Research Seminar on Urban Ecology

This 4-credit course is limited to 15 students who have completed the Ecologies, Techniques and Technologies sequence in the Landscape Architecture program (or its equivalent).The course meets once per week for three hours and will focus on the structure, function and history of the spontaneous urban ecosystems. These so-called emergent or novel ecosystems are a common feature of cities worldwide and they form without being planted or maintained by humans. They are cosmopolitan in their composition and resilient in terms of their ability to tolerate chronic environmental stress and disturbance. Parallel to the worldwide increase in urbanization, there has been an increased recognition of the important ecological services that spontaneous ecosystems provide in terms of the improvement of air and water quality, the mitigation of soil contamination and the promotion of biological diversity. In the context of shrinking park maintenance budges in many American cities, there is an opportunity for landscape architects to think creatively about how to manipulate spontaneous landscapes so as to increase their ecological, aesthetic and recreational functionality. The course will utilize the 24-acre Bussey Brook Meadow section of the Arnold Arboretum, adjacent to the Forest Hills subway station, as a “research studio” site. Working in teams of two, students are expected to investigate a specific topic relating to the biology, hydrology, sociology or history of the site.

Students admitted to this course will be expected to keep up with weekly readings and participate fully in class discussions. The first six weeks of the course will consist of lectures on various aspects of urban ecology and by student-led discussions of selected readings. Project reviews will take place during class beginning in the middle of the semester, with final project presentations during final-exam week. Grades will be based on two writing assignments and the final research project.