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Merit Award - RESEARCH

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Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities
North Central Research Station - USDA Forest Service; Island Press

Paul H. Gobster
Research Social Scientist
USDA Forest Service, North Central Research Station
845 Chicago Avenue, Suite 225
Evanston, IL 60202
Tel. 847-866-9311 ext. 16;
Fax 847-866-9506

Project Purpose

Requirements: 1) To investigate the social aspects of restoring and managing natural landscapes in ecological and related (e.g., historic, cultural) contexts; and 2) to provide information and guidelines useful to those engaged in restoration design, planning, and management. The book uses a recent controversy over ecological restoration in the Chicago area as a touchstone to examine the social aspects of restoration, conceptually and in the context of other places and situations in urban and wildland environments.

Philosophy: We launched an interrelated series of original studies and worked with top landscape architects and others in the social sciences and humanities from around the nation to attain both a breadth and a depth of understanding. Our goal was to create and synthesize knowledge about the social issues that determine the success or failure of restoration projects and to put it in a form that would be accessible and useful to landscape architects, ecological restorationists, land planners, policymakers, students and others involved in the design, planning, and management of landscapes where nature is important.

Roles of Landscape Architects and Others

Entrants: The landscape architect is lead editor of the book and worked on or supervised several research studies related to the Chicago focus of the effort. He authored the Introduction and co-authored one of chapters. The co-editor is a College of Natural Resources social scientist and Adjunct Professor of Landscape Architecture. He co-authored the Conclusion and one of the chapters. Together, the editors organized a series of sessions on the topic at a major conference, selected papers from the conference for a book prospectus, and saw the effort through to publication.

Clients: While there are no clients as such, the federal agency for whom the landscape architect works funded much of the effort leading to book publication.

Others: Seven additional contributors to the book are landscape architects or teach in landscape architecture programs, and give the book a strong focus on the concerns of the field. Other contributors come from sociology, psychology, anthropology, urban planning, forestry, and philosophy.

Special Factors

Newness of the inquiry: The book is the first of its kind on the social aspects of restoration. Few guidelines existed to initiate new research and bring a diverse body of thought from different disciplines into a coherent whole. We worked closely with contributors from the start (4+ years for new research) and involved them with each other to cross-fertilize ideas.



Utility of the effort: One big challenge was to present the diverse contributions in a form and style useful to those involved in design, management, and policy issues of restoration. Again, we worked closely with contributors and our publisher, re-conceptualizing and re-writing several chapters so that the final product spoke in the most direct way it could to our intended audiences.

Political sensitivity of the issues: In striving to present a balanced set of perspectives, our findings were not always complimentary of existing restoration programs. Presenting such criticism in a constructive and non-threatening way was our greatest challenge, and one that continues in post-publication through such outreach activities as face-to-face meetings, follow-up articles, and distribution of more than 100 free book copies.


Clarity and adequacy of the five steps: In the Introduction, a recounting of the Chicago restoration controversy provides the reader with a compelling illustration of the magnitude and scope of the research and design problems associated with restoring ecosystems. As outlined in the Introduction, succeeding chapters are grouped into sections that discuss 1) philosophical perspectives, 2) conceptual issues, 3) case studies on process and implementation, and 4) case studies on ensuring management success. Successive chapters independently detail particular issues, findings, and implications, utilizing a complementary suite of methods including philosophical and conceptual analysis and various types of quantitative and qualitative empirical procedures. A final chapter synthesizes results from the chapters and offers conclusions extending from the total effort. The book strives to provide readers the philosophical rationale, the social justification, and the applied tools for conducting successful restoration efforts. Project's effect on public perception of the profession: Our research raises awareness that restoration is more than knowing which seeds to plant or how and when to burn. There is a human face to restoring nature, a heretofore little studied human side that is equally critical to its success. Landscape architects and others, working in the context of the social sciences and humanities, are providing the information needed to ensure the success of restoration efforts by 1) considering ethical questions, 2) employing preference-based design and communication strategies, 3) including a wide-range of stakeholders in various phases of the restoration process, and 4) helping to see that efforts benefit human individuals and communities as well as non-human ones. These ideas, documented throughout the book, clarify, support, and expand upon ASLA's 1993 Declaration on Environment and Development to "heal, regenerate, restore, reclaim and nurture degraded ecosystems as part of the landscape design and planning process. ..." Early reviews and other feedback on the book indicate that this is a significant contribution to the science and art of restoration, a field that landscape architects are in a unique position to shape.

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