A New Book from the Baltimore Ecosystem Study

BES has been underway for more than 20 years.  Over that time, the many researchers, educators, and practitioners in the project have made significant contributions to understanding a metropolitan area as a social-ecological system.  So many insights have been generated that is seems impossible to summarize them within the scope of a standard published paper.  Of course, we have periodically generated papers to try to sum up and highlight our key findings.  But really, only a comprehensive book could do the job.

We now have such a book, edited by myself, Mary Cadenasso, Morgan Grove, Elena Irwin, Emma Rosi, and Chris Swan.  Science for the Sustainable City: Empirical Insights from the Baltimore School of Urban Ecology presents 17 chapters, framed by a Foreword by Scott Collins, and an Afterword by the editors, to make the findings of BES widely available.  

The book is written to be understandable beyond the specialist worlds of the authors, and the 480 pages include text boxes explaining any necessary technical terms, along with diagrams and photos to help expand on the text.  The references to the published scientific and technical literature are described in a simple narrative toward the end of the book, rather than distracting insertions in the text.  We have made serious efforts to make the book an accessible one.

The book brings together many different specialties in addressing Baltimore as a social-ecological-technological system.  Biologists, hydrologists, atmospheric scientists, and soil scientists join with sociologists, geographers, and economists to understand the implications of the coupled effects of social and biophysical processes in the city, suburbs, and exurbs of the Baltimore region.  But the perspectives of history, environmental justice, education, decision science, landscape architecture, urban design are also important “glue” for the book.  

All 17 chapters have important messages, but several unusual features of the book’s contents are worth highlighting.  First, Scott Collins, from the University of New Mexico, provided the Foreword.  He was a program officer at the National Science Foundation working on the Long-Term Ecological Research component of the Division of Environmental Biology when the decision was made to request proposals for urban LTER sites.  His insights on that decision and on the changes at NSF dealing with social-ecological integration are important and not available elsewhere.  Chapter 1 is a detailed examination of the ideas and approaches that were brought together to establish BES.  This story will likely be useful to other groups considering the establishment of evolution of social-ecological research.  Sharon Kingsland’s chapter on the history of American urban ecological science is worth the price of admission all on its own!  It is a readable yet impressive survey of the larger historical context of BES and how it has contributed to the evolution of that science over 20 years.  Similarly detailed and particular to the BES experience is the chapter by Grove and Carrera, two of the founding members of the project who brought the weight and concern of community activism and the need for scientific information to help solve important problems in Baltimore’s under-served communities as well as to improve the city’s environment for all and for the Chesapeake Bay.  An important strategy for summarizing the breadth of findings in the book is to summarize them in generalizable scientific principles.  This task is led by M.L. Cadenasso, who has been working toward improving BES synthesis through the entire history of the project.  A final contribution to highlight is the role of integration of urban design and urban ecological science.  A chapter led by architect Brian McGrath charts the deep and groundbreaking interaction of BES in linking design and science.

Advance Praise for Science for the Sustainable City.

Even though the flow of text in the chapters is rarely interrupted by the usual way that researchers cite precedent publications, there is a massive bibliography, encompassing 34 pages.  This is sure to be an important resource for scholars and educators in urban social-ecological science.  The Bibliographic Essay discusses the key citations that support the conclusions of each chapter, and in itself is another important resource in the book.  The essay is thus something like an annotated guide to the larger bibliography.

The editors are extremely proud and pleased with what we have been able to produce for BES and for the larger field of urban ecological science.  The book is available from Yale University Press, or from the usual sources.  Personally, I recommend your local independent bookstore, since it is a part of the social-ecological system where you live.  In paperback the price of the 480 page book is $30.

Steward Pickett, BES Director Emeritus