- Urban Ecology: Science of Cities by Richard T. T. Forman
The maturation of the science of urban ecology in the United States over the past two decades represents a milestone in the discipline of ecology, with great potential to enhance the relationship between science and urbanism in this century. The Long-Term Ecological Research projects (LTER) in Phoenix and Baltimore, Urban Long-Term Ecological Research Area projects (ULTRA), and Urban Long-Term Ecological Research Area Exploratory projects (ULTRA-Ex) have repositioned urban ecology from the margins of ecology to one of its most important frontiers for building cross-disciplinary awareness and understanding. These projects helped to establish new approaches for interdisciplinary research collaborations among the ecological, social, and biophysical sciences, which now are the standard for organizing research and educational programs across academia, and especially at major public universities in the United States. To broaden the appeal of the science of urban ecology beyond scientists, transdisciplinary activities must be expanded to synthesize and translate urban ecological research so that it will be more user-friendly for practitioners to apply to the design, planning, and management of cities and infrastructure.
In this context, Richard Forman’s new book, Urban Ecology: Science of Cities, makes an important contribution to building cross-disciplinary awareness and understanding between science, design, planning, and management by synthesizing and translating urban ecology’s key principles and concepts so that they are more accessible and understandable. This book will likely appeal across disciplines (e.g., ecology, natural resources, design, planning, geography, and urban studies) as well as expertise levels (e.g., advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, practitioners, and university educators).
The key challenge for any author who writes a book about the science of urban ecology is the sheer breadth and volume of information to review, interpret, and explain in one book. Cities are complex, adaptive systems and include many dimensions (e.g., biophysical, social, cultural, aesthetic, economic, political, infrastructure, etc.). Forman ﬁnds the “sweet spot” for this key challenge by framing the organization of this book around “spatial pattern, how it molds and responds to ﬂows/movements, and how they all change” (Forman 2014, p. xii). His approach has been reﬁned over many years of teaching at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. As Forman points out in the preface, the emphasis on spatial pattern in this book helps to make the information more accessible and useful to those who make decisions about the design and planning of urban spaces and infrastructure (Forman 2014). From his perspective, the “who” participating in these decisions includes many different types of experts, including scientists (Forman 2014).
One of the main challenges Forman faced with this new book was how to gracefully merge the knowledge base of urban ecology with the landscape perspective developed in his other books, most notably Land Mosaics (Forman 1995) and Urban Regions: Ecology and Planning beyond the City (Forman 2008). Forman accomplished this goal by presenting the “big picture” of urban ecology with important emphasis on the human-environment interactions across landscapes, scales, and gradients. [End Page 193]
The book is organized into three parts: Framework, Ecological features, and Urban features. Framework sets up the scaffolding of key concepts and principles of urban ecology. This part has three chapters covering (1) Foundations; (2) Spatial patterns and mosaics; and (3) flow, movements, and change. The second part of this book provides a strong introductions to the major ecological features of cities across six chapters covering (4) Urban soils and chemicals; (5) Urban air; (6) Urban water systems; (7) Urban water bodies; (8) Urban habitat, vegetation, and plants; and (9) Urban wildlife. These chapters are well-illustrated, with a number of useful ﬁgures that visually connect major points. In addition, Forman delves into how these ecological features relate to important concerns such as the urban heat island effect, wastewater and pipe systems, sewage treatment facilities, wastewater aquaculture for food, and stormwater and pollutants. Environments...