Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Dynamics of Cities as Ecosystems and Places: The Challenge of Integrating Ecological Knowledge into Urban River Corridor Design, Planning, and Policy

Shana Ederer

On February 25, 2003, Dr. Laura Musacchio discussed her research in urban planning and riparian-corridor restoration in the America’s Southwest with a crowd of SUNY-ESF students, faculty members, and community members.  She focused specifically on recent projects, including (1) an analysis of the Salt-Gila riparian corridor in Phoenix, Arizona, and (2) an ecological study and pilot restoration project of the Rio Alamar Riparian corridor in the Tijuana-San Diego metropolitan area.  The Phoenix metropolitan area, she explained, has undergone rapid expansion (at a rate of 0.5 to 1.0 miles per year!) since the 1970s. Her long-term study in Phoenix involves monitoring variables such as habitat and water quality, flood risk, and differences between channelized and unchannelized areas along an urban-rural gradient, as well as developing GIS-based models.  Phoenix city planners hope Dr. Musacchio’s work will help them cope with challenges such as limited ground water, high rates of evaporation, and the continued threat of extended drought, as well as plan for future efforts in development and conservation.
            In the rapidly-developing Tijuana River watershed similar planning efforts are being made.  However, this area differs from Phoenix in its relative lack of infrastructure and lack of a greenway system; also, management is complicated by the presence of temporary human settlements within the floodplain and by industrial effluents.  Some residents favor channelization of the river, which offers enhanced opportunities for development; others favor an approach that does not involve structural changes.  Given that the United States and Mexico have jurisdiction over different parts of the watershed, Dr. Musacchio noted, “Binational planning is a big challenge,” and stressed the need for a collaborative approach.  Her research in this area involves ecological analysis of the watershed, as well as a pilot project that will better define effective modes of ecological restoration along the river.  Dr. Musacchio suggested that such multidisciplinary research could enable scientists and planners to do “ecological forecasting,” noting that such research-based “. . . alternative scenarios . . . are actually [development] trajectories that communities can envision for themselves.”