Theme leader, Urban social-ecological systems

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Staff profile

Stephan Barthel studies environmental issues in metropolitan landscapes

Profile summary

  • He has been part of developing the discourse on urban social-ecological systems
  • A particular focus on how urban populations can connect with nature
  • He uses methods and theories form the natural and the social sciences, as well as from the humanities

Explorative studies has focused on social-ecological relations (human-environmental interactive relations) for learning, memory and meaning. Of late collaborations with PhD student Matteo Giusti has focused on the role of 'nature' in the physical environment for fostering a cognitive and emotional "connection with nature".

A recent publication focused on nature routines in urban landscapes and concluded that children who spend more time in nature environments hold more knowledge and are more strongly affiliated with nature. Hence it seems safe to raise the hypothesis whether where people dwell will affect their connection with nature.

He uses methods and theories form the natural and the social sciences, as well as from the humanities. He has been part of developing the discourse on urban social-ecological systems over the years. In collaboration with Mistra Urban Futures Stockholm he co-creates a new paradigm in urban sustainability: Social-Ecological Urbanism!

Pervious work includes comparative studies on common property rights to urban nature with studies in Cape Town, Stockholm, Berlin, and the Randstand region in the Netherlands. Stephan has also worked with with archeologists and historians in have using a resilience lens on urban environmental food histories on Constantinople and Cities of The Maya.

Future research will revolve around two main themes. 1) The first will look at the role physical and institutional factors in urban landscapes have for the development of "connection with nature" among urban populations. 2) The other will continue on developing thinking on social-ecological urbanism.

Concepts that Stephan has co-created over the years are:
Social-Ecological Memory (Published-2010)
Urban Green Commons (Published-2013)
Bio-cultural refugia (Published-2013)
Social-Ecological Urbanism (2013)

Since 2012 I am coordinating the 'Urban Theme' at SRC with Dr. Åsa Gren.

Barthel, Stephan

Publications by Barthel, Stephan

Memory carriers and stewardship of metropolitan landscapes

Andersson, E., Barthel

2016 - Journal / article

History matters, and can be an active and dynamic component in the present. We explore social-ecological memory as way to diagnose and engage with urban green space performance and resilience. Rapidly changing cities pose a threat and a challenge to the continuity that has helped to support biodiversity and ecological functions by upholding similar or only slowly changing adaptive cycles over time. Continuity is perpetuated through memory carriers, slowly changing variables and features that retain or make available information on how different situations have been dealt with before. Ecological memory carriers comprise memory banks, spatial connections and mobile link species. These can be supported by social memory carriers, represented by collectively created social features like habits, oral tradition, rules-in-use and artifacts, as well as media and external sources. Loss or lack of memory can be diagnoses by the absence or disconnect between memory carriers, as will be illustrated by several typical situations. Drawing on a set of example situations, we present an outline for a look-up table approach that connects ecological memory carriers to the social memory carriers that support them and use these connections to set diagnoses and indicate potential remedies. The inclusion of memory carriers in planning and management considerations may facilitate preservation of feedbacks and disturbance regimes as well as species and habitats, and the cultural values and meanings that go with them.

Food and Green Space in Cities: A Resilience Lens on Gardens and Urban Environmental Movements

Barthel, S., J. Parker, H. Ernstson

2015 - Journal / article

This article examines the role played by urban gardens during historical collapses in urban food supply lines and identifies the social processes required to protect two critical elements of urban food production during times of crisis—open green spaces and the collective memory of how to grow food. Advanced communication and transport technologies allow food sequestration from the farthest reaches of the planet, but have markedly increasing urban dependence on global food systems over the past 50 years. Simultaneously, such advances have eroded collective memory of food production, while suitable spaces for urban gardening have been lost. These factors combine to heighten the potential for food shortages when—as occurred in the 20th century—major economic, political or environmental crises sever supply lines to urban areas. This paper considers how to govern urban areas sustainably in order to ensure food security in times of crisis by: evincing the effectiveness of urban gardening during crises; showing how allotment gardens serve as conduits for transmitting collective social-ecological memories of food production; and, discussing roles and strategies of urban environmental movements for protecting urban green space. Urban gardening and urban social movements can build local ecological and social response capacity against major collapses in urban food supplies. Hence, they should be incorporated as central elements of sustainable urban development. Urban governance for resilience should be historically informed about major food crises and allow for redundant food production solutions as a response to uncertain futures.

Barthel, Stephan

Stockholm Resilience Centre is a collaboration between Stockholm University and the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

Stockholm Resilience Centre
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Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201