Constructing Future Nature: Ethical conundrums in the design of ecosystems
Organizer/Moderator: Alex Felson
Ben Minteer, Arizona State University: The Fall of the Wild? The Ecological Ethics of Preservation, Restoration, and Design in the Anthropocene.
Eric Higgs, University of Victoria, Australia: Back to a future landscape: prospects for ecological restoration.
Alex Felson,Yale University:Shaping ecosystems through ecological land planning and research-based design.
Joy Zedler, University of Wisconsin: Embracing uncertainty: Looking back while planning ahead.
Humans are negatively impacting ecosystems locally and changing global climates. This generates a need not only to restore impaired ecosystems but to construct new ecosystems that are resilient and sustainable within a changing environment. As the demand for constructed ecosystems expands, restoration ecologists, along with other applied ecologists, are poised to address the challenge of reclaiming and restoring degraded, damaged and destroyed ecosystems and to serve as critical players in shaping the ecosystems of the future. Yet the base assumptions that have guided the field of restoration ecology for decades, including the reliance on historical reference sites in an effort to return habitats to pre-disturbance conditions, are being questioned. Restoration ecologists are obliged to reconsider how to model future ecosystems. They face ethical challenges associated with defining the appropriateness of native versus non-native species in urbanized landscapes. For example, should wildlife habitat preservation and enhancement or public access be valued more in urban parkland? Should ecologists assist in facilitating the migration of plant and animal communities affected by global warming?
This symposium will explore possible roles for restoration ecologists in defining and establishing ecosystems of the future particularly in suburban areas or urbanized coasts. It will examine the ethical, cultural, and functional challenges of constructing ecosystems. Topics include: engaging the public through outreach and education; situating restoration projects in urbanized landscapes; integrating technology, research and design into restoration projects; and responding to shifting understandings of environmental responsibility in an era of rapid environmental change.
You may not recognize his name—yet—but Alex Felson, just a touch over the age of 40, is making one for himself as a pioneer in the burgeoning field of “urban ecology.”
Felson runs the Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory—or UEDLAB—at Yale, a bright, roomy space in a building off Prospect Street. It’s half-wet lab—a space where hands-on experiments using biological and chemical materials are conducted (dried plant species lined one counter during my visit)—and half-architectural design studio, with oversized, write-on cabinets that are covered in scribbles and phrases related to various projects. Among the technical designs, I notice a drawing of The Lorax, Dr. Seuss’s famous environmental prophet from the children’s book of the same name.
Felson is busy melding two worlds in the lab—ecology and architecture—resulting in what he calls “Designed Experiments”: innovative projects that not only enhance the landscape aesthetically, but also help study it.
UEDLAB participated as a team member with the Snohetta AECOM design team for the National Mal Union Square Competition.
For the National Mall Exhibit the UEDLAB proposed amphibian habitat as an ephemeral wetland and sound garden with specific species introductions (American toad, spring peeper and spotted salamander). The amphibian ecology concept is intended to enhance the overall biodiversity of the system. Constructing an ephemeral wetland on site would create a seasonal intensified ecological community providing habitat for a wide variety of species. We propose to construct an amphibian habitat mesocosm that links seasonal ponds and upland habitats constructed on our site as designed ecosystem gardens with multiple adjacent parcels to become a “rehabitation zone” The zone is connected to the surrounding urban ecosystems through our proposed Constitution Mall Habitat Corridor.To create these habitats we propose to construct three elements:seasonal wetlands, salamander crossings, and upland habitat.Amphibian mesocosms allow research on constructed habitats to study the impact of hydrology and changing vegetative communities to achieve habitat and aesthetic value while promoting safety and limited maintenance.
Alex Felson and the UEDLAB served as team members with Zago Architecture to develop a proposal the MoMA exhibit Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream. Their project, Property with Properties, included concepts of constructed ecosystems through rewiliding.
Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream is an exploration of new architectural possibilities for cities and suburbs in the aftermath of the recent foreclosure crisis. During summer 2011, five interdisciplinary teams of architects, urban planners, ecologists, engineers, and landscape designers worked in public workshops at MoMA PS1 to envision new housing and transportation infrastructures that could catalyze urban transformation, particularly in the country’s suburbs.