Learning about restoration of urban ecosystems: a case study integrating public participation, stormwater management, and ecological research
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- Herringshaw, C.J., Thompson, J.R. & Stewart, T.W. Urban Ecosyst (2010) 13: 535. doi:10.1007/s11252-010-0134-7
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Restoration of ecosystem functions in urban environments is made challenging by 1) a public that often lacks understanding of ecological principles, 2) inadequate evidence of the effectiveness of restoration practices, and 3) difficulty integrating social and biophysical factors in studies of urban ecosystems. This paper describes a case study in which potential solutions to these challenges were explored. We facilitated collaborative learning through public participation in the design and implementation of an urban riparian buffer along a headwater stream in a neighborhood park, a process that was informed by ecological research. Learning outcomes were evaluated using surveys and qualitative assessment of discussion. Results indicated that participants’ knowledge about water quality problems associated with urbanization, stormwater, and nonpoint-source pollution increased, familiarity with stormwater management practices increased, and perceptions about the importance of stream ecosystem functions changed. In-stream monitoring of sediment delivery, as well as direct measurements of buffer infiltration capacity, provided early evidence of buffer effectiveness in prevention of sediment inputs to the stream and absorption of runoff from surrounding surfaces. This study provides a useful model for integration of collaborative learning through participation, ecological restoration, and ecological research in an urban setting. Elements deemed essential to success of this model included an opportunity for dialog focused on a specific natural feature, sustained interaction between participants and researchers, opportunities for hands-on participation by urban residents, and flexibility in restoration practice installation.