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 continuous increase in the number and size of urban regions across the world, and the simultaneous shrinking of cities in some regions, pose great challenges for sustainable development. Local challenges include for example loss of species and habitats, social degradation of neighborhoods, and an overall erosion of resilience.

Urbanization patterns and the lifestyles of urban dwellers also affect the planet on wider scales in time and space. They contribute to shape bio-physical processes on planetary scales, and affect how humans around the world mentally connect with the Biosphere. However, through their local to global linkages, cities can play a key role in the quest to continuously and increasingly support sustainable development.

Our research aims to be part of creating a better understanding of the challenges that cities are facing, and importantly, to also be part of creating solutions.

Read and listen to interview with centre researcher Maria Schewenius discussing sustainable solutions and engaging those who are struggling for survival

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.

Resilience of and through urban ecosystem services

McPhearson, T., E. Andersson, T. Elmqvist, N. Frantzeskaki

2015 - Journal / article

Cities and urban areas are critical components of global sustainability as loci of sustainability progress and drivers of global transformation, especially in terms of energy efficiency, climate change adaptation, and social innovation. However, urban ecosystems have not been incorporated adequately into urban governance and planning for resilience despite mounting evidence that urban resident health and wellbeing is closely tied to the quality, quantity, and diversity of urban ecosystem services. We suggest that urban ecosystem services provide key links for bridging planning, management and governance practices seeking transitions to more sustainable cities, and serve an important role in building resilience in urban systems. Emerging city goals for resilience should explicitly incorporate the value of urban ES in city planning and governance. We argue that cities need to prioritize safeguarding of a resilient supply of ecosystem services to ensure livable, sustainable cities, especially given the dynamic nature of urban systems continually responding to global environmental change. Building urban resilience of and through ecosystem services, both in research and in practice, will require dealing with the dynamic nature of urban social–ecological systems and incorporating multiple ways of knowing into governance approaches to resilience including from scientists, practitioners, designers and planners.


Where is your Stockholm?

What is experienced as “good” or “bad" among ordinary people often goes unarticulated in urban planning. On the website “Var är ditt Stockholm?” inhabitants of Stockholm can map places in the city they associate positive and negative experiences. 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