by Kristen Minogue
Community mural in a Baltimore neighborhood. (BES-LTER)
Preserving the environment is often seen as a battle of development versus nature. But in America today, roughly three-fourths of us live in metropolitan areas. To preserve our health and the planet’s health, we need to create something new: A sustainable city.
Enter urban ecology. Plant ecologist Steward Pickett of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies has been exploring the ecology of cities—hot spots where society, culture, economics and the environment collide—for more than two decades. In 1997, he and a handful of colleagues started the Baltimore Ecosystem Study, a long-term project that now involves more than 100 people. Pickett talks about some of their surprising discoveries in this edited Q&A. To learn more, you can meet him in person on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s keynote evening lecture.
*Note: Edited for brevity and clarity
Steward Pickett (Xiaofang Hu)
How strange was the idea of “urban ecology” when you began?
It was sort of a marginal pursuit. Most ecologists in the United States preferred to think they were working in pristine areas, or at least in areas where the human hand was relatively light on the land… There was this deep, deep bias in ecology to not look at places where people were part of the system … Urban ecology is kind of a way to say, let’s recognize this and see what it’s doing. Click to continue »