Photo: M. Edström/Azote

Photo: M. Edström/Azote

Urban social-ecological systems

This theme looks at linkages between ecosystem services, biodiversity, societies and humankind in an urban context

The world is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate. In the near future it is prospected that urban landscapes converted for approximately 2,7 billion more people will be built. This is equivalent to the size of South Africa. Such urbanization, coupled with increasing inequalities, changing migration patterns, shifting diets and a growing urban middle class pose increasing demand for resources generated by the biosphere. People in cities, as elsewhere, must deal with an uncertain future due to globalization, climate change and loss of biological diversity. As part of biosphere stewardship, cities need to provide better governance of social-ecological systems both inside and outside their borders, paving new and resilient ways for reconnecting urban dwellers with the biosphere. Such reconnections should, among other things, draw on institutional and spatial designs that support self-organizing, psychological processes towards broad based environmental learning, human wellbeing, and the fostering of wiser governance of social-ecological diversity and equity.

The research on urban social-ecological systems generate knowledge in relation to above challenges and draws on methods and theories from a wide span of fields in sustainability science that, among others, include systems ecology, sociology and institutional theory, environmental history, anthropology, ecological economics, spatial theory, environmental psychology and historical ecology.

The theoretical premises behind our research are based on studies of how to build resilience in linked social-ecological systems. We aim to advance urban resilience science by improving understanding of how we can design urban systems with an ability to more proactively deal with both known and uncertain future outcomes. Urban resilience building in this sense should be understood as the outcome of a recursive process that includes a more proactive anticipation, learning, and adaptation to changing circumstances and novel events.

Theme contacts

Staff details

Theme contacts



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.

Funding ecological restoration policy in practice—patterns of short-termism and regional biases

Borgström, S., A. Zachrisson, K. Eckerberg

2016 - Journal / article

With continuous degradation of ecosystems combined with the recognition of human dependence on functioning ecosystems, global interest in ecological restoration (ER) has intensified. From being merely a nature conservation measure, it is today advanced as a way to improve ecosystem functions, mitigate biodiversity loss and climate change, as well as renew human–nature relationships. However, ER is a contested and diversified term used in research, policy and practice. Substantive public funding is allocated towards this end worldwide, but little is known about its concrete purpose and coverage, as well as what decides its allocation. With inspiration from environmental funding literature we analyze the case of Sweden to provide the first national overview of public ER funding. The understudied political context of ER is thus addressed but also regional variation in funding allocation. A database of all national government funding programs between 1995 and 2011 that included projects and sub-programs aiming at practical ER measures was created. Results show that ER activities counted for 11% (130 million USD) of the total government nature conservation funding. Water environments were highly prioritized, which can be explained by economic and recreational motives behind ER. The ER funding was unevenly distributed geographically, not related to either environmental need or population size, but rather to regional administrative capacity. It was also found to be small scale and short term, and hence part of a general trend of “project proliferation’’ of public administration which runs contrary to ecosystem based management. As ER is not yet a long-term investment in Sweden, commonly seen as an environmental lead state, we expect even less and more short-term ER funding in other countries.

Ecosystem services from green infrastructure in cities

Elmqvist, T., E. Gómez-Baggethun, J Langemeyer

2015 - Book chapter

The idea that nature provides services to people is one of the most powerful concepts to have emerged over the last two decades. It is shaping our understanding of the role that biodiverse ecosystems play in the environment and their benefits for humankind. As a result, there is a growing interest in operational and methodological issues surrounding ecosystem services amongst environmental managers, and many institutions are now developing teaching programmes to equip the next generation with the skills needed to apply the concepts more effectively. This handbook provides a comprehensive reference text on ecosystem services, integrating natural and social science (including economics). Collectively the chapters, written by the world's leading authorities, demonstrate the importance of biodiversity for people, policy and practice. They also show how the value of ecosystems to society can be expressed in monetary and non-monetary terms, so that the environment can be better taken into account in decision making. The significance of the ecosystem service paradigm is that it helps us redefine and better communicate the relationships between people and nature. It is shown how these are essential to resolving challenges such as sustainable development and poverty reduction, and the creation of a green economy in developing and developed world contexts. This chapter focuses on urban ecosystem services. It describe the role of social-ecological systems in the provisioning of urban ecosystem services, and discuss trade-offs in city planning and green infrastructure.


Live Baltic Campus

Live Baltic Campus aims at developing campuses as innovation hubs by creating better urban environment for businesses and residents. The idea is to create a working method for participative urban planning which is adopted by the cities involved as part of their normal work. Read more here

Accelerating and Rescaling Transitions to Sustainability (ARTS)

The ARTS project is an EU-funded project that assess the role and impact of local sustainability initiatives in Brighton, Budapest, Dresden, Flanders and Stockholm. Read more here

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
Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B
Phone: +46 8 674 70 70

Organisation number: 202100-3062
VAT No: SE202100306201