SLU news

The tension between urban densification and urban greening

Published: 24 February 2019

Ishi Buffam is a visiting scholar from the University of Cincinnati (U.S.) and part of a SLU research project that recently received seed funding from the research platform SLU Urban Futures.

Hello Ishi!
Tell us about your work at SLU! What do you do and what are your main focus areas?

– My background is in aquatic ecosystem ecology, with most of my research focusing on water, carbon, and nutrient flows and transformations at interfaces between land and water – for instance, riparian zones around streams. I am particularly interested in research that helps address environmental challenges, and in the past several years have focused mainly on ecosystem services provided by urban green spaces. Here at SLU, one focus is continuing a research project with Tobias Emilsson exploring how green roof ecosystems, and the services they provide, change over time as the roofs age. Another focus is a new collaboration with researchers from different disciplines to examine the potential role of urban green infrastructure in managing environmental, social, and health challenges.

You are part of a new project that received seed funding from SLU Urban Futures. Can you tell us a little about this project?

– Sure! The project explores the tension between urban densification and urban greening, with a particular focus on different strategies for urban greening, namely “on the ground” green infrastructure like street trees, rain gardens and parks, vs. “on the roof” green infrastructure like green roofs and walls – sometimes called Living Architecture. We are interested in the details and potential tradeoffs between different green infrastructure strategies in providing needed services.

– We plan to examine several different residential architectural typologies that can be found in local cities, and modeling the services provided by different green infrastructure scenarios. The main, concrete goal of the project is to write an idea paper on this topic for The Nature of Cities. We also plan to use our case study typologies to identify the parameters needed to help visualize and model the different scenarios using ESRI’s CityEngine framework, and to build a larger research proposal from the ideas and pilot data generated.

– To me, one of the most exciting aspects of this project, is the degree of interdisciplinarity of the team – apart from my own training in ecosystem ecology, the team brings expertise in plant ecology and technical performance of green infrastructure (Tobias Emilsson), GIScience and spatial analysis (Neil Sang), and sustainable mobility and urban transformation (Nina Vogel). A wide range of perspectives - very useful for stimulating new ideas about how to approach wicked problems in sustainable urban development!

Where do you see the need for future research and focus points concerning urban ecosystem services?

– I see several challenges concerning ecosystem services that would be fruitful avenues for research. One important research challenge is how to assess multifunctionality – this is one of the key advantages of urban green spaces for example, but it is difficult to accurately assess all of the different functions and services provided, and take them (and the tradeoffs involved) into account when planning. A second challenge is balancing the need for context-dependent or place-based ecosystem services assessment, with the need for more universal models and approaches. Individual locales inevitably differ in environmental conditions and climate, as well as the needs of the local community. This means that a “one-size fits all” approach to studying ecosystem services is unlikely to be fully successful. However, in order to move the research field forward, broadly applicable frameworks are needed.

Green infrastructure. Photo:
Green roofs in Vancouver, Canada.


Seed funding from SLU Urban Futures

To stimulate new collaborations and transdisciplinary research projects, SLU Urban Futures offers seed funding that supports multi-/ inter- and transdisciplinary research activities aiming at enhancing urban sustainability. 

More about their seed funding and calls

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