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Exploring past, current and future socio-ecological
dynamics in a founding city


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In the face of recent droughts and climate change impacts, water conservation is critical for meeting water demands of humans and freshwater ecosystems. Since residential landscaping is a major component of domestic water use, efforts to promote outdoor residential water conservation are critical. Water harvesting using rain barrels, infiltrating stormwater using rain gardens, and landscaping with native plants have been promoted through outreach campaigns as a means to reduce water use and provide ecosystem benefits.

Our project aims to trace watershed conservation measures from policy incentives to impact so as to develop a clearer picture of the relationship between local policy and outreach efforts, and actual decisions to engage and install residential landscape water conservation and stormwater management strategies. The project goals are:

1) to identify local policy and outreach efforts across the watershed and to evaluate connections between those and the adoption of LID practices,

2) to explore the factors that influence local residents’ decisions to engage in low impact development strategies to conserve domestic water and manage stormwater,

3) to understand the connection between adoption of water conservation practices and actual water quantity savings at the household and watershed scales, and

4) to enhance local agencies’ outreach efforts to promote LID and water conservation tools and techniques that are readily adopted by local residents and provide the greatest benefit for the environment and human well-being.

For more information about the residential survey (goal 2), contact Johanna Stacy, Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning; jrstacy@acad.umass.edu or Prof. Robert Ryan; rlryan@larp.umass.edu, 413-545-6633.  For more information about the water metering (goal 3), contact Emily Argo, Department of Environmental Conservation: wateruse@umass.edu, 413-345-0107 or Dr. Allison Roy; aroy@eco.umass.edu, 413-545-4895.


With the help of volunteer birders we studied bird diversity within small-scale green spaces in Boston to assess the value of urban greening initiatives for supporting and conserving biodiversity. We compared birds present at sites that have been greened by the CityRoots program at the Urban Ecology Institute to birds present at random sites 200m away and in three major parks: Franklin Park, the Arnold Arboretum and Stonybrook Reservation.

Strohbach, M.W., Lerman, S.B., Warren, P.S. (2013) Are small greening areas enhancing bird diversity? Insights from community-driven greening projects in Boston, Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 114(2), 69-79 pp.

See what bird species were found:

We developed and modeled possible future landscape change and greening scenarios for the Metro Boston region.

Ryan, R. L., P. S. Warren, C. Nicolson, C. Cheng, R. Danford and M. Strohbach. 2014. Scenario Planning for the Boston Metropolitan Region: Exploring Environmental and Social Implications of Alternative Futures. Pp. 74–80 in Proceedings of the Fábos Conference on Landscape and Greenway Planning 2013: Pathways to Sustainability. University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Danford, R. S., C. Cheng, M. W. Strohbach, R. Ryan, C. Nicolson and P. S. Warren. 2014. What Does It Take to Achieve Equitable Urban Tree Canopy Distribution? A Boston Case Study. Cities and the Environment (CATE) 7.

We studied how land use policy affects land use and land cover change along two urban-rural gradients in Massachusetts. Non-profit (land trust) involvement and professional staffing in planning departments were key factors in the success of land conservation efforts in towns.

Warren, P.S., Ryan, R.L., Lerman, S.B., Tooke, K.A. (2011) Social and institutional factors associated with land use and forest conservation along two urban gradients in Massachusetts, Landscape and Urban Planning, Volume 102(2), 82-92 pp.


Rain Barrel

A rain barrel in suburban Boston

Rain garden

A rain garden in suburban Boston