The Urbane Ecologist

Evans – 2011 – “Resilience, ecology and adaptation in the experimental city”

“Resilience, ecology and adaptation in the experimental city”

J P Evans

Transactions of the Society of British Geographers



  • climate change inevitable so people turning to thoughts of adaptation (Hulme 2008; Pielke et al., 2007; Tol 2005) but debates lack conceptual clarity
    • advocates: scientific uncertainty surrounding climate impacts precludes anything other than reactive approach; adaptation has potential to radically transform society
    • detractors: adaptation is simply a smokescreen for “business as usual” in face of “neutered” political arena (Swyngedouw, 2007) – distract from serious business of mitigation and regulatory reform (Meadowcroft 2009)
  • this paper: traces mode of adaptation situated within policy discourse of resilience ecology + explores implication of “ecologising” urban governance and rendering it “experimental”
  • why do policymakers like resilience so much
    • “its ontological acceptance of flux and epistemological obsession with learning seems ideally suited to the challenges of surviving in a world in which “substantial and novel” impacts on the biosphere will take humanity into largely uncharted territory (Raudsepp-Heearne et al., 2010).”
    • championed as mechanism with which to achieve sustainability
    • resilience features heavily on urban research agendas
  • “there is a clear political ecology to resilience”: “Transformed from an ecological theory into a socio-ecological governance framework in some 20 years, it constitutes a pseudo-scientific policy discourse that (wittingly and unwittingly) exerts considerable power over how things should be done (Forsyth 2003).”
    • accepts change passively
    • rather than questioning human causes of crises (human or economic), emphasizes needs for individuals/communities/cities to simply adapt
    • resonats with neoliberal discourses of capitalism – precludes political debate concerning causes and desirability of change
  • non-equilibirum approaches to environmental governance have been heralded by some geographers as the potential basis for an “environmental politics of progressive social movements” (Zimmerer 2000)
  • Social-Ecological System (SES) – influential research programme in urban ecology – conceives of city as integrated SES
    • based on non-equilib theory, complexity and non-linearity
    • emphaiseses resilience and adaptive learning as path to urban sustainability in face of climate chang
    • mitigation is global scientific endeavor
    • adaptation requires localized applied knowledge
    • SES approach – representative of emergent forms of adaptive governance that abandons Modernist dream of total control
    • acknowledges inherently unpredictable and unplannable nature of cities
  • Baltimore and Phoenix Projects in US Long Term Ecological Research Network
  • innovation institutionalized under neoliberal logic of urban competitiveness (Lovering 1999) + climate change reinvigorating need to “cultivate new techniques of governance” for urban sustainability (Hodson and Marvin 2007) à experimentation supposed to prompt radical social and technical transition by testing out diff technologies under range of conditions in highly visible ways
    • g. Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network
  • (Driver)  à (Process)    à (Practice)               à (Goal)
    Climate change à Adaptation à Experimentation à Resilience
  • “The sustainable city today is characterized by forms of scientific-admin knowledge; Stephanie Pincetl à before sanitary city didn’t have cholera or polio, now it doesn’t have particulates, volatile organic compounds, etc (2010a)
  • urban historians tend to see cities as the sites of knowledge application, but they also play an active role in producing scientific knowledge
  • Chicago School of urban sociology
  • urban ecology emerged as sub-discipline in 1970s – UNESCO establishes Man and Biosphee Programme
  • earth systems approach establishes environment as something governable (Hulme 2008) complements organicist convictions re coherence of cities & provides conductive climate for establishment of systemic approaches to urban env. science; tend to focus on applying ecological principles to cities, rather than developing specifically urban ecological principles
  • large-scale funding à ecosystemic approaches to cities move up in environmental agenda post rio (Weiland and Matthias 2009); redesigning urban metabolism in view of sustainability goals becomes relevant research question for urban ecology àsystemic ecology has emergent in current era of eco-towns and sustainable cities as explicit knowledge base for urban planning
  • ecologists increasingly argue that urban ecosystem require attention and that modesl should include humans to be generally applicable (Marcotullio et al. 2003; Vitousek et al 1997) à Grimm et al., 2000 suggest shift from ecology in cities to ecology of cities
  • urban ecology has ambitious plans to establish concepts that work across multiple scales, unite ecological and social understanings, address real-world urban problems but scientific basis for such synthesis doesn’t exist
  • establishment of city as SES dates back to Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) sites in Baltimore and Phoenix in USA – really good section on these, but no notes here
  • Holling (2004) calls for creation of conditions that promote multiple low-cost innovative experiments in governance


References included in notes


Forsyth T 2003 Critical political ecology Routledge, London


Grimm N, Grove J, Pickett S and Redman C 2000 Integrated

approaches to long-term studies of urban ecological

systems Biosciences 50 571–84


Hodson M and Marvin S 2007 Understanding the role of

the national exemplar in constructing ‘strategic glurbanisation’

International Journal of Urban and Regional

Research 31 303–25


Hulme M 2008 Governing and adapting to climate. A

response to Ian Bailey’s commentary on ‘Geographical

work at the boundaries of climate change’ Transactions

of the Institute of British Geographers 33 424–7


Lovering J 1999 Theory led by policy: the inadequacies of

the ‘new regionalism’ International Journal of Urban and

Regional Research 23 379–95


Marcotullio P, Piracha A and King C 2003 Urban ecosystems

and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment:

towards an inclusive framework UNU⁄ IAS working

paper no 105


Meadowcroft J 2009 What about the politics? Sustainable

development, transition management, and long term

energy transitions Policy Science 42 323–40


Pielke R, Prins G, Rayner S and Sarewitz D 2007 Lifting

the taboo on adaptation Nature 445 597–8


Pincetl S 2010a From the sanitary city to the sustainable

city: challenges to institutionalising biogenic (nature’s

services) infrastructure Local Environment 15 43–58


Raudsepp-Hearne C, Peterson G, Tengo¨ M and Bennett E

2010 Untangling the environmentalists’ paradox: why is

human well-being increasing as ecosystem services

degrade? Bioscience 60 576–89


Swyngedouw E 2007 Impossible sustainability and the postpolitical

condition in Krueger R and Gibbs D eds The sustainable

development paradox: urban political economy in the

US and Europe Guilford Press, New York 13–40


Tol R 2005 Adaptation and mitigation: trade-offs in substance

and methods Environmental Science and Policy 8



Weiland U and Matthias R 2009 Lines of tradition and

recent approaches to urban ecology, focussing on Germany

and the USA GAIA – Ecological Perspectives for Science

and Society 18 49–57


Vitousek P, Mooney H, Lubchenko J and Melillo J 1997

Human domination of Earths’ ecosystem Science 277


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s