A new book chapter summarizes research on stewardship in urban social-ecological systems such as in Bengaluru, India, and how stewards can overcome challenges and contribute to liveable cities. Photo: C. Lederer/Wikipedia Commons. Click on image to access source

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stewardship in urban landscapes

Stewards of the concrete jungle

The benefits and challenges of making our cities sustainable

Story highlights

• New book chapter looks at the role of stewards in urban social-ecological landscapes

• The chapter explains similarities across cities, the role of stewards and challenges they face in an urban landscape

• Case studies from Stockholm, Sweden and Bengaluru, India exemplify the findings

As the world becomes more urban - both in population and as urban expansion eats land - it is important to consider all drivers that can shift a space commonly known as the “concrete jungle”. One important force is people engaged in urban stewardship, that is, those trying to protect and maintain blue, green, ecological-cultural spaces, biodiversity, and ecosystem services.

Centre researchers Erik Andersson, Johan Enqvist, and Maria Tengö recently published a chapter on this topic, Stewardship in Urban Landscapes. Published by Cambridge University Press in a textbook titled The Science and Practice of Landscape Stewardship, this chapter highlights the importance of urban stewards for a sustainable future, as well as associated challenges.

The authors describe urban social-ecological systems, and management challenges that urban stewards encounter. Then they use two case studies from two very distinct places; Stockholm, Sweden and Bengaluru, India; to illustrate emerging insights. They then highlight a number of suggestions for urban stewards to overcome challenges.

Link to book overview

Depending on the context, stewardship may aim at conservation, restoration, or creating something new entirely.

Erik Andersson, lead author

Why are cities so challenging?

As each city has its own personality and characteristics, it is difficult to find similarities across urban landscapes. The authors, however, highlight some similarities across cities, or urban social-ecological systems.

For starters, the authors define urban landscapes as highly populated areas in terms of density, small-scale heterogeneity in terms of available ecosystems, and extensive infrastructure build-up.

In these mixed landscapes, humans connect to their built and ecological environments in different ways. As Andersson describes, “There may be invisible connections between built structures, land uses, and ecological components that matter for management, ecological outcomes, as well as how those are perceived and appreciated by urban residents…The urban landscape and its social and ecological qualities are an outcome of the legacies, spatial linkages, and their combinations, as much as of the different parts in themselves.”

Within an urban landscape, there is also always a division of land, where it can be owned and operated by many different parties and organization. When a landscape becomes fragmented, it creates openings for mismanagement across sectors if not adequately addressed. As Enqvist highlights, “Bridging boundaries and navigating scale mismatches are therefore central for achieving a co-ordinated urban landscape management that can secure ecological values.”

Who are the stewards and what can they do?

Along with the urban landscape context, there are number of important players to stewardship of urban spaces.

Public space connects and embeds private land, and formal government embeds local, civil group initiatives. Thus, having coordination of interests and resources at the cityscape scale is vital. Here there is a clear role for the local authorities. As Tengö emphasizes, “Stewardship at a landscape level is unlikely to be successfully implemented without collaborations at and across formal government levels.”

For example, in Bengaluru the governments transferred some of the urban lake system management power to the citizens. This co-management arrangement empowered the communities that receive direct benefits from healthy lakes.

It is also important to consider other players who also have the ability to influence the landscape, such as private land owners or motivated community, as well as their end goals.

As Andersson points out, “Depending on the context, stewardship may aim at conservation, restoration, or creating something new entirely. In spite of different urban landscapes representing a wide variety of environments and conditions, there are commonalities these differences: in order to work on the landscape scale, urban residents need to collaborate and form stewardship networks or organizations”

In Stockholm, for example, it was the combination and collaboration of a number of interested groups with different objectives that created “Ecopark Movement,” which helped create the Stockholm National Urban Park.

Map of Stockholm National Urban Park. Source: City of Stockholm Urban Planning office. Click on image to read more

Stewardship for overcoming challenges

In overcoming challenges of stewardship in the dynamic landscapes that are urban social-ecological systems, the authors have a few suggestions.

Most importantly, stewards help bridge gaps in urban governance. More specifically, “We argue that one of the key benefits of urban stewards can provide is a remedy to fragmentation,” says Enqvist.

Additionally, the authors see stewards as crucial for:
• Facilitating negotiations across different groups interested in the same urban landscapes
• Building connections vertically in land use management, such as between citizens and government
• Promoting access and outreach of knowledge

In summary, Tengö reflects that: “Landscape stewardship in cities tends to require a collective effort to mobilize engagement, knowledge, and funding in ways that generate legitimacy, political mandate, and influence, without compromising the capacity to (co-manage) urban green infrastructure.”

Link to book overview

Related info

Andersson, E., Enqvist, J., & Tengö, M. 2017. Stewardship in Urban Landscapes. In C. Bieling & T. Plieninger (Eds.), The Science and Practice of Landscape Stewardship (pp. 222-238). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316499016.023

Link to book review

Erik Andersson studies the dynamics, design and governance of multifunctional landscapes.

Johan Enqvist researches civic engagement in urban environmental management.

Maria Tengö researches human-nature connections and their implications for stewardship.

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