Saturday, December 16, 2006

Urban sprawl and ecosystem fragmentation

Much of the public discourse among public policy types about the malaise of urban sprawl and its effect on ecosystems lacks an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of each system and of both at the place where the two interact.

As a result of population growth, the associated urbanization, the irregular nature of the boundaries of urban built-up space and urban leap-frogging the interface area between the two systems is ever increasing. The outcome of the interaction is an encroachment of the urban system into the ecosystem. Quite often, the interactions between these two lead to the disintegration of the “weaker” ecosystem. Despite wide interest in the phenomenon, the two systems have rarely been studied jointly. There is a need to understand their joint dynamics with a focus on ecosystem dynamics under the pressure of the sprawling city.

It is important to note that urban and ecological systems are open, non-linear and self-organizing. Both display discontinuities in space and non-uniformity in time. These characteristics create a methodological challenge and require the use of innovative modeling tools. At the same time, the study of their joint dynamics can provide important insights of numerous interactive phenomena on the urban/non-urban fridge. In particular, a quantitative understanding of urban expansion and related retreat of the natural ecosystems may clarify how the functioning pieces of ecosystems could be preserved within the urban realm.

Together with a colleague from Tel Aviv University (Itzhak Benenson) and two colleagues form Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Technion (Yohay Carmel and Maxim Shoshany) we are making first steps to develop simulation models that will be capable to generate quantitative understanding of these phenomena.

I am looking forward to hearing from you concerning our project and to getting suggestions. Write to me at I will place your methodological comments in the blog.