Ecosystem services are integrated into all of the most fundamental concepts of sustainable or ecological thinking, and yet are probably poorly understood by most designers. “Ecosystem service” is a broad label used to describe, and anyone out there correct me if I’m wrong, the tangible resources and processes provided by any given natural location. These may include capturing and processing water, converting sunlight to energy, and the many nutrient cycles, such as carbon and nitrogen. But even this is a very simplistic view, as researchers are developing global models that highlight ecosystem services that effect the world wide temperature, hydrological and air flows, and more.
For most designers this an overwhelming array of information. How and where to start using this information is extraordinarily difficult. But how to find it is even harder. Some approaches have started by monetizing the intangible effects of ecological services, but I’ll focus on that in a later post. What I want to share in this post a resource that I found that is developing tangible tools for measuring the services of ecosystems and the impact design actions will have.
ARIES – ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services
What to do with the forgotten spaces in a city? Too small for maintenance, but too abundant to ignore? Why not develop software to scan, categorize and experiment with all these spaces?
Imagine this software, meshed with genius of place. Ecosystem performance could be achieved in distributed sites around the city, and as the video below shows, these different sites add up very, very quickly.
See below for a project overview:
The Welikia Project traces the historical ecology of New York. It is an incredible, and ambitious project that is exquisitely executed. The result of which is a google map of Manhattan 400 years ago (Mannahatta as it was known through the indigenous Lenape people). You can even enter in specific locations to learn what natural ecosystem likely existed 400 years before. Warning: this can be oddly addictive, and there is an enormous amount of content available.
and… now what?
Genius of Place, or the horribly political sounding GofP, is a concept in biomimicry of learning from “nature’s genius” in a specific location. It can be used in reference to the exploration of integrating nature back into a location, habitat restoration, understanding what nature would want to naturally do if humans were not in the way and then removing those barriers and assisting in natural growth.
Or it can be used, within a design process, to identify natural principles of an location that can be replicated in design. Architecture and urban planning, disciplines that are directly associated with a specific location, are the most obvious examples of where this has value.