Urban areas are increasingly being recognised for their role in generating critical ecosystem services for human well-being. Green areas such as parks, wetlands, cemeteries and urban forests not only provide taken-for-granted services such as shade and space for recreation, but also aerosol filtering and seed dispersal services that support biodiversity.
Although previous research has shown how ecosystem managers can make a difference due to their capacity to make much out of little, there is little research on how different actor groups contribute and interact with each other in the management of ecosystems in urban landscapes.
Sticking to their own kind
In a recent article in Ecology and Society, centre researchers Henrik Ernstson, Stephan Barthel and Sara T. Borgström, together with Erik Andersson from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, have discussed ways to improve the communication between management stakeholders of green areas in Stockholm.
They argue that the current governance of Stockholm's green area ecosystems does not fully appreciate the connection between land use and ecological functions and that current governance neglects cross-scale dynamics between different actor groups. Most areas are considered in isolation rather than ecologically interlinked with other green areas nearby.
The consequence is that groups of actors tend to ignore ecological processes beyond their own focus area. For example, cemetery managers tend to form stronger ties with other cemetery managers, and weaker or no ties with actor groups and managers from adjacent green areas.
"This lack of social ties between managers of adjacent areas indicates a limited ability to synchronise management across these areas. Instead of viewing their green areas as part of an ecologically linked landscape, they are seen as belonging to a group of spatially distant areas", says Stephan Barthel.
Social networks to improve adaptive governance
Different actor groups have different and often scale-specific knowledge about the ecosystem which is crucial for the overall understanding of the ecosystem.
Based on a set of case studies from Stockholm, the researchers use network theory to develop an alternative social network structure to facilitate the emergence of adaptive capacity among the different actors.
"Social networks are important in ecosystem governance and management because adaptive governance implies different forms of collaboration that involve coordination, social learning, knowledge integration, trust building and conflict resolution. Moving from individual actors to network structures can extend the on-going discussion on bridging organisations and provide us with insights of how more purposeful network structures for ecosystem governance should look like", Henrik Ernstson says.
Crossroads for possibilites
The researchers suggest the creation of midscale managers and scale-crossing brokers to promote new relations between groups with knowledge to improve adaptive governance of the green areas.
Scale-crossing practices could be seen as a way of creating new and unique pathways for a diversity of actor groups to meet and exchange experiences, with the aim of nurturing arenas of innovation.
"Scale-crossing brokers and managers can act as agents for nurturing new social networks and cross-scale interactions between centralised and decentralised actors that would otherwise not communicate", Ernstson says.
The potential exists for these brokers, by linking otherwise unconnected actors, to become exceptional crossroads of possibilities and exchanges of experiences.
“We call for a better appreciation of urban green areas, not only its ecology and recreational aspects, but also because it's where knowledge and learning about ecosystems takes place. Our contribution has been to provide conceptual tools like the scale-crossing broker to enrich debates on how to handle cross-scale learning and adaptive ecosystem governance", Ernstson and Barthel conclude.
See video interview with Associate Professor Ann Kinzig explaining urban ecology:
About the centre authors:
Henrik Ernstson pursues an understanding of cities and urban landscapes from a social-ecological perspective. He is interested in developing frameworks that can account both for ecological complexity as well as issues of social equity and power.
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