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In: Cities and the Environment, Vol. 1, Issue 2, 2008.


Urbanized ecosystems and urban human populations are expanding around the world causing many negative environmental effects. A challenge for achieving sustainable urban social ecological systems is understanding how urbanized landscapes can be designed and managed to minimize negative outcomes. To this end, an interdisciplinary Ecological Landscaping conference was organized to examine the interacting sociocultural and ecological causes and consequences of landscaping practices and products. This special issue of Cities and the Environment contains a diverse set of articles arising from that conference. In this introductory paper, we describe the meaning of ecological landscaping and a new conceptual framework that helps organize the topic’s complex issues. The essence of ecological landscaping is a holistic systems-thinking perspective for understanding the interrelationships among physical-ecological and sociocultural variables that give rise to the patterns and processes of biodiversity, abiotic conditions, and ecosystem processes within and among individually-managed urban landscape parcels. This perspective suggests that 1) variables not considered part of traditional landscaping and 2) the effects of landscaping within an individual parcel on variables outside of it must both be considered when making design and management decisions about a parcel. To illustrate how these points help create a more holistic, ecological approach to landscaping, a traditional ecosystem model is used to create a framework for discussing how sociocultural and physical-ecological inputs to a landscape parcel affect its characteristics and outputs. As exemplified by papers in this issue, an integrated sociocultural-ecological approach to the study of urban landscaping practices and products is needed to 1) understand why and how humans design and mange urban landscape parcels, 2) describe how the combined characteristics and outputs of many parcels give rise to the emergent ecosystem properties of urbanized areas, and 3) develop effective educational programs that catalyze adoption of sustainable landscaping choices and practices. The paper concludes with a discussion of challenges for the future of ecological landscaping research and practice, and a list of preliminary guidelines for ecological landscaping. We hope that this special issue will increase understanding, visibility, and research about the value of an ecological approach to urban landscaping.