[Last Updated: September 19, 2006]
PhD Dissertation, University of Southern California
Getting Humans Back Into Nature:
A Scale-Hierarchic Ecosystem Approach
To Integrative Ecological Planning
To think ecologically is to think complexly, recognizing that reality is rarely singular, and that there is usually more than just the one thing going on at the same time. Additionally, the world is lumpy, in that some few aspects of a phenomenon usually matter much more than others, and so the world is not actually infinitely variable in any particular case. Besides, the physically tangible world that we care most about is usually shaped by apparently intangible sets of processes and functions. What we see is rarely all that we get. Under these conditions, planning becomes the strategically information-rich telling of context, and the cognitively savvy tracing of consequence.
I propose an ecosystem approach to planning, and lay out the parameters of the world-view necessary to take such an approach to an integrative regional planning. Nested scale hierarchic ecosystem ecology, or process-function ecology, provides a pragmatically robust paradigmatic frame from within which to come to know what it means to plan ecologically. The key insights from such a view are: a) that complex systems are best seen to be organized into nested levels, with purposively named systems being emergent from sub-systems, and interactively giving rise to supra-systems; b) that descriptions of such systems are inherently purposive and perspectival, and so why we make a description and where we position ourselves to make that description will significantly influence what it is we can come to see; and c) that such systems can only be known meaningfully if they are considered to have multiple process-driven boundaries, and are depicted using multiple functionally relevant spatial and temporal scales.
I use cases from the interwoven history of ecological science and social theory, habitat conservation planning, heat island mitigation, urban forestry, impervious surface management, regional goods movement, and disaster planning, to synthesize a description of what it means, pragmatically, to think and plan in an integrative and ecological way.
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