities, citing diversity of urban processes, diffuseness of urban boundaries, modes of complexity, and connectivity of urban places across both short and long distances.  The “continuum of urbanity” and metacity ideas are presented as tools for translating these global realities to specific situations and places. Furthermore, to link the theory to practice, the idea of co-production is shown to suggest three complementary relationships of science to society: 1) the social embeddedness of research, such that science reflects social constraints and worldviews, 2) the co-production of knowledge by scientists and members of social decision making institutions, ranging from governments to communities, and finally, 3) the theoretical stance that urbanized places are co-products of natural processes and social processes. This last insight suggests that the structure and use of urban ecological science must adjust to a radically refined view of urban transformation. Examples are given of the relationship of this conceptual synthesis to sustainability.