Integrating socioeconomics into urban ecosystem services

A CEED workshop, (UQ, March 2014) 

By Marit Wilkerson (University of California, Davis & former CEED Visiting Research Fellow) 

Picture your ideal city park. Perhaps it has benches, well-maintained jogging paths, plenty of green lawn space to spread out a picnic blanket. Perhaps it has a ‘wilder’ feel to it, with dense pockets of native bush and narrow dirt footpaths that allow for uninterrupted bird-watching and respite from the city bustle. Now what if no human ever visited it? Perhaps the very ‘wildness’ that appealed to you has the local residents worried about homeless folks in the bushes, and they’d rather drive to the parky-park that’s several kilometers away. But maybe they cannot go to that parky-park because they only have one car for their large family and it can’t be spared for recreation. What service does that unvisited park provide to the local residents then? What services could or should it provide?

This workshop sprang into being because several of us in the CEED network started wondering how the context around an urban park matters. Specifically (but still very generally!), how does the socioeconomic context matter? And how does that influence the tossed-about idea of ecosystem services? We sat down to hash out these ideas over a two-day workshop in the beautiful new fifth floor space that CEED occupies at UQ. Our goal was to come up with not only the conceptual foundation for how to incorporate socioeconomics into urban ecosystem services but also to address it in an actionable way.

Discussing urban ecosystems were (left to right): Kerrie Wilson, Jonathan Rhodes, Catherine Lovelock, Danielle Shanahan, Chris Ives, Matt Mitchell and Marit Wilkerson.

Discussing urban ecosystems were (left to right): Kerrie Wilson, Jonathan Rhodes, Catherine Lovelock, Danielle Shanahan, Chris Ives, Matt Mitchell and Marit Wilkerson.

During the workshop, we sometimes felt we were talking ourselves in circles (really, how do you define a ‘service’?!), but we emerged from it with a rich array of ideas and key overarching messages that helped keep us on track. Our main take-home message was that socio-economic factors influence both the provision and realization/ delivery of ecosystem services. Understanding that concept will help tailor green space policies and management strategies. In our opinion, that understanding and the actions that stem from it will enhance the effectiveness of city planners and managers’ efforts to bring ecosystem services to their city’s residents.

We are currently working on a manuscript that will expand these thoughts and give them some teeth. We’d like to stress that we are NOT creating a new framework (lots of those floating around nowadays) and instead our manuscript will serve as a guide to operationalize the components of urban ecosystem service frameworks that have been vague (ie, that socioeconomics bit). Keep your eyes peeled for more!

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