My research is formulated on the basis that ecological restoration is becoming more important in terms of pollutant treatment, carbon sequestration and biodiversity Contemporary Canadian cities are resolving to incorporate more environmentally sustainable practices in their strategic plans. Many southern Ontario cities are adopting goals in favour of ecological restoration yet these issues are not being realized. In reality, many of these cities are slowly progressing, if at all, towards a greener vision.
Perceptions of landscape ecology often muddy the lines between true ecological function and nature in a socially constructed sense. Namely, residents do not understand what native ecology looks like. Consequently residents’ views are limited to superficial views of the landscape such as rare ecosystems or cultivated landscapes. Residents see wetlands as swamps for instance. Thus, we must approach ecological restoration in a more scientific, eco-regional sense to maintain essential ecological function. These issues need to be addressed through an approach which gauges resident perception to inform regional and municipal policies. At present, the signs of restoration are considered messy or disorderly (Nassauer, 1995). Therefore aesthetics and ecology must meet towards what visible stewardship (Sheppard, 2001)In the City of Waterloo, a fast growing urban area, the issues are identified, but planners struggle to understand the public’s perceptions of ecological restoration and how to make it a socially acceptable idea.
The questions to be addressed through my Master’s research at the University of Waterloo include: What are urban residents’ perceptions of restoration ecology? How can the ecological restoration of urban areas be systematically incorporated into policy? In answering these questions, we can understand and built on the body of knowledge which addresses the inconsistencies in Canadian cities in terms of environmental policy and what occurs in actuality.
Many have pointed out the shortcomings of environmental movements and climate change discussions as a result of the exclusion of public opinion. This is often due to the difficulties making sustainability tangible to the wide public and representing them in a meaningful way. There is also an abundance of contemporary ecological restoration research which stresses habitat based restoration as a solution. This stresses rational, technical, objectively derived values. Studies often focus on states and processes, ecosystems, production systems, and spatial scales to restore and control the ecosystem rather than elicit the social and cultural importance of ecology.We cannot simply look at ecological restoration through habitat based restoration due to the vested interests involved. An approach which takes technically derived versions of the landscape and finds a common vision among public members through the understanding of public perception and landscape preference would make ecological restoration goals a reality. Based on the literature, most studies on the topic are from the US, particularly from Chicago. This alludes to the notion that we need more restoration research in Canada.In order to better connect public perception within policy, there will need to be methodology which studies can employ in order to allow active participation of the public and inform policy to make ecological restoration goals a reality. More contemporary studies stress the effective application of collaborative planning models. There are two main camps for effective public involvement in ecological restoration from the literature. The first is through the use of surveys in quantitative research to understand public perception of the results of restoration efforts. The second is a more qualitative approach through the use of visualization tools in semi structured interviews to understand public perception prior to commencingrestoration projects.
John Lewis (2010) provides a more contemporary Canadian case in terms of perceptions of managed landscapes. Lewis makes a case for a means to operationalize behavioral patterns which are fostered by social and cultural values regarding the landscape. His qualitative approach resolves to find cross-cultural consistencies in terms of landscape preferences. Lewis suggests the ways in which these results can inform planners as to what barriers exist when planning for restoration ecology. His study highlights the need for planners to better understand their constituents.
The methodology for my study will include a literature review of Ontario Ministry of Environment initiatives, the City of Waterloo Environmental Strategy, municipal zoning bylaws, ecological surveys and studies conducted to identify where the gaps in ecological restoration policy exist. Interviews with Waterloo city planners will document the strategies that the city is currently using to address ecological restoration and perceptions/preferences of residents. Consistent with the methodology from Lewis’ 2010 study and recognizing the exploratory nature of this study, a qualitative research paradigm will be used whereby semi-structured interviews will be conducted with Waterloo residents to gauge their perceptions of alternative restoration schemes. This study will approach residents through samples of the City of Waterloo through contacts gained via neighbourhood associations, community centers, and sampling done in frequented areas such as UpTown Waterloo, Waterloo Park, and the University of Waterloo. Using computer-generated visualizations (done through Visual Nature Studio) of various ecologically restored landscapes as stimuli we can elicit perceptions of and begin to understand resident conceptions of ecological restoration and the social acceptability of restoration alternatives. Residents will rate the images based on three levels based on their most or least preferred scenario. This will be followed by a series of probing questions to be analyzed in terms of a content analysis to analyze consistencies or inconsistencies in opinions. These patterns will be used to derive common values among residents for landscape change.
This will contribute to inform planners and decision makers about the need for restoration strategies at the municipal level in Waterloo and the social acceptability of different restoration patterns, e.g. tree cover, native species, wetland restoration. The outcome of this study will be a deeper and more nuanced understanding of Waterloo residents’ views regarding current restoration policy objectives. The ultimate goal is create a more grounded vision for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and sewage/pollution treatment which can be seen in actuality.
The proposal defense for this research will begin May 2012 followed by a field season in spring 2012, chapters in fall 2012 and thesis defense in spring 2013 for an anticipated completion of August 2013.Some of my key informants will be those with a background in landscape architecture, ecology and planning
CAPS 2012 Towards A Green City
Towards a Green City: Public Perceptions on the Urban Ecological LandscapeEcological Restoration in the City of Waterloo Kathy Szymczak
INTRODUCTION Ecological restoration in Canadian strategic plans Very few cities have actually adopted ecological restoration projects
INTRODUCTION Residents do not understand what native ecology looks like Signs of restoration are considered messy or disorderly Planners struggle to understand the perceptions of the public and how to make restoration a socially acceptable idea
SZYMCZAK, 2013 Existing policy and legislation What the city is currently doing Drawing from methodology from Lewis (2010) Semi-structured interviews to gauge public perception of restoration schemes Use of computer generated visualization
CONCLUSION Informing planners and decision makers Better understanding of residents’ views Grounded vision for biodiversity, carbon sequestration and sewage/pollution treatment
MOVING FORWARDWinter 2012 Spring 2012 Fall 2012 Spring 2013