Still Standing in t…
By Keith G. Tidball

March 23, 2009

I was able to participate in the recent tree planting work that Monique Pile organized in the Broadmore neighborhood. The photos I took of the event can be found on my flickr site

Tree planting Broadmore

Here is an article on the tree planting from the New Orleans Times Picayune.

Seeing Green at Rikers Island

February 26, 2009

From an article in the Cornell Chronicle:

“When we first proposed the Hydroponic Learning Model [for teen inmates at Rikers Island], people thought that the students would just destroy the labs,” Schmidt said. But over the past two years, Warner found the opposite to be true.

“Instead they take pride in the vegetables, they care for them and nurture them,” he said, smiling.

Schmidt added that teachers claim the soothing sounds of water, the greenery in the environment and even the smell of produce have helped create a better environment to rehabilitate the inmates. “It is calming and healing and fosters nurturing feelings,” she said.”

See the entire article, Hydroponic Gardens Calm Rikers Island Teen Inmates.

Hike for KaTREEna

February 16, 2009

This is one of my community partners for the urban and community forestry research in New Orleans.  Great video.

On “Environment Shaping”

February 3, 2009

A few years back a colleague and I wrote a paper about  “Environment Shaping,” in the context of international development and post catastrophe planning.  The below excerpt speaks to the fundamental issue we take up in simple yet elegant terms.  No wonder, the excerpt is from a journal on architecture and design.

“It seems fundamental then, that man should try to influence his surroundings, and, in fact, much of the joy of life derives from this attempt. To deprive a man of this influence on his environment by, say, placing him in a prison cell, is to punish him. But the prison cell will do more than punish him. Such is the power of environment that the dullness and utter insensibility of his surroundings will eventually warp his whole outlook. Thus the matter doesn’t end with man’s urge to arrange his surroundings to his own will. Once shaped, his environment begins, in turn, to shape him.”

Author: A. L. Gabites

In: Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 3 (October-November 1949)

New “seeing green” ref

December 15, 2008

“A study comparing income-related health inequality in people living in areas of England with high and low amounts of green space shows that people exposed to the greenest environments are less likely to die (from all causes or from circulatory diseases) even when taking into account income. Thus, there are substantial differences in health inequality between populations who are exposed to the same welfare state, health service, and distribution of national income but who live in different types of physical environment.”
from “A study published in the November 8 issue of the Lancet finds that health disparities between the rich and poor are much narrower in areas with ample green space, Reuters reports. Researchers from the University of Glasgow in Scotland studied nearly 41 million people living in England below retirement age and the death records of more than 360,000 individuals to measure the association between exposure to green space and income, all-cause mortality and cause-specific death between 2001 and 2005. They found that the gap in all-cause mortality between the highest- and lowest-income residents was about half as large in areas with ample green space as the gap in areas with the least green space. Speculating that green space may reduce health disparities by enabling residents to become physically active and reduce stress, the researchers concluded that “environments that promote good health might be crucial in the fight to reduce health inequalities.” An editorial accompanying the study, meanwhile, says the study “offers valuable evidence that green space does more than pretty up a neighborhood; it appears to have real effects on health inequality, of a kind that politicians and health authorities should take seriously.” study is by Mitchell et al., Lancet, 11/8/08

What is Civic Ecology?

December 2, 2008

This is a collection of other uses of the term Civic Ecology.

  • “civic ecology, the overall environment in which young people are socialized into civic life.” Friedland, Lewis A.; Morimoto, Shauna. (2005) The Changing Lifeworld of Young People: Risk, Resume-Padding, and Civic Engagement. Circle Working Paper 40. Located at
  • “Civic ecology-an environment in which local people routinely work together to effect the conditions and outcomes that matter to them.” S B Fawcett, V T Francisco, J A Schultz, B Berkowitz, T J Wolff, and G Nagy (2000). The Community Tool Box: a Web-based resource for building healthier communities. Public Health Report, Mar–Jun; 115(2-3): 274–278.
  • In a footnote to a paper entitled The theory of moral ecology (Allen D Hertzke. (1998).The Review of Politics; Fall; 60, 4; Research Library pg. 629), we find the term Civic Ecology being employed to create etymological sense of the term Moral Ecology, where it is described as a cousin to Social Ecology.
  • “ Civic Ecology” is an emerging research program in the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington that explores how people in cities and communities benefit from being involved in environmental projects, how urban ecosystems benefit communities, and how to encourage conservation behavior. (Hencke, J. (2008). “Green Urban Design, Innovation, and the Emergence of a ”Civic Ecology””. In American Society of Landscape Architects Urban Planning and Design Professionals Practice Network Newsletter, May 2008.

  • The following definition reflects a planning and architectural firm’s use of the term “Civic Ecology” to inform planning and design principles: “Energy flows, local food production systems, local-global economic webs, social networks, community governance, resource sharing networks, and integrated land use and transportation are just some of the community systems that, when synergized in a specific place, constitute a complex human ecosystem or “Civic Ecology.” ( )

  • Another related planning iteration of Civic ecology lies in a community planning philosophy based on Kevin Lynch’s notion of Learning Ecologies. This iteration, or definition, of Civic Ecology is based on the following five principles: 1. Employs a Whole Systems Approach , 2. Focuses on Place, 3. Requires a New Social Contract, 4. Matches Needs and Assets, 5. Is Dynamic. These principles and their application can be explored further at: Further, Timothy Smith of SERA describe Civic Ecology as a community systems approach to achieving urban excellence and assuring civic quality. The author’s hypothesis is that whole and beautiful places evolve from careful attention to constructing and managing an underlying framework of community systems. Energy flows, local food production systems, local-global economic webs, social networks, community governance, resource sharing networks, land use and transportation are just some of the community systems that, when synergized in a specific place, constitute a complex human ecosystem or “civic ecology”. This web of relationships and flows affords communities opportunities to enhance their local wealth (environmental, economic and cultural), resilience and competitiveness and take control of designing and managing their future.

  • The term Civic Ecology appeared in a Boston Globe Opinion piece (Author(s):    CHERYL BARTON Date: April 28, 2003 Page: A15 Section: Op-Ed) and was used to draw distinctions between earlier landscape efforts that drew heavily on the human-nature dichotomy and current integrated efforts at urban planning, especially where green-space planning is concerned.

  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Kathy Poole writes beautifully about CivitasOecologie(Civic Ecology) in a chapter of a book (based on a presentation–Poole, K. 1995. ” Civic Ecology: Infrastructure in the Dynamic City,” Critical Urbanism, Proceedings of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture Northeast Regional Conference 1995, November.) (the chapter is available on the web at: ). “…the formation of a civic ecology, a civic realm rooted in ecological sensibility…allows us to enlist the infrastructure in the formation of the ecological city. A city rooted within a civic ecology allows for the most complete understanding of civitas. From its Latin sources we find that civitas referred to citizenship as a collection of individuals “united in a community, the body-politic, the state…as this consists of one city in its territory (footnote).” In other words, it is linked to a specific place, composed of particular structures, functions, and dynamics—a particular cultural ecology. From an ecological critique, the “territory” of the city may be extended to consider the natural systems that sustain the city. The hydrology, the geomorphology, the vegetation cycles that comprise the city may be regarded as significant civic structures, worthy of expression. For what is more public, more universally “owned” and collectively comprehensible than the natural elements and structures of a city, suburb, edge city? The natural systems are the veins of continuity amid the fluctuating whims of political regimes, social norms, and aesthetic narrations. And they are structures from which each citizen benefits, suffers catastrophe, and shares; they are the structures that unite all citizens regardless of affiliation with the body-politic. In some senses, they transcend the cultural interventions of cities; while not unalterable, they are immutable underlying rhythms of the city. From this standpoint, the natural systems can unite citizens across cultural barriers, and an understanding of the natural history can contribute to common cultural history.”

Urban Resilience?

December 2, 2008


1. Albertti and Marzluff argue that urban ecosystems evolve over time and space as the outcome of dynamic interactions between socio-economic and biophysical processes operating over multiple scales.

2. Albertti and Marzluff also argue the ecological resilience of urban ecosystems is influenced by these interactions.

3. Because varied urban development patterns affect the amount and interspersion

of built and natural land cover, as well as the human demands on ecosystems differently, they argue that alternative urban patterns (i.e., urban form, land use distribution, and connectivity) generate varied effects on ecosystem dynamics and their ecological resilience.

4. Alberti and Marzluff propose that resilience in urban ecosystems is a function of the patterns of human activities and natural habitats that control and are controlled by both socio-economic and biophysical processes operating at various scales.

5. Left open for discussion is what happens within socio-economic sub-systems that predispose populations/communities to favor/select alternative urban patterns? What is resilience in a socio-economic subsystem as it relates to the broader Urban ecosystem and its resilient attributes? If a community selects alternative urban patterns, did it do so because of education? Does it mean that the community is more resilient, and by extension, the urban ecosystem the community is in could be more resilient?


International development efforts often lack cohesion and coordination across sectors, are deficit-based, and treat “internal actors” merely as recipients of assistance rather than as the ultimate implementers of a shared vision (Weinstein and Tidball 2006). To address these shortcomings, Weinstein and Tidball (2006) propose a new paradigm for sustainable development, which attempts to build on existing leadership and other community assets to create an environment conducive to building security, and physical, educational, health, and other infrastructure. Through securing “buy-in” from local people and building on their strengths at the outset, environment shaping sets the stage for creating positive feedback loops that promote further community development. Furthermore, environment shaping is holistic, attempting to identify end points and interventions that are necessary to reach mutually agreed upon goals, which often involves sectors working together in non-intuitive ways (e.g., developing readily accessible sources of drinking water may be just as important to building female literacy as training teachers).

What then are some of the tools that could be used in an environment shaping approach to sustainable development? Can we identify tools that integrate natural resources, given their increasingly important role in sustainable international development? Finally, as the world becomes more urban, and as cities increasingly face threats related to conflict and natural disaster, what are some tools we can use for environment shaping in urban settings?


Urban sustainable development and civic ecology. Whereas much has been written about sustainability, relatively little attention has been paid to cities, despite the growing trend toward urbanization. Two notable exceptions are the Centre for Sustainable Community Development (2005) and the United Nations International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) Local Governments for Sustainability Program (2006). The latter has identified four criteria for sustainable urban societies: just and peaceful, resilient, ecologically-efficient, and economically viable, which are widely accepted by members of the ICLEI Association of Local Governments and their more than 475 municipal and other members. However, few strategies or programs exist that address these four criteria individually, and virtually nothing has been done to propose strategies that integrate all four strategies.

Environment shaping methodology speaks to the importance of creating strategies that integrate all four sustainability criteria as opposed to more piece meal approaches. Through ongoing work in the US and South Africa, several more  holistic approaches to building urban sustainability have been identified, referred to collectively as “civic ecology” (Wolf, 2006; Tidball and Krasny, 2006). Civic ecology integrates community action, a land ethic, and science to build sustainable societies, particularly in the face of social and economic inequities, environmental degradation, disaster, and conflict. It is asset-based building on existing community leadership and development initiatives, participatory, and creates positive feedback loops.

Figure 1. Civic Ecology, the Four Urban Sustainability Criteria, and Urban Greening and Citizen Science


Urban community greening. A powerful example of civic ecology is urban community greening, which we define as the active participation of community members in the planning, planting, care, and management of vegetation and associated structures and spaces in cities, which leads to benefits for greening stakeholders and ultimately more sustainable communities. Urban green spaces include formal city parks as well as more informal sites created by city dwellers, such as community and living memorial gardens, or restored walkways along creeks. The “community greeners” who create these sites are often low-income, minorities and immigrants who refuse to accept that they and their neighborhoods are the “troubling by-products of urban growth and decay…problems to be solved by politicians, city planners, and environmental professionals” (Anderson 2004). Rather they take it upon themselves to transform urban neglected and idle lands, including vacant lots, brown fields, abandoned railway beds, and neglected creeks, into urban landscapes that are neither pristine nor pastoral, but rather a new kind of nature incorporating ecological and cultural value. Short profiles of community greening efforts in the US and South Africa can be found on the Garden Mosaics website (

Urban community greening incorporates a number of attributes that allow it to address the four urban sustainability criteria in ways that more “pedigreed landscapes,” such as city parks, do not. Most important is the fact that urban community greening requires active participation of the stakeholders on multiple fronts, as opposed to more passive enjoyment of parks and natural areas (Westphal 2003). Urban community greeners often organize to secure and defend a right to use land that city government and business interests would like to develop commercially. They also actively plan and manage what is grown and the activities that occur at these sites. Such planning entails working with people from diverse backgrounds to solve problems, such as how to sanction individuals who do not follow rules about pesticides and weeding, or how to get the city to provide a water system.

Urban community gardens, which are perhaps the most unique of the urban community green spaces, produce things of value that otherwise might not be present in the densely populated, low income neighborhoods where these gardens are often located. This includes not only the food gardeners grow, which they often share with elderly home-bound residents and food kitchens, but also a safe space where youth and adult neighbors come to socialize, participate in cultural events (e.g., concerts, harvest celebrations), relax, learn about gardening, exercise, and enjoy nature (Armstrong 2000, Blair et al 1991, Chavis 1997, Fitzgerald 1996, Hanna and Oh 2000, Huff 1990, Hynes 1996, Murphy 1999, Nemore 1998, Patel 1991, Rees 1997, Saldivar and Krasny 2004, Schmelzkopf 1995). Through these activities, community greeners gain multiple competencies, ranging from how to grow food and proper nutrition to how to work in multicultural groups to advocate with city government for green spaces (Hynes 1996, Murphy 1999, Pinderhughes 2001, Warner and Hansi 1987). Furthermore, community gardeners are able to considerably lower their food bills and gain access to food with higher levels of essential micro-nutrients and protein (Blair et al 1991, Fox et al 1985, Ohio State University Extension 2000, Patel 1991) and urban farming reduces poverty by creating jobs and small-scale businesses focusing on the sale of produce, and by reducing costs associated with shopping and transportation. In South Africa, the role of community gardens is more directly connected to food security, job training, and economic development.

We contend that through banding together to work for a common good, the minority, immigrant, and other community greeners become heirs to the tradition of what Alexis de Tocqueville described as common people becoming the “community builders” of the American democracy where people gathered together in small self-appointed groups or “associations” to identify problems, to organize and develop new approaches to solve the problems, and in so doing to build local society (McKnight and Kretzmann 1996). What de Tocqueville described more than 150 years ago is very similar to what we observe today among minority and “New Americans” in community gardens, and has important implications for the role of urban community greening in sustainability.

In short, through mobilizing people and producing food and other things of value to communities, urban community greening appears to contribute to more secure and peaceful, environmentally friendly, and resilient communities. Through increasing property values and producing food, urban community greening also may contribute to the economic viability of cities. The net result of all of these things in combination yields a “shaped environment,” one that may be more receptive to additional sustainable development inputs, such as educational opportunities and nutrition programs for youth and adults.

Citizen Science and Biodiversity Monitoring. Similar to urban community greening, Citizen Science integrates environmental and human concerns but differs in its greater emphasis on scientific process and data collection. Through Citizen Science, trained volunteers collect data that contribute to scientific research projects, many of which are designed to monitor broad-scale and long-term environmental phenomena, such as changes in animal populations, water quality, or global climate. Examples include Project FeederWatch, Urban Birds, Monarch Watch, and the Terrestrial Salamander Monitoring Program. The Citizen Science movement originated at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, which continues to play the lead role in developing and evaluating such projects across North America.

Through including lay people in scientific research and the resulting natural resources management process, Citizen Science has to potential both to increase individuals’ stake in their environment, and to realize their role in making decisions that impact human-dominated and more natural communities. If this awareness leads to individual and community action of a civic nature, then it is civic ecology.

More recently, South Africa, India, and other countries have undertaken biodiversity monitoring efforts, in which natural resources managers, scientists, farmers, and trained volunteers work together to document regional biodiversity.
In his description of the Cape Flats Nature initiative, Davis (2005) describes an urban, community-based initiative to engage poor township residents in South Africa in monitoring managing local biodiversity to enhance community development. This project addressed economic development through employing local residents in monitoring and planning and speaks of the potential for further economic development through environmental tourism. Furthermore, it seeks to maintain existing native plant communities and to provide environmental education and leadership development for urban residents. The end result is community members becoming involved in civic action that integrates ecological, social justice, and economic concerns, and thus creates more resilient communities (ICLEI 2006).

In short, the civic ecology examples described above redistribute power and situate initiative and ownership within local communities; this in turn creates an essential role for community members in building local sustainability, which in itself leads to a more sustainable approach to international development.

From a proposal to by Keith Tidball & Marianne Krasny to the The Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies