The role of ecosystem services in urban agriculture and planning in Austin, Texas

Ellis, Kevin
Major Professor
Carlton Basmajian
Committee Member
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Community and Regional Planning

Cities are investigating new ways to enhance the quality of life for an increasingly urban population through the implementation of green infrastructure techniques. One practice, urban agriculture, has grown in popularity and has been suggested as a solution to a wide variety of problems including some of the effects of climate change and food security. While these practices are often popular and written into many climate action or long-range plans, relatively little is known about the actual contributions that agroecological systems have on ecosystem services. In this study, a hybrid approach is used in order to better understand the questions of what kind of ecosystem services are provided by urban agriculture and if these benefits and tradeoffs factor into decision making at the local level. Using a set of geospatial tools developed by the Natural Capital Project, this research maps and models urban-specific ecosystem services (urban cooling, and flood risk mitigation) of urban agriculture and compares them to other potential land uses including public parks, and housing developments. In addition to geospatial analysis, interviews with local policymakers, and urban farmers to better understand how the ecosystem services of urban agriculture are perceived valued in land-use decision making within a rapidly developing urban area. The project uses Austin, Texas, as a case study since it is an area widely regarded for its policy and physical support of urban farming over the past twenty years. While there were no significant differences in the ecosystem services from urban agriculture among the three scenarios, ecosystem services have factored into the planning process in Austin. However, there are still barriers such as lack of monitoring, local data, and cooperation with planning agencies that prevent it from being a more widespread practice.