A Social-Spatial Approach to Ecological Governance

By Mary-Ellen Tyler and Michael Quinn.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The authors are involved in regional land use planning and water management in the Calgary region of Southwestern Alberta in Western Canada. Calgary exists in a semi-arid temperate region with significant water availability constraints. Over the last three years we have been involved in a growth management- focused regional land use policy and planning process for the Calgary region. Our involvement has been related to regional hydrologic cycle management and the link between regional water use and land use policy. We have an ongoing research relationship with the ‘Calgary Regional Partnership’ a voluntary municipal government organization. The paper addresses both the social-spatial dimensions of ecological infrastructure and a theoretical interdisciplinary framework for resilience assessment and adaptive ecological governance. Our theoretical framework is informed by the recent literature in integrative theory, social learning theory, resilience theory, ecohydrology theory, cascade theory, social-ecological systems theory, complexity theory, network theory, political ecology theory, landscape ecology theory, decision-making theory, spatial planning theory and scale theory. This work has been selected and synthesized in the context of our practice experience and research applications interests in the Calgary region. The methodological challenges facing the implementation of sustainable development goals and objectives include the need to effectively deal with complex human-ecological process interconnections involving uncontrolled variables operating across multiple spatial and temporal scales. This relationship between landscape pattern and socio-ecological process is important in both the natural and social sciences (Wu, Jones, Li and Louks, 2006). The kind of social-ecological research necessary to support urban regional land and water use planning and policy must be capable of spatially linking long term ecosystem behaviour with human activity systems. In this ‘real world’ context of applied ecology, practitioners and theorists both need to understand the behaviour of large scale socio-ecological systems. We use the term ‘ecological infrastructure’ to represent the characteristic spatial landscape patterns and processes that structurally and functionally enable the delivery of ecological goods and services (such as water) in a social-ecological system context. In this sense, ecological infrastructure is analogous to municipal (local government) engineered infrastructure services which spatially distribute energy, water and wastewater, material goods and communications within the built human environment. By analogy, ecological systems distribute a variety of biotic and abiotic processes including the flow of water, energy, nutrients and biotic organisms though structural, functional and spatial networks in the regional landscape. While the fiscal concept of ‘infrastructure debt’ is well understood by municipal governments, there is a greater risk of ‘ecological infrastructure debt’ unless the importance of ecological goods and services is explicitly incorporated into long term regional land use planning and development policies and practices. Unfortunately, unlike municipal infrastructure debt, money is not a solution to or substitute for ecological debt. Once ecological function is lost, it cannot be replaced by money and money cannot substitute for ecological processes. We use the term ‘ecological governance’ to represent the formal and informal institutional, private and community partnerships involved in the management of regional ecological infrastructure and the land use planning and policy frameworks which affect the regional delivery of ecological goods and services such as water.

Keywords: Social-ecological, Social-spatial, Ecological Goods and Services, Ecological Governance, Regional Land Use Planning and Policy

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 6, pp.73-86. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 849.941KB).

Dr. Mary-Ellen Tyler

Associate Professor of Environmental Planning, Faculty of Environmental Design, The University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Dr. Mary-Ellen Tyler holds an interdisciplinary PhD in Anthropology, Management and Environmental Science and has worked professionally for the Government of Canada as a regional planner and in intergovernmental relations related to social and community aspects of major resource development projects in Northern Canada. Over the last twenty years she has held tenured academic appointments at three Canadian Universities in Environmental Studies and Urban and Regional Planning. Her research and professional practice have focused on urban ecology, urbanizing watersheds, cultural landscape management, ecological design theory and sustainable energy policy. She has international project experience in Thailand, China, Peru, Mexico and Ecuador related to sustainable development and urban ecological management.

Dr. Michael Quinn

Associate Professor of Environmental Science, Faculty of Environmental Design, The University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Dr. Michael Quinn has graduate degrees in Forestry and Environmental Studies. He is the Director of Research and Liaison for the Miistakis Institute a spatial research institute focusing on the ecology of the Rocky Mountains. Dr. Quinn’s research and professional practice has focused on landscape ecology, ecosystem management of protected areas and national parks and spatial analysis related to regional land use planning, conservation biology and wildlife population manangement in urban and regional contexts. He has international project experience in Africa and Mexico related to wildlife habitat protection and management.


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