Designing and implementing ecological monitoring of aridland urban ecological infrastructure (UEI): a case-study of design process and outcomes

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Cities are increasingly using nature-based approaches to address urban sustainability challenges. These solutions leverage the ecological processes associated with existing or newly constructed Urban Ecological Infrastructure (UEI) to address issues through ecosystem services (e.g. stormwater retention or treatment). The growing

Cities are increasingly using nature-based approaches to address urban sustainability challenges. These solutions leverage the ecological processes associated with existing or newly constructed Urban Ecological Infrastructure (UEI) to address issues through ecosystem services (e.g. stormwater retention or treatment). The growing use of UEI to address urban sustainability challenges can bring together teams of urban researchers and practitioners to co-produce UEI design, monitoring and maintenance. However, this co-production process received little attention in the literature, and has not been studied in the Phoenix Metro Area.

I examined several components of a co-produced design process and related project outcomes associated with a small-scale UEI project – bioswales installed at the Arizona State University (ASU) Orange Mall and Student Pavilion in Tempe, AZ. Specifically, I explored the social design process and ecohydrological and biogeochemical outcomes associated with development of an ecohydrological monitoring protocol for assessing post-construction landscape performance of this site. The monitoring protocol design process was documented using participant observation of collaborative project meetings, and semi-structured interviews with key researchers and practitioners. Throughout this process, I worked together with researchers and practitioners to co-produced a suite of ecohydrological metrics to monitor the performance of the bioswales (UEI) constructed at Orange Mall, with an emphasis on understanding stormwater dynamics. I then installed and operated monitoring equipment from Summer 2018 to Spring 2019 to generate data that can be used to assess system performance with respect to the co-identified performance metrics.

The co-production experience resulted in observable change in attitudes both at the individual and institutional level with regards to the integration and use of urban ecological research to assess and improve UEI design. My ecological monitoring demonstrated that system performance met design goals with regards to stormwater capture, and water quality data suggest the system’s current design has some capacity for stormwater treatment. These data and results are being used by practitioners at ASU and their related design partners to inform future design and management of UEI across the ASU campus. More broadly, this research will provide insights into improving the monitoring, evaluation, and performance efficacy associated with collaborative stormwater UEI projects, independent of scale, in arid cities.