Research Group: Urban & Political Economy
Understanding the role played by cities and city dwellers, as entities in the ecological world system, is crucial if humans are to direct social development onto a sustainable trajectory. More than half of humanity now lives in urban environments and as their numbers escalate, their actions will have ever-increasing significance in determining the future livability of the earth for humans.
Given the current status of the world ecological system, will it continue to have the ability to provide indefinitely the material necessities for human existence on earth? A tractable method for integrating the vast quantity of information required to answer these questions has been emerging too slowly to counteract the status quo of unsustainable practice and too slowly, some contend, to steer clear of the dire consequences forecast as a result of this inability.
Since human practice has a direct affect on how the issues raised by these questions ultimately play out, it is evident that a framework of understanding for integrating and analyzing the role of humans in cities, as ecological actors on a planetary scale, is necessary. But the issues are multiscalar in both temporal and spatial dimensions. Ecological outcomes arise as the result of complex interactions between social systems (economic, political, ethnic, and many others) and natural systems (forests, wetlands, prairies and many others) and defy simple cause and effect explanation. Thus tractability has been an acute problem because causes and effects are distributed unevenly in space and time and any particular effect may have multiple causes (or vice versa) also dislocated in space and/or time.
Mathematical predictions regarding the future course of human systems have been notoriously inaccurate except over the shortest of horizons precisely because, in their generality, they cannot account for every possible contingency.
This reserach has two, intertwined purposes. One is to make the case that the city can be conceived of as being ‘a part of’ rather than ‘apart from’ nature because doing so allows for a rational analysis of cities in terms of their ecological function as components of the world system. The second purpose is to make this case convincingly while at the same time avoiding the methodological problems created by social unpredictability and mathematical tractability that have bedeviled previous attempts at answering big questions.