A Spatial-Temporal Approach for Understanding Social-Ecological Dynamics of Urban Structure and Ecosystem Services

EPA Grant Number: F13A20099
Title: A Spatial-Temporal Approach for Understanding Social-Ecological Dynamics of Urban Structure and Ecosystem Services
Investigators: Hamstead, ZoƩ Augustina
Institution: New School University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 25, 2014 through August 25, 2016
Project Amount: $84,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Social Ecology


While numerous studies have modeled broad processes of land use and land cover change along urban peripheries, relatively few have studied fine-scale changes to urban structure within densely urbanized landscapes where over half of the human population now resides. This research will use a spatial-temporal modeling approach to explore how social-ecological dynamics drive changes in urban structure and will explicitly link those changes to ecosystem services and spatial planning strategies in New York City. Three primary questions drive this research: (1) What are the major social-ecological drivers of changes in urban ecosystem services and the resulting spatial patterns? (2) How do urban structure change processes interact with sustainability planning strategies to inhibit or support these strategies? (3) Are there synergies and tradeoffs across space between different ecosystem services and patterns of ecosystem services across socioeconomic indicators?


The first stage of this project will involve developing a cellular automata model for describing the drivers and processes of urban structure change in New York City. Using land cover, land use, transportation infrastructure, zoning, socioeconomic and other available spatially explicit data, key drivers and processes through which urban structure change has happened historically will be represented and projected into the future. The second stage will focus on linking urban structure change to ecosystem services, such as heat mitigation, and examining how spatial planning strategies influence the spatial distribution of these services in relation to vulnerable populations.

Expected Results:

There is a growing recognition that human proximity to open spaces where ecological processes occur can be essential for the consumption of particular ecosystem services, such as recreation or heat mitigation, and that these services are often inequitably distributed. Moreover, the dense urban landscapes in which most of the world’s population resides present a particularly challenging context for generating and sustaining ecological processes that promote health and well-being because they often are characterized by land scarcity and competing interests over how land is used. This research will build an intra-urban structure change model that explicitly links urban structure change dynamics to environmental outcomes and planning strategies. Expected results include a dynamic model that illustrates processes through which urban structure change has happened historically, projects future change under status quo and alternative planning scenarios and examines the consequences of change on ecosystem services. This approach will allow analysis of spatial tradeoffs and synergies among multiple ecosystem services under different scenarios and the distribution of services across socioeconomic variables.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection

The outcomes of this research are applicable to urban sustainability policies aimed at increasing and enhancing ecosystem services that help to mitigate heat-related illnesses, managing water quality and providing publicly accessible open spaces that enhance mental and physical well-being.

Supplemental Keywords:

ecosystem services, sustainability planning, urban structure and planning

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015
  • Final