Urban Transitions: On urban resilience and human-dominated ecosystems

Ernstston, Henrik et al. 2010. “Urban Transitions: On urban resilience and human-dominated ecosystems.” AMBIO 39 (2010): 531–545.

reading notes

In this article, we have visited three cities and drawn upon systems analysis to shape an argument that uncertainty needs to be faced with experimentation, learning, and innovation, and – since innovation reaches extreme levels in cities – that the urban should be framed as an opportunity for sustainability. Furthermore, since urban innovation is a driver of urbanization, it influences (often negatively) ecosystems across the globe, which places urban innovation at the heart of resilience for well-nigh all ecosystems. The challenge lies in harnessing urban innovation toward sustainability and learning at various scales and across sectors. This implies the need to construct discourses that undermine the artificial and culturally biased notion that society and cities are separated from nature and countryside, and instead view cities as reciprocal parts of regional ecosystems and dynamic landscapes, constituted out of social–ecological processes from ecosystems across the globe (Luccarelli 1996). (541)

Innovations can be framed as technical, social, socio-technical, or as we would argue, social–ecological, but are embodied and implemented through social networks of recursive communication and alignment. Drawing upon sociology, we will argue that innovation sits at the heart of understanding resilience and transformative capacity in human-dominated systems.… (538)

This firmly frames the urban system as an opportunity for sustainability and drives us to recognize that the answer to increased resilience might not lie in its ecological dimension, but rather in the social. In order to build resilience and face uncertainty and change means to harness the interactions between stakeholders. This requires an involvement of society in its broadest sense towards a change of culture that makes ‘‘collaboration’’ between society and the environment (rather than mere ‘‘interaction’’) the central focus of attention. (538)

However, there is a lack of theory that links the scale of the city (resilience in cities), to the scale of ‘‘systems of cities’’ (resilience of cities). More explicitly, we lack theory to analyze the panarchies of urban networks, i.e., the dynamic interlinkages between social and technical networks that sustain energy, matter, and information, and how these dynamic networks influence ecological networks and the capacity to generate local-to-regional ecosystem services (but see Alberti and Marzluff 2004; Pickett et al. 2008). For instance, how do technical networks shape urban land-use patterns and influence urban ecosystems? Efforts in these directions should also integrate urban political ecology (Heynen et al. 2006) to make explicit that planning and governance is always entangled in politics (Flyvbjerg 1998).

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