Ecology is the practice of looking at an entire system and analyzing how every piece interacts and affects one another. While some would assume ecologists focused on urban centers are looking at green spaces and trying to plant more trees, their view of the overall system of politics and socioeconomic status are changing the way we think about urbanism.
An urban ecology panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Science debated the effects of using ecological tools to reframe cities as urban biomes, writes Lizzie Wade for Wired. The panel pointed to a specific example in Austin, Texas, where the city relocated African Americans to Austin's east side in the early 20th century. As the city developed, they only invested in developing the west side of town with ecological infrastructure like parks and trees that attract residents and commuters. However, the city can't just go back and plant trees on the east side to even it out. Residents there now fear gentrification and the real threat of being forced out of their homes.
This is a larger urban problem ecologists are turning their attention toward. For urban environments and city planning, an ecologist's overall view of every piece in the puzzle could lead to better policies, practices, and design.
Urban ecology can help bring those feedback loops to light, but the field alone doesn’t offer any fixes. Holistic and effective solutions require tremendous political will and nuanced social policies. But urban ecology does reveal where the cruxes of many of of a city’s problems actually lie. Ecology is great for understanding complex, interdependent networks—both ones found in nature and ones we’ve built ourselves.