Ecosystem Services Symposium:
Helping Cities Find Value of Nature

A Yale symposium being held on Jan. 24 will bring together academics studying the science of urban ecosystem services and the practitioners who are using this emerging field to improve the environmental health of their communities.
urban ecosystem services symposium banner
For more information about the event, click here.
Before they arrived at F&ES two years ago, graduate students Bessie Schwarz and Beth Tellman each worked briefly for the Natural Capital Project, a national coalition that is attempting to quantify the value that nature has for people. During that experience, they made a critical observation.
For all the data illustrating how ecosystem services generate a bottom-line benefit for rural communities — from the natural treatment of nitrates by wetlands to the value of clean water supplies — they found a lack of models documenting how similar services can be achieved in cities.
This lack of research in urban regions was particularly surprising since many cities are already turning out projects, from rain gardens to green roofs, that harness nature’s potential to improve the environmental health of their communities.
“The Natural Capital Project started to realize that if we’re going to focus on nature for people, we have to focus on places where people are living — which is now mostly in urban areas,” said Tellman. “It’s not just about preserving nature in rural areas.”
In the hope of promoting research that advances this emerging environmental field — and of inspiring new tools that can be used by city managers and planners — Schwarz and Tellman helped organize the Yale Urban Ecosystem Services Symposium, which will be held at F&ES on Jan. 24.
The symposium — hosted by the F&ES-based Hixon Center for Urban Ecology; the New York City Urban Field Station; the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation; and the Yale Office of Sustainability — will bring together academics studying the science of ecosystem services and practitioners who are using these new approaches for urban planning.

“The ecosystem services framework has immense potential to help cities plan for clean water — but also for disaster and storm water management and for cultural services, like aesthetic and recreational values,” said Schwarz. “So we want to really understand what is necessary and helpful for people planning cities on the ground.”

During the symposium, experts from the economics, policy, and research fields will provide different perspectives on how ecosystem services are currently modeled. Then, a series of panels will explore how specific projects are providing solutions in cities worldwide. (View the complete program.)

“While there’s an immense amount of stuff happening city by city, there aren’t a lot of venues for such a cross-city, cross-perspective comparison, and to share lessons learned,” said Brad Gentry, a professor at F&ES and co-director of the Center for Business & the Environment at Yale (CBEY).
Organizers hope the cross-disciplinary discussions will spawn new research directions and inspire fresh project ideas, said Colleen Murphy-Dunning, director of the Hixon Center, who helped organize the symposium. And for students, she said, it will provide insights into how they can work in this emerging field.
She hopes it is just the first such symposium.
“We don’t think these questions will be answered in one year,” she said. “In our field, everyone is going to continue toward this understanding and develop research that helps us make better management decisions and shape better policies so that we can be adaptive to the changes that are happening.”
The symposium is just one project to emerge from a new partnership between the Hixon Center and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. As part of that relationship, F&ES students will conduct research at the New York field station in Fort Totten, N.Y.


9:00am: Welcome by Peter Crane, Dean, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies

9:15am: Keynote address by Carter Strickland, Commissioner, New York City Department of Environmental Protection

9:45am: Presentation of Models (Edward Barbier, University of Wyoming; Erika Svendsen, USDA Forest Service; David Nowak, USDA Forest Service, Leslie Shoemaker, Tetra Tech; Rob McDonald, The Nature Conservancy)

12:45pm: Panel One: Urban Micro-Climate (Winston Chow, National University of Singapore; Aaron Durnbaugh, Loyola University; Stuart Gaffin, Columbia University; Tom Matte, New York City Department of Health and Human Hygiene) Moderator: Xuhui Lee, Yale F&ES

1:45pm: Panel Two: Green Infrastructure and Stormwater (Ellen Gilinsky, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Mike Houck, Portland State University; Aaron Koch, Chicago Department of Water Management; Franco Montalto, Drexel University) Moderator: Jennifer Hoyle, Yale F&ES

3:00pm: Panel Three: Coastal Protection, Sea Level Rise & Hurricanes (Roselle Henn, USACE North Atlantic Division; Denise Reed, Water Institute of the Gulf; Gavin Smith, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Dan Zarrilli, City of New York) Moderator: Alexander Felson, Yale F&ES

4:00pm: Panel Four: The Use and Stewardship of Multifunctional Landscapes (Lindsay Campbell, USDA Forest Service; Morgan Grove, USDA Forest Service; Hans Hesselein, Gowanus Canal Conservancy; Keith Tidball, Cornell University) Moderator: Gillian Baine, USDA Forest Service

5:00pm: Closing Remarks by Gaboury Benoit, Co-Director of the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology

– Kevin Dennehy    203 436-4842
PUBLISHED: January 14, 2014
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.