A scale hierarchic ecosystem approach to integrative ecological planning

To think ecologically is to think complexly, recognizing that reality is rarely singular, and that there is usually more than just one thing going on at the same time. Additionally, the world is lumpy, in that some few aspects of a phenomenon usually matter much more than others, and so the world is not actually infinitely variable. Besides, the physically tangible world that we care most about is usually shaped by apparently intangible sets of processes and functions. What we see is rarely all that we get. Under these conditions, planning becomes the informative telling of context, and the savvy tracing of consequence.

I propose an ecosystem approach to planning, and lay out the parameters of the worldview necessary to take such an approach to an integrative regional planning. Nested scale hierarchic ecosystem ecology, or process-function ecology, provides a pragmatically robust frame from within which to come to know what it means to plan ecologically. The key insights from such a view are: (a) that complex systems are best seen to be organized into nested levels, with purposefully named systems emergent from subsystems, and interactively giving rise to suprasystems; (b) that descriptions of such systems are inherently purposive and perspectival, and so why we make a description, and where we position ourselves to make that description, will significantly influence what it is we can come to see; and (c) that such systems can only be known meaningfully if they are considered to have multiple process-driven boundaries, and are depicted using multiple functionally relevant spatial and temporal scales.  I use cases from the interwoven history of ecological science and social theory, habitat conservation planning, heat island mitigation, urban forestry, and impervious surface management to synthesise a description of what it means, pragmatically, to think and plan in an ecologically integrative way.

Suggested citation or credit:

Progress in Planning, Volume 70, Page 99-132, 2008

Source: Progress in Planning

Publication Date: January 2008

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