A Framework for Urban Ecosystem Health and Indicators for Los Angeles County

Project Summary

Sustainability and resiliency efforts in cities worldwide are expanding to consider enhancement of urban ecosystems. Realigning urban infrastructure and land use to accommodate ecological processes such as climate change, protection and access to biodiversity, pollution exposure, and enhanced ecosystem services are increasingly central to urban resiliency strategies. Actionable frameworks comprised of scientifically defensible indicators are a key tool to support and optimize these activities. Yet, such comprehensive ecosystem-based approaches are just emerging for built environments.

This project involved evaluating existing datasets, and current theory and practice of applied urban ecology to define and measure a comprehensive framework for urban ecosystem health in Los Angeles County. The framework is organized around the major themes of ecosystem services, biodiversity and natural features, ecological hazards, and pollution. As has been proven in decades of application in more natural landscapes, successful ecosystem-based frameworks offer a robust platform for integrated, multidisciplinary management of complex ecological challenges. These platforms have the potential to unify somewhat siloed environmental management disciplines of hydrology, geology, biology, and atmospheric science that strongly shape urban environments. The framework and indicator selection process for L.A. may be adapted for cities worldwide.

Research Team

Isaac Brown
Environmental Science & Engineering, Physical Sciences

Advisor: Mark Gold
Institute of the Environment & Sustainability, Physical Sciences

Progress and Results

Through this project, Brown collected, measured, and mapped relevant datasets, as well as, identified a series of indicators and data gaps within each of the four themes within municipal boundaries in Los Angeles County. Indicators and datasets were selected with careful consideration of existing management projects within the county to achieve an “actionable” product, while also considering a thorough literature review of the latest related scientific research and theory. The result is a scientifically defensible, comprehensive, and actionable framework for managing the impacts and benefits of the urban environment on both people and nature.

Working with a team at the city of Los Angeles, Brown applied aspects of the framework and indicators to measure the "Singapore Index on Cities’ Biodiversity" for the city. Los Angeles is the first U.S. city to fully measure this Index. Mayor Eric Garcetti has commended the effort as a compelling case to advance and incorporate the topic into major city projects including the Los Angeles Sustainability pLAn and the 2028 L.A. Olympics. We are now adapting the work to create a customized biodiversity and ecosystem services index tailored for the unique ecological context and needs of the city.

The journal Cities and Environment published the work under the title: "Managing Cities as Urban Ecosystems: Fundamentals and a Framework for Los Angeles, California.” Brown is currently working with the city to develop this concept as component of his applied UCLA dissertation topic.