Ten Principles of Civic Ecology

Discover the ten principles that promote restoration and stewardship of disaster-torn local environments.

  • The restoration of disaster-torn areas cannot neglect ecological systems nor the necessity of community-driven, long-term participation.
    Photo courtesy of Pixabay
  • “Civic Ecology” by Marianne E. Krasny and Keith G. Tidball looks at communities across the world that have been affected by crisis or disaster.
    Cover courtesy of MIT Press

Civic Ecology (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2015) by Marianne E. Krasny and Keith G. Tidball educates readers about the importance of civic ecology. Krasny and Tidball investigate how people and communities interact, and look at the people who have stepped up to make a difference in their community. The following excerpt is of their ten principles of civic ecology.

1. Civic ecology practices emerge in broken places

Although today’s news is about Detroit and its infamous bankruptcy, not too many years ago similar stories of disinvestment, drugs, guns, factories transformed into brownfields, and abandoned homes and vacant properties that become  neighborhood  dumping  grounds, were  about New Orleans, New York, Boston, and Washington, DC — cities that now are making a comeback. We call this gradual slide into decline “slow-burn” disturbances, which — similar to war and sudden catastrophes like hurricanes and floods — wreak havoc to places and communities. These are the broken places scattered across our landscapes. But just as dead trees falling to the ground create openings in the forest — opportunities for new life to take hold — so do broken spaces create openings — voids in the landscape waiting to be filled. Civic ecology practices emerge to fill in these voids — the vacant lots, barren median strips, and neglected streams. Civic ecology practices also emerge to fill the voids of landscapes seemingly wiped clear of nature and civilization by sudden and large catastrophes — like tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, war in Iraq, terrorists attacks in New York, and typhoons in South Korea.

2. Because of their love for life and love for the places they have lost, civic ecology stewards defy, reclaim, and recreate these broken places.

How do we explain why Dennis Chestnut decided to take that step into the void — to defy, reclaim, and recreate the neglected Watts Branch and its stream banks?

The urban landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted realized the restorative effects of nature in envisioning a series of parks in cities across the United States. Over a hundred years later, Yale University professor of social ecology Stephen Kellert described how “the quality of human existence continues to rely on the richness of its connections with natural diversity.” Kellert goes on to claim: “Our inborn affinity for the natural world is, in effect, a birthright that must be cultivated and earned.”

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