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How do we best address climate change? In a world of over 2.9 billion, change by individuals at the community level, with collaborative leadership, could be a solution. Small steps, with benefits accruing in aggregate towards common goals, could incrementally lead to transformational change.

Do we manage the majority of our "green spaces" using best practices vis-a-vis current threats? An example are pollinators, in steep decline worldwide, and species we critically depend upon for food security but little is done collectively to support and sustain pollinators. Pondering such simple questions brought my thesis project to life. I tested my theory that individual change, when managed through "social-ecological systems" leadership/partnerships, could bring the critically needed transformations towards maximizing ecological health alongside optimized community social and economic wellbeing.

Read my Abstract (below), outlining how my research did support my theories on individual action within social-ecological systems and the positive effects on our ecosystems to mitigate climate change and support threatened species . My 200-page project, launched and then re-launched due to Hurricane Irma, was a labor of love - impossible to have completed without so many collaborative "helping hands" supporting along the way.

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Charts showing tree-size-mix data per park (left) & carbon dioxide sequestration/storage per park area (below).

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Targeting Parks for Transformative Social Ecological Change: 
The Urban Nexus of Community-Based and Municipal Park Management

    Historically, as human progress and development have advanced, unity with nature has eroded.  Surges in urbanization and populations have widened the gaps.  A decisive response has been a shift from traditional, top-down environmental management to community-based models.  Local actors have self-organized, united in place-based governance goals, to better support ecosystems through resiliency-building strategies.  Yet, even with increased focus on vital ecosystem services (ES), such as clean air and water, the public continues to undervalue and lack concrete understanding of nature’s processes and its requisite roles.  Urban green spaces hold the potential to optimize ecological and socio-economic utility but pervasively are poorly managed for ecology.  To catalyze change, social-ecological systems (SES) modeling is key to reconnect ecological health to social and financial wellbeing.

    The primary research question was:  Can the measured improvement, operational experiences, and key lessons learned in building adaptive capacity and resilience through community-based ecosystem management (CBEM) inform the creation of a policy optimization tool to increase ES, the underlying resilience, and SES robustness in urban municipal-managed parks, while also forging a path towards effective transformation?  The hypotheses I examined were: 1) The integration of CBEM methodologies into municipal park design and management will increase adaptive capacity and resiliency and open a path towards SES transformation. 2) CBEM of green spaces increases a full range of ES towards rebalanced and more robust SES, improving overall wellbeing.

    The research questions and hypotheses were tested by a comparative analysis of two distinct green space management paradigms, analyzing two CBEM State parkland areas versus four municipal-managed parks.  Site-level, fine-scale data collection was conducted to produce comprehensive ES valuation assessments. The primary objectives were to complete the assessments and translate the observed benefits and successes into the Eco-logic Community-based Optimization Urban Park (ECO-UP) tool I created.  Social and economic lessons, anecdotal and from published research and case studies, were incorporated into the design. ES biophysical and monetary valuations were completed for biodiversity, six regulating services, and two cultural services in order to devise goals and guidelines for the ECO-UP tool.  Finally, the projected and calculated ES economic gains were extrapolated across the region and the propensity for individual park optimization projects to collectively lead to SES transformation was discussed.  

    The hypotheses were supported in that CBEM resulted in better and more resilient ES, exponentially so in biodiversity/habitat, carbon storage/sequestration, pollination, and water purification/filtering functions.  Regardless of park size or relative connectivity to other green space, the on-site quality of habitat and provision of native pollinator-supporting and larval host flora was critical.  Highly managed turfgrass was negatively related to wildlife presence, while weedy patches in less managed turfgrass proved to be the most wildlife supporting when parks provided minimal habitat or pollinator-supporting plant species.  However, weeds in highly-managed turfgrass were void of any visible wildlife.  CBEM stimulated social and economic systems by increasing and expanding local adaptive capacity and fostering expansive knowledge building and sharing, which in turn added discernable economic benefits to municipal communities.


  • Habitat Biodiversity

  • CO2 Storage

  • Climate Regulation

  • Air Pollution Mitigation

  • Water Filtering

  • Water Pollution Mitigation

  • Pollination

  • Education/Sensory Aesthetics


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Would you like to green your life - join the cause!

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