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You are here: NRS Home / Research Programs /Urban Natural Resources Stewardship / Land use and land cover change and loss of open space / Models for Ecological Restoration in Urban Areas: Lessons from the US and Germany
Urban Natural Resources Stewardship

Models for Ecological Restoration in Urban Areas: Lessons from the US and Germany

Research Issue

Ecological restoration often aims to recreate so-called pre-settlement conditions but this can be impossible in urban areas where human activities have erased most traces of pre-settlement conditions.  So what do past restoration work and restoration theory teach us that is relevant for approaching urban environmental restoration?

Our Research

We analyzed existing urban restoration projects and developed several models that articulate the various possible types of restoration projects. Together, these models can help project managers determine what kind of restoration is desirable and possible. We present case studies from San Francisco; Leipzig, Germany; and the Calumet region of Chicago and northwest Indiana.

[photo:] Lake Cospuden outside Leipzig, Germany is part of a “re-natured” landscape that was formerly devastated by strip mining for coal. Today the lake offers boating, swimming, hiking, and other recreational activities (photo courtesy of Matthias Gross).The classical model aims to restore sizeable patches of indigenous plants through traditional practices such as removal of invasive nonnative plants and replanting with natives. The sensitive species model focuses on protecting and enhancing sensitive individual species, often a specific bird or butterfly. The habitat model aims more broadly to provide appropriate conditions for a range of desired species such as wetland-dependent birds and may include leaving in place some non-native plants that provide food and cover. The cultural landscape restoration model recognizes the importance of human endeavors and their history as reflected on the land in addition to plant and animal assemblages present. In the rehabilitation model, restorationists work from almost nothing to bring back “natural” systems on severely degraded sites.

The research also examines how criteria might be developed for identifying appropriate models for managing urban forest restoration sites.

Research Results

Westphal, Lynne M.; Gobster, Paul H.; Gross, Matthias. 2010. Models for Renaturing Brownfield Areas. In Hall, Marcus (ed.). Restoration and History: The Search for a Usable Environmental Past. New York: Routledge: pp. 208-217.

Gobster, Paul H. 2010. Models for urban forest restoration: Human and environmental values. In: Stanturf, John (Ed.). 2007. Proceedings, IUFRO Conference on Forest Landscape Restoration. Korea Forest Research Institute: pp. 10-13.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Paul Gobster, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station

Research Partners

  • Lynne Westphal, Research Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station
  • Matthias Gross, Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ), Leipzig, Germany


Last Modified: 10/18/2010